Watch CBS News

Marshall Fire Action Report analyzes response, improvements

There are many lessons to be learned from the devastating Marshall Fire when it comes to preventing another tragedy. That is what emergency responders and disaster managers have been reviewing since the December fire destroyed more than 1,000 homes and businesses in Boulder County.

"The goal of the report is to have people look back, take a sort of post-incident perspective and evaluate what went well, what went wrong or were challenges," said Mike Chard, director of Boulder Disaster Management.


Chard helped compile a 54-page After-Action Report, which looked closely at the first 12-36 hours of the Marshall Fire. He described it as a sort of "task list."

The report also analyzed the many agencies that responded and lists dozens of recommendations to improve response to future emergencies. Things like better communication between incident command and dispatch and improving how traffic is handled.

"One of the big things was over the alert warning systems and evacuations," Chard told CBS4's Kelly Werthmann.

According to the report, law enforcement spaced out reverse 911 calls and text alerts in hopes of presenting traffic congestion with a widespread evacuation.

"The wireless emergency alerts are tied to the physical broadcast area of the cell tower, so you have to be in that area to receive that alert," Chard explained. "There's of course a lot of bleed-over with that depending on the age of your phone and the software that you have, or if you even have it turned on."


But as the fire quickly grew, cell phone towers were quickly overwhelmed. Reception worsened and made it difficult to communicate evacuation notices.

"It's still not 100%," Chard said of the alert system. "We still need to have firefighters and police officers and deputies go into neighborhoods. The incident commanders looking for where hazards are and directing resources in to be able to do that door to door to search while coordinating with the 911 center to get evacuations ordered."

Chard said Boulder County has made changes to that alert system, which he said proved helpful during the NCAR fire. Still, there is more work to be done.

"You want things to get better. You want the sacrifices and experiences people endured to have meaning and value in making things better. I think the spirit of this report is to do that."

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.