Questions remain about reverse emergency alert system during Lower North Fork Fire

10:09 PM, Mar 29, 2012   |    comments
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"About 12 percent of the people who should have received calls did not," Jefferson County spokeswoman Jacki Kelley told 9Wants to Know Thursday.

Kelley originally said 22 percent of the people did not receive calls.

Bill Larson says he was one of those who didn't get an automated emergency call. Instead, a neighbor pounded on his door.

"It was getting darker and darker, brown and black smoke," Larson said.

He gathered a few things and drove away to a safe distance.

"We watched, pretty much watched our house burn. We saw the smoke come. We couldn't see our house anymore. Saw a big old puff of black and said that's it," Larson said.

That was the last he saw of his home until Thursday when he was allowed to go back into the burn area. All that was left are ashes and rubble.

"We loved our life up there," he said. "The people, our neighbors, the people around us are truly amazing people."

Earlier on Thursday, the sheriff's office blamed the gap in notifications on a software glitch, saying that caused problems.

The county uses software made by First Call.

The president of First Call, Matt Teague, told 9NEWS the software his company made did not have problems and performed perfectly.

"It's untrue. It worked perfectly. There was not a glitch," Teague said.

He also said that Jefferson County would have had real time data to show who had been reached and who hadn't.

"It worked exactly as it was designed to work. We completed 88 percent of the calls and 12 percent were not complete. But what that means if that we tried each of them three times and it's either people that were not home or didn't answer their phones or it was phone numbers that were disconnected. So the system worked perfectly," Teague said.

Late Thursday night, Kelley said the sheriff's office was not sure about First Call's claim that the software was error-free.

The sheriff's office is working with the company that created the notification software to fix the problem, Kelley said earlier on Thursday.

However, she says they would use the system again if more evacuations were needed because she says it is still the best way to reach the public.

"We need a system, the system we purchased, to work well. We're considering backup plans. We've got to, knowing that there is a problem. And maybe it's a small problem. Doesn't matter. It's a problem," Kelley said.

She says if residents need to evacuate again, a sheriff's deputy will also drive down the road with his sirens going off to alert people of the danger.

Some residents who lived miles from the fire also tell 9Wants to Know that they received evacuation phone calls Monday. 9NEWS viewers at Coal Mine Avenue and Wadsworth Boulevard, Belleview Avenue and Simms Street and in Genesee near Interstate 70 say they got erroneous calls.

The sheriff's office says those alerts were due to "human error."

Teague says the sheriff's office sent out an alert to anyone who had signed up for the system before sending an alert targeted to the burn area.

Issues with 911 dispatchers

Viewers called 911 say they are unhappy with how some dispatchers treated them when they called to report smoke in the area Monday afternoon.









"I called, and I called and I called again. I don't think they took it seriously," Kim Olson, an evacuee, told 9NEWS. "There was a woman who was very condescending and basically told me to stop calling. That's when I got mad and realized I wasn't going to get any information from them."

Olson hopes a review of the entire fire response that was ordered by the governor will help identify the problems she experienced.

Have a comment or tip for investigative reporter Jace Larson? Call him at 303-871-1432 or e-mail him at

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