The #NCARfire was the first opportunity for Boulder officials to utilize two different emergency notification systems.
The first was Everbridge, which sends alerts to all landlines in an impacted area and allows individuals to register their cell phone numbers to receive alerts about a particular address or addresses. This will always be the most focused and most accurate system for receiving important safety notifications. If residents have not signed up, we encourage them to do so now at: https://www.bouldercounty.org/safety/emergency/emergency-mass-notification-system/
The second system, implemented earlier this month, is often referred to as Wireless Emergency Alerts, or WEA. This system uses cell phone technology, including cellular towers, to push notifications out, similar to Amber Alerts and National Weather Service notices, to all cell phones that are configured to accept them. The benefit of this system is that alerts can reach individuals who have not opted in using the Everbridge system, which likely includes some of the city’s most vulnerable residents.
The downside to WEA is that because it uses cellular towers, its messaging is much less precise. Anyone whose phone pings the relevant towers will get the alert. We have received several complaints that individuals well outside of the evacuation zone, including in neighboring communities, received these. This spill over is a well-known issue and currently is hard to avoid.
If individuals receive a WEA notice but do not believe they are at risk, it can be helpful to click on the link that is provided and/or go to the Boulder OEM Emergency Status page at https://www.boulderoem.com/emergency-status/ for more information. When possible, maps will be posted here. Please know, however, that maps and detailed information may not be available yet in the early stages of an emergency. In these cases, emergency communicators will do their best to describe the boundaries of the evacuation area.
The City of Boulder’s goal is to always use these technologies in a way that gets the most people out of harm’s way while minimizing the possibility of confusing people and potentially clogging evacuation routes unnecessarily. Each time a notification is necessary, officials in the 911 dispatch center work with first responders making evacuation decisions in the Emergency Operations Center and will weigh the situation to evaluate whether to use Everbridge, WEA, or both systems.
More information from the Federal Communications Commission on WEA, including an explanation about known issues with geographic precision, is available at: https://www.fcc.gov/consumers/guides/wireless-emergency-alerts-wea