Emergency alert systems called into question amid historic Marshall Fire investigation

Marshall Fire
Posted at 10:12 PM, Jan 07, 2022

DENVER — As investigators continue to look into Colorado's most destructive fire, questions about emergency alert systems across the state are surfacing after some in the Marshall Fire's path say no alerts were sent to them.

"There's different reasons that people don't get the notifications," said Micki Trost, a spokesperson for the State Emergency Operation Center.

According to Trost, there are two emergency alert systems utilized throughout most of Colorado's counties.

"Most of the 64 counties in the state have purchased an agreement with a vendor to provide opt-in notifications," Trost said.

Opt-in systems automatically send emergency alerts to anyone who has a landline, but those with cell phones have to register their phones in the system in order to be notified.

"It's the responsibility of the individual to get signed up for those," Trost said.

Some counties use an approved wireless alert system through FEMA called the IPAWS system.

"That is the... wireless emergency alert that goes out based on cell phone towers in a certain area," Trost said.

But if you're out of town or work in a different city, you wouldn't be notified through this system if you're out of the area.

"It also might be that... their phones were off or that there was towers that were interrupted or down at the time of the fire," Trost said.

It can get confusing. Each county has a different system in place.

Michael Brannen says the City of Aurora doesn't have a wireless alert system in place that would automatically send notifications to those in the area. Aurora uses the opt-in system.

"The city of Aurora has Code Red," Brannen said. "Residents don't automatically get Code Red on their phone. They have to download it."

However, Brannen said that the city can request Arapahoe County to use it's wireless system to notify those in Aurora of an emergency. Araphaoe County may also send the alert without request.

At least eight counties in the state don't have access to the wireless alert system.

"They can put in a request either to the state or to a neighboring agency. So, sometimes a neighboring county can also push out an alert," Trost said.

Denver7 asked the governor's office why there isn't a statewide system in place similar to the Amber Alert system. We have yet to hear back.

Officials are asking their communities to be proactive about knowing what system is in place in their county. They ask residents to visit city and county websites to learn more.