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Colorado Springs City Council gives final approval to emergency evacuation ordinance

COLORADO SPRINGS, Colo. (KRDO) -- On Tuesday, the Colorado Springs City Council passed an amended emergency evacuation ordinance in a 7-1 vote, meaning that it has received final approval on a second reading and vote.


Councilman Randy Helms was excused from the meeting and did not vote.

Two weeks ago, the Council voted unanimously to approve the ordinance, but on Tuesday Councilman Bill Murray shared the concerns of many residents opposed to it.

City of Colorado Springs

"The homework about evacuation times -- I'm sorry that these times might conflict with development -- that might impact the safety of our citizens," he said. "Based on everything I've seen and heard, I have to go back and be honest with the public and say that this does not answer the mail."


Opponents believe that the ordinance doesn't provide enough information to allow them to make the best decisions about evacuating -- because of a wildfire or other situation -- quickly and safely.


The ordinance would divide the city into separate zones and send notifications only to specific zones affected by an emergency, instead of across a wider area -- as was the case during the evacuation from the Mountain Shadows neighborhood and other west side areas in the 2012 Waldo Canyon Fire.

Nearly 350 homes were destroyed, and an elderly married couple died while trying to evacuate.


Authorities who pushed for the ordinance -- including Mayor John Suthers, Fire Chief Randy Royal, Police Chief Adrian Vasquez and Fire Marshall Brett Lacey -- said that a fluid and rapidly-changing emergency such as a wildfire make it practically impossible to be certain of how long an evacuation will take.


Royal said that security concerns are why authorities won't release specific evacuation routes and intersections to the public in advance.

"Terrorist groups actually have, in their newsletters, wildfire as a terrorist threat," he explained. "Part of that issue is setting a wildfire, but then going and blocking the exit routes so that people can't get out."


After around a dozen people -- including former Councilwoman and El Paso County Commissioner Sallie Clark -- expressed concerns about the ordinance, most Council members continued their support for it.

"A lot of what I'm hearing from opponents is fear and that's not a good thing," said Councilwoman Nancy Henjum. "We all need to work together on this."


The mayor agreed.

"I'm going to trust my public safety staff to make the right decisions and recommend them to me," he said.


Bill Wysong, president of the Mountain Shadows Community Association, said that he's disappointed by the vote.

“There’s still a lot to be worried about," he said. "But keep in mind that they’ve stressed the evacuation map will be distributed via your cellphone. How many bars is it going to take if everyone in a large section of town are all looking at their phones, trying to figure out how to evacuate?”


Royal said that the ordinance will be updated as needed.

Authorities plan to spend the rest of the summer fine-tuning the emergency plan before starting a major "Know Your Zone" campaign that will educate the public on what to do -- and not do-- if and when they receive an emergency notification.

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Scott Harrison

Scott is a reporter for KRDO. Learn more about Scott here.


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