Westside residents expected answers from a Colorado Springs City Council meeting Monday that would address their concerns about not knowing how long it could take to evacuate in a wildfire. Some residents left feeling the hard questions weren’t posed.
Advocates for an evacuation analysis think the most important questions are simple: How long could it take to get out in a fire and how does the city plan for those times?
The city council didn’t ask for answers to some of those key questions, said Bill Wysong, Mountain Shadows Community Association president. Residents are interested in those evacuation times because other communities have successfully modeled them and more people are moving into the westside, a trend that could make it harder to get out.
“They would not acknowledge evacuation clearance times, nor would they properly answer that building in the (wildland urban interface) is going to make some things more difficult,” he said.
Mountain Shadows residents are specifically worried about 400 new proposed apartments on Garden of the Gods, a project set for its final rezoning vote Tuesday. But residents in the Broadmoor area and other neighborhoods are worried about the potential for a fire, particularly because 347 homes burned down during the Waldo Canyon fire.
Residents have asked emergency management officials to use free software specifically designed for modeling wildfire evacuations to estimate how long it could take to get out in a wildfire that has been successfully used elsewhere. Citizens have even started running the models themselves in lieu of the city’s action.
Fire Chief Randy Royal told city council his staff had looked at the Fast Local Emergency Evacuation Times, or FLEET software, suggested by residents but doesn’t plan to use it. Royal said computer modeling couldn’t account for all the variables the city could see during a fire, such as wind. But he said he is confident in the city’s existing plans.
“We do have a good history of being successful in our operations,” he said.
The fire department plans to pursue a software called ZoneHaven, that it can use to manage a fire. The software could split the city into smaller evacuation zones to help residents get out in smaller groups and potentially avoid some congestion, and communicate evacuation orders through social media, said Fire Marshal Brett Lacey.
Residents interested in answers are not opposed to ZoneHaven, but it doesn’t get to the heart of their concerns about long evacuation times, they said.
Resident John McLain used FLEET software with guidance from one of its developers and found that it could take about five hours and 20 minutes to evacuate Mountain Shadows, a time that could be unsafe if a fire is moving fast.
He would prefer the city use modeling ahead of time rather than rely on software to guide them in the moment.
“One is protective and one is reactive. … One is chaos, one is organized,” McLain said.
Resident Dana Duggan would also like to see the city plan ahead and determine how long it could take for residents to get out and potentially post the best exit routes for fleeing depending on the direction of the fire.
“There is just no excuse for not doing it,” she said.
Lacey said the city staff had run a model with FLEET and found the software estimated it could take a little over five hours to evacuate Kissing Camels, a result he did not believe because the city evacuated the entire northwest side in a little under four hours.
He also noted that the exact time of evacuation doesn’t matter so long as everyone gets out safely, he said. However residents have a responsibility to prepare to leave as soon as evacuation orders are called because of the fire risk.
“They should be concerned. They should be taking steps to protect themselves,” he said.
This content was originally published here.