COLORADO SPRINGS — The El Paso-Teller County 911 Authority identified three issues with its alert notification system during the Akerman Fire in Stetson Hills, and has now said it will not be using the Wireless Emergency Alert system until the cause of the problem can be determined.

During the Akerman Fire on May 12, evacuation orders were sent out using Wireless Emergency Alerts (WEA), a system that is supposed to target only those in the affected area. However, the Authority has stated that three issues were detected with the alerts sent out that day.

  1. The alert reached outside the impacted area.
  2. The link in the Wireless Emergency Alert (WEA) did not display a map of the affected area.
  3. The location information contained in the alerts about the fires could be improved upon.

Wireless Emergency Alerts are separate from Peak Alerts, which residents must opt into. WEA sends short messages accompanied by a vibration and alert tone to WEA-Enabled cell phones in a locally targeted area without downloading an app or subscribing to a service. Utilizing these notifications ensures people in harm’s way receive the alert, specifically tourists, people traveling through the impacted area during their daily commute, and those who are not registered to receive Peak Alerts.

The Authority said that ideally, WEA should notify citizens in the impacted area with no more than 1/10th of a mile (528 feet) overshoot, and they understand that the alert may have alarmed citizens who were outside of the targeted zones. The Authority is working with Everbridge, the software used to send Peak Alerts, and FEMA to determine why the Wireless Emergency Alert reached farther than intended and why the link in the WEA did not display a map of the affected area.

In a question-and-answer sent out by the Authority, they also explained why WEA notifications were not sent out on the afternoon of May 12 regarding the Alturas fire that broke out in the Security-Widefield area: “An alert was sent using Peak Alerts by phone call, text message, and email. The alert targeted the area specified by crews working the incident. The WEA notification in Stetson Hills reached beyond the area impacted by the fire early in the day, so the WEA was not used during this incident to allow the Authority time to troubleshoot the issue.”

The Authority said in the same Q&A that until they can determine why the WEA reached outside the impacted area, they will not be using WEA notifications.

Public safety agencies will continue to use Peak Alerts to notify citizens who reside in areas impacted by an emergency by sending targeted alerts via phone calls, text messages, and email. You can register to receive these alerts at peakalerts.org.