City’s disaster communications needs improvement, report says

Better communication with each other and with residents topped the list of lessons learned from the Waldo Canyon fire, said city officials at a preliminary after-action report this morning.

The fire started June 23 and raced into the Mountain Shadows neighborhood Tuesday, June 26. A combination of high winds and dry weather fueled the fire – which was not expected to move into the city, but instead toward the Air Force Academy and Woodland Park. Around 345 homes were destroyed in Mountain Shadows.

Mostly, though, the city’s police, fire and emergency officials said they did the best they could, given the conditions of the fire. Police Chief Pete Carey acknowledged the two deaths that occurred during the fire, William and Barbara Everett.

“But overall, we evacuated 26,000 people in two hours,” he said. “It wasn’t pretty, it was ugly, but we did it with no incidents. Given the speed of the fire, it was the best we could do.”

The preliminary report suggested training volunteers as scribes to take down events from the disaster as they were occurring. Fire Chief Rich Brown said logistics was the biggest hurdle.

“We had all this manpower coming in – people who wanted in on the action, people who wanted to help,” he said. “It was difficult to coordinate and difficult to maintain accountability of everyone who was in the fight.”

The report is just the first after-action review of the fire. A final report will be issued in March, 2013.

Read the full report here.