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BOULDER COUNTY, Colo. (KDVR) — Authorities released a lengthy explanation of Boulder County’s emergency alert system after residents complained they got little to no warning a raging wildfire was headed toward their neighborhoods.

Boulder County Office of Emergency Management said the first phone alert warning residents to evacuate was sent to 215 people 42 minutes after the Marshall fire started.  

The first call that went out at 11:47 a.m. on Dec. 30 was a recorded message warning residents to leave the area where the fire started near CO 93 and Marshall Road.  

The agency also said more than 7,000 Louisville contacts did not receive an alert until right before 3 p.m. 

Evacuation orders and warnings

Specific details about the emergency notifications sent on Dec. 30 were released after residents said they received little to no warning or notice to flee their homes. 

Boulder OEM said 24,074 residents received orders or warnings over a three-hour span about the fire riding 100 mph winds. 

The second evacuation order sent to 2,588 people was followed by a call at 12:46 p.m. to 254 people warning to leave due to the fire threatening Superior. 

Around 12:50 p.m. another 4,173 residents were warned to prepare for an evacuation. 

Between 1:08 p.m. and 1:25 p.m. mandatory evacuations were ordered for most of Louisville. Another 2,200 residents were told to prepare for an evacuation just before 3 p.m. 

County officials said they issued seven evacuation orders and two warnings. 

Future system

Boulder County officials said Thursday the county has the technology to alert all cell phone users in the area, but the system has not been set up. 

Currently, the county uses a system called Everbridge. Landlines are automatically loaded into the system, but residents must create an account to receive notifications on their cell phones. 

Boulder County’s Office of Disaster Management will implement a system this year that could send emergency alerts to cell phones that are in the disaster area. The ODM said they secured the licensure for the system in 2019.

Officials said, “The implementation process was in its infancy when COVID struck and the Boulder ODM was stood up for COVID response, which has been continuing since Jan. 26, 2020.”

The agency said, “Our goal is to alert or warn residents quickly over a large area and do so without causing negative secondary effects that interfere with the orderly and effective movements of dense populations away from hazardous conditions.”