DENVER — A formal review of the emergency response during the Marshall Fire was published last Tuesday, six months after the tragic fire.

Victims who lost their homes that day, like Tawnya Somauroo, claim the report came out “very quietly.”

“I assumed there would be some kind of a press release or something or somehow that they were trying to communicate this to the fire survivors,” Somauroo said.

But, the public wasn’t notified about the report.

Mike Chard, director or Boulder’s Office of Emergency Management, said the different agencies who put the report together “could have coordinated that better, but it was more about getting this to each participating member … and then releasing it to the community.”

Chard worked on the 55-page report with the other agencies. He said it’s a review of the emergency response to the fire, which examined “what went well, what didn’t go well, what are the gaps and challenges.”

The report highlighted lapses in communication between local, state and federal agencies, which, in some cases, resulted in information being missed, resources that could have been utilized but weren’t and delayed responses to evacuating communities threatened by the fire.

In Louisville, some of the challenges included:

  • No defined strategy for the incident, ranging from evacuations, welfare checks and traffic control.
  • Communication challenges with radios and phones that caused information to be missed.
  • Crews not knowing where to evacuate first

Some other notes for the response in Louisville include:

  • An earlier shift from firefighting to mass evacuations could have provided homeowners more time. However, with the fire jumping and not knowing the extent of each individual fire, firefighters were challenged in knowing where to evacuate first.
  • Understand alternative evacuation route options based on potential disaster locations and associated traffic congestion impacts.
  • Establish public safety priority to prevent overcrowded cell towers needed during a disaster.
  • Pre-prepare mass evacuation plan, including control over traffic lights
  • Establish clear evacuation protocol and notification between Louisville Fire Department and Louisville Police Department/ City of Louisville.

“We were never evacuated,” Somauroo said. “How we found out the fire was already in our neighborhood was that a neighbor around 1:20 [p.m.] came driving into the neighborhood beating the horn screaming, “The flames are on our side of the street. Let’s go.””

According to the report, communities in danger weren’t all evacuated at once to avoid traffic jams on roadways.

“We’re putting more effort into planning and looking at those evacuation zones and saying, “What is the largest area you can [evacuate] but still maintain some of that traffic flow?”” Chard said.

Similar challenges were also seen in Boulder County, according to the report:

  • Need to identify a consistent communication flow when law and fire incident commanders are not unified or making decisions from the same location. Dispatch would get differing requests from fire or law resources. A proper structure that supports efficient decision-making and requests emergency notifications.
  • Sirens were not activated by first responders. Sirens in the area do not have a wildfire program installed
  • Agency administrators were unfamiliar with the delegation process. Incident management team (IMT) incident commanders did not fully understand the multiple authorities and how to negotiate the relationship at times.

The report also included recommendations on how to improve for each of the challenges experienced during the emergency response to Colorado’s most tragic fire.

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