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Boulder says new system will save lives with streamlined emergency alerts

Boulder says new system will save lives with streamlined emergency alerts
Posted at 8:39 PM, Nov 30, 2022
and last updated 2022-11-30 22:39:06-05

BOULDER, Colo. — As Colorado approaches the one year mark of the Marshall Fire, various agencies within Boulder County continue to adopt new strategies, technology and resources in hopes of addressing the glaring gaps that became apparent in their response to the state's most destructive fire.

One of those gaps came to light in the early aftermath of the fire when Denver7 heard from numerous people who claimed they received emergency and evacuation alerts very late — when flames were only feet from their homes.

While emergency officials continue to improve opt-in style and Integrated Public Alert Warning systems, the City of Boulder took their efforts a step further Monday by implementing Zonehaven, a new web-based emergency mapping tool.

"It streamlines the communication from the first responders to the dispatch center, who is our alerting warning processing center," Boulder Wildland Division Chief Brian Oliver said.

According to Oliver, the old process to issue an emergency alert took about 12 to 15 steps, which included using a physical map, drawing a box location around a potentially impacted area, sending that to a dispatch center responsible for sending the alert, then answering any questions dispatch may have prior to sending an alert to the public.

"Trying to draw on a map and relay information back and forth ... would take 30 to 45 minutes for that to happen. Now this happens almost instantly," Oliver said.

Zonehaven bypasses all of that through pre-identified polygons on a map that dispatch centers link to their emergency alert systems.

In the case of an emergency, all fire crews have to do is pull up Zonehaven on a tablet, click on a specific zone that may be threatened and select one of many options the technology offers, which includes evacuation order, warning, and location of fire.

Oliver said the public can take advantage of Zonehaven and see what is happening in nearby areas in real-time.

"They don't have to wait for an alert. If they see smoke or feel like something else is going on and get a call from a friend or a neighbor, they can open Zonehaven. They can see the areas that have been evacuated, why they're being evacuated, and evacuation shelters, like where we're sending them," he said.

While developers work on creating a Zonehaven app for smartphones, the technology can be accessed by through

In the meantime, Boulder County Office of Emergency Management Director Mike Chard said the county is monitoring the impact Zonehaven will have in Boulder and whether similar technology can be used in other cities within the county.

"It does appear to have benefits with providing public situational awareness and operational planning and response decision assistance during evacuation situations," Chard said. "OEM is facilitating this process and will be working with local first response agencies to come to a decision and evaluate potentially other software applications that may be similar to Zonehaven and determine the best course of action forward."

For more information about emergency preparedness, click here.