by Pam Zubeck
The city of Colorado Springs released its final After Action Report on the Waldo Canyon Fire this morning. The 111-page report can be found here.
Noting other studies under way, such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture study that we wrote about here, the report hints that the city is ready to participate in a bigger look at the fire. "The City of Colorado Springs fully supports this request and is prepared to actively participate in a further holistic review of the Waldo Canyon Fire, understanding that the USDA study would complement this AAR," the report says.
Mayor Steve Bach plans a news conference later today to discuss the report, which outlines strengths and recommendations as follows:
The major strengths identified during the City’s response to the Waldo Canyon Fire are as follows:
• Public Safety Collaboration: Post 9/11, public safety agencies in Colorado Springs began a concerted effort to build collaboration among and between the City’s public safety agencies. Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) and Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) have since developed a strong working relationship through planning, training, and exercises as demonstrated on real-world events. This strength in collaboration was instrumental in the response to the complex Waldo Canyon Fire.
• Personnel: Personnel from the City of Colorado Springs, governmental partners, and local non-profit agencies demonstrated unprecedented dedication to the incident response, as well as to the residents of Colorado Springs.
• Training and Exercise: CSFD, CSPD, and the Colorado Springs Office of Emergency Management (CSOEM) have a demonstrated history of coordinating and conducting multi- agency, complex emergency response training and exercises. Additionally, CSFD and CSPD have completed comprehensive tactical training and exercises that directly relate to this type of a response. The City has also participated in the South Central All-Hazards Region4 training and exercise program for the past nine years. This extensive training and exercise experience played an important role in the successful response by the City’s first responders and support personnel. Exercises, such as the “Up in Smoke” WUI exercise series, included emergency evacuation drills with residents and first responders, as well as components of a larger, full- scale exercise with emergency response agencies.
• Relationships: Pre-existing relationships among local government and non-profit agencies were instrumental in ensuring a well-coordinated response. Leadership personnel from local agencies have met face to face, engaged in training, and worked to solidify partnerships over the past several years. These relationships provided the structure for an effective response to all aspects of the Waldo Canyon Fire.
• Public Safety Response: CSFD and CSPD safely evacuated approximately 26,000 residents on 26 June 2012, while effectively fighting a fast-moving conflagration fire in the WUI, protecting and saving 82% of the homes in the direct impact area.
• Planning: CSFD, CSPD, and CSOEM have worked collaboratively with all City Departments for several years to develop policies, plans and procedures for a WUI fire. These plans have been used in training and tested during emergency response exercises.
• Wildfire Mitigation Plan: In 2001, the CSFD developed a comprehensive Wildfire Mitigation Plan (WMP). This plan included an extensive, interactive risk assessment of the WUI and establishment of a strong community education program. In 2011, the Colorado Springs Community Wildfire Protection Plan (CWPP) was finalized as an update to the WMP with detailed emphasis on future planning and program features.
• WUI Fire Evacuation Appendix to the Colorado Springs Emergency Operations Plan: A WUI Fire Evacuation Appendix was initially created in 2008, and updated in early 2012. It provides detailed information for the City on the wildfire risk in the WUI as well as resources and plans for first responders to use during a WUI evacuation (including traffic models). This appendix was further tested during the “Up in Smoke” WUI exercise series.
The primary recommendations are as follows:
• Internal/Partner Agency Communications: Decisions were made rapidly at key points in time throughout the incident. A system/process needs to be designed and implemented to provide notification to first responders and key agency representatives as command decisions are made throughout the event. Existing technologies should be reviewed and modified to accomplish this.
• Real-Time Documentation: Documenting dates, times, and decisions during each day of the incident was an overwhelming task. Moving forward, a process should be developed to train existing staff and/or public safety volunteers to work as “scribes” throughout the various geographically-dispersed locations affected by the incident. Scribes will track real-time information for record-keeping and can serve as a communications link between locations when primary staff is busy with their duties.
• Logistics: The nature of the Waldo Canyon Fire incident (i.e., duration, number of personnel assigned, multiple geographic incident locations) created an unprecedented need for logistics support. Training should occur for staff and volunteers who can immediately be placed in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) to form a more robust Logistics Section to assist with providing support to all aspects of the incident. The goal is to have three individuals trained to perform each role in the EOC.
• Incident Management: The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized, on-scene, all- hazard incident management system that allows its users to adopt an integrated organizational structure that matches the complexities of the incident. While ICS training has been delivered over the past several years to first responders, a need has been identified to practice (i.e., exercise) advanced ICS skills. Additional training and exercise on ICS job aides, organization charts, and checklists that have previously been developed should be provided.