Thousands in Colo. Never Received Evacuation Call

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. -- When flames from the Waldo Canyon Fire started to come down the mountainside on June 26, more than 32,000 evacuation calls were made over five hours. 7NEWS has gone through the records and discovered nearly one in three calls never got delivered.

7NEWS requested the reverse notification data from calls made during the Waldo Canyon fire. El Paso/Teller County E911 sent 48 different evacuation, pre-evacuation and lifted evacuation notices from June 23 to June 30.

On June 26, from 4:42 p.m. to 9:46 p.m., more than 32,000 evacuation calls were sent. According to the summary reports obtained by 7NEWS, more than 9,700 were "abandoned."

"What's acceptable for you?" asked 7NEWS reporter Marshall Zelinger.

"An acceptable abandoned rate? I personally would like to see a zero abandoned rate, but of course, we're at the mercy of technology outside of our building," said Bills.

According to Cassidian Communications, the reverse notification provider, "abandoned" means that a call is attempted, but not completed, likely because of heavy call volume.

"We're looking into seeing how many phone calls can be made at one time through any given phone company," said Ben Bills, spokesman for El Paso/Teller County E911. "We don't want to point any fingers at anybody. There's going to be several meetings, I'm sure, down the road to figure that out, but we need to figure out what that number indicates; where exactly the call loses itself from the server and doesn't get delivered on the other end."

A spokesman with Century Link told 7NEWS that there were no phone line overload issues.

"We have to find where that point of failure, for lack of a better term, is, and get with those folks and see what can we do to work with them to make that work better," said Bills.

More than 114,000 reverse notification calls were sent between June 23 and June 30. More than 21,000 -- or about 19 percent -- never got delivered.

Couple Who Died Did Not Sign Up For Reverse Notification Call

7NEWS confirmed with El Paso/Teller County E911 and Colorado Springs Police that William and Barbara Everett did not receive a reverse notification call to evacuate, but not because of an error.

"Those folks, as far as our records indicate, had no landline service or cell phone service registered with our notification system," said Bills.

The remains of the Everetts were found days after the flames swept through their Mountain Shadows neighborhood.

According to a Colorado Springs Police spokeswoman, a family member was on the phone with the Everetts on June 26 and was told they were in the process of evacuating. She said police officers were also in the neighborhoods telling people to evacuate through bullhorns and by going door-to-door.

Identical Scenario Testing Unlikely

With the threat of flash flooding impacting the same neighborhoods, 7NEWS asked if the system could be tested by sending out a large number of test reverse notification calls at the same time.

Bills said that since the June 26 calls happened when hundreds of people were likely using phone lines to call friends and relatives to warn them of the flames, it is unlikely a test would stress the system in the same manner.

"There has always been talk about doing a mass scale test, it was just all about how can we get all the groups to come together that need to be involved so we can make this happen," said Bills.

He said any mass test would need to be publicized ahead of time, so residents who receive a test notification would not flood the 911 system with phone calls asking about the test notification.

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