Colorado wildfire: Many addresses in emergency database wrong

Colorado wildfire: Many addresses in emergency database wrong

06 April 2012

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USA — The addresses of one in six homes in Jefferson and Broomfield counties are entered inconsistently in databases used to warn people when there is an emergency, officials say.

That means as many as 100,000 homeowners may not receive notification if an evacuation is ordered should another wildfire break out.

The revelation came as Jefferson County officials try to sort out why a woman who died during the Lower North Fork fire — and many others — did not receive notifications to evacuate.

There were 848 homes in the fire zone, according to a list provided by the Jefferson County Sheriff’s Office. Of those, the addresses of 278 were inaccurate, including where Ann Appel, 51, died when fire swept through her home at 14141 Broadview Circle. Her home was incorrectly listed as being in Morrison instead of Littleton.

“There are 100,000 numbers that are not properly mapped,” Jefferson County sheriff’s spokeswoman Jacki Kelley said. “We don’t know how many of those are in our jurisdiction.”

The wildfire destroyed 27 homes and burned 4,140 acres. Sam Lucas, 77, and his wife, Linda, 76, who also were killed during the fire, did receive an emergency notification.

The first round of evacuation calls, made just after 5 p.m. March 26, went only to people with addresses listed as Littleton, according to minutes of a conference-call meeting among sheriff’s officials and FirstCall Network, which provides the notifications.

Many people far outside the evacuation area, who had signed up to receive messages on their cellphones or by e-mail, were mistakenly ordered to evacuate, and their questions for dispatchers clogged 911 lines.

Kristen Moeller got a text message on her cellphone but had put the phone down and didn’t see the notification. Because her house phone never rang, she said, she didn’t feel a sense of urgency to evacuate until white smoke turned into a “dark, ferocious cloud.”

The author and Internet radio host thinks she and four of her friends left the home she shared with her husband, David Cottrell, about 15 minutes before the wildfire reached the house at 18006 Rocky Top Trail. The house burned to the ground. The 37 acres of land around it is scorched, with only a few green pine trees left standing.

“I think it was a devastating series of systems screwups,” she said. “Systems failed; lives were lost.”

The county’s database of addresses within the burn area, which was provided by FirstCall, indicated that notification was received at Moeller’s home.

FirstCall president Matt Teague said his company has manually corrected the addresses within the Lower North Fork fire zone.

Now FirstCall is working with CenturyLink and GeoComm to make sure all 100,000 mismatched phone and address records correlate exactly to prevent future notification gaps. In some cases, an address in one database uses abbreviations for streets and in the other, the street name is spelled out, he said.

In all, there are 600,000 phones and devices listed in the databases FirstCall uses for notifications throughout Jefferson and Broomfield counties.

“I think we’re on the right track,” Teague said. “We want to make sure every address matches up.”

Sheriff’s spokesman Mark Techmeyer said officials are trying to calculate how many people did not receive a call during the wildfire, but it has been difficult to get information from FirstCall.

“This problem isn’t even close to being fixed,” he said.

Techmeyer said he would like to know when FirstCall first knew about the mismatched addresses and if it has known about it for some time, why the problems weren’t fixed.

If addresses didn’t match exactly, a phone was listed to a default address in the town of origin, which may not guarantee an emergency notification if the default address isn’t part of the evacuation area, Kelley said.

FirstCall is developing a method for residents to look up their record in the system to make sure it is accurate.

Moeller said she and Cottrell lost their “magical” mountain home, their property lost significant value, they are losing income because they can’t work and they are under tremendous stress.

“We’re not even barely scratching the surface of putting our lives back together,” she said.

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