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Jeffco Officials Say Evacuation Order One Of The Best Ever With New System

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An image from Copter4 (credit: CBS)

An image from Copter4 (credit: CBS)

GALLERIES: COLORADO'S WORST WILDFIRES

JEFFERSON COUNTY, Colo. (CBS4) – Jefferson County has finished reviewing its new CodeRED emergency alert system. The system was put in use during the Bluebell Fire.

The sheriff’s office calls their evacuation order one of the best they’ve ever had. More people would have left the evacuation area if it wasn’t for a matter of geometry.

A reverse 911 response goes out in a radius that leaves the corners uncalled at times. They’re seen as the lowest priority points. Jefferson County says the 16 percent that didn’t get the call didn’t have their phones ready to answer.

The volatile Bluebell Fire was the first test for the new emergency response system. The 911 call residents received made it clear the situation was unpredictably dangerous.

“We were a Level 3 evacuation, which means ‘run for your life.’ We didn’t have time, so we did a circumference. We just said, ‘Four miles from the origin of the fire, boom, go.’ It’s easy and it’s fast,” Mark Techmeyer with the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Department said.

Fire had climbed into the forest canopy. High winds threatened to chase the fire into a neighborhood with dozens of homes. At the time it seemed like the loss of homes was inevitable.

“This fire showed every indication that it could blow up on us. So we went big to begin with,” Techmeyer said.

The emergency notice was a bigger response than residents expected. Many residents felt they received evacuation orders on accident. Jefferson County says they didn’t.

A final review of the system called “CodeRED” showed 84 percent of homeowners inside the notification area received a call. The remaining homeowners either missed the call altogether or were already on the phone.

CodeRED sends out calls like a blanket, fixing a problem emergency officials noticed with a previous system during the deadly Lower North Fork Fire.

“We had some serious mapping issues with the Lower North Fork Fire where people were put in other geographical areas than they actually lived. So people didn’t get some those calls and they were mistakenly mapped all the way down to Morrison.”

After last year’s devastating fires Douglas County adopted CodeRED. With another explosive summer on the way, it’s likely more counties will turn to it as well.

Jefferson County says they expect the system to improve. Their previous reverse 911 vendor decided not to bid after the Lower North Fork Fire.

LINK: Reverse 911 Call Systems

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