Eagle County’s public safety system has strengths and areas that need improvement, according to state assessment | VailDaily.com

Eagle County’s public safety system has strengths and areas that need improvement, according to state assessment

Recent state assessment shows areas that need improvement

First responders from other local agencies helped fight the 2022 Duck Pond fire in Gypsum. Cooperation and collaboration between agencies is an essential part of the valley's public safety system.
Vail Daily archive photo
What’s the assessment? The Colorado Emergency Preparedness Assessment is designed to:
  • Aid local jurisdictions in gaining a greater understanding of local preparedness levels
  • Helps assess risk, capabilities, and the potential need for support
  • Establish a standardized, repeatable process to understand county-level capabilities and identify statewide trends

The results are in from an assessment of Eagle County’s emergency preparedness capabilities. And we can’t see it.

Eagle County Emergency Director Birch Barron said the reason is that respondents are guaranteed anonymity in their responses. But, Barron said, the assessment included 30 partners from “all spectrums of public safety. The assessment is used to compare existing capabilities to “where we should be.”

That information can be used for prioritizing efforts, as well as prioritizing grant applications and other funding requests, Barron said.

The assessments give “a lot of value to the state … and almost every county in Colorado to draw attention to their capabilities,” Barron said.

Asked if there were any surprises in the latest assessment, Barron said a couple of things stand out.

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The first is that the county’s “fragmented” public safety system, with different fire districts, as well as town police departments and the Eagle County Sheriff’s Office, rely on high-level communication and cooperation.

The other is the realization that some public safety capabilities may be strong in some parts of the county and not as well in other areas.

“We need to work toward raising the level of service across the county,” Barron said.

One area of improvement — disaster recovery — doesn’t have a good template, Barron said.

“There’s no road map for best practices,” Barron said, noting that many homes aren’t insured for full replacement. There also aren’t good systems for keeping kids in school or kids in daycare, he added.

Locally, “we have a lot of people and organizations that want to help, but not everybody’s going to be whole again,” he said.

Still, he added, the county’s emergency services have better relationships than even two or three years ago.

During a presentation of the assessment to the Eagle County Board of Commissioners, Barron added that some improvements could include getting Federal Aviation Administration approval for the Colorado National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site at the Eagle County Regional Airport to use the Grand Junction airport’s traffic control system. That could allow those helicopters to fill and refill water buckets locally, and not have those items currently stored at Rifle.

Commissioner Jeanne McQueeney said one of her concerns about the assessment is fairly poor scores for fatality management, asking if Eagle County Coroner Kara Bettis is more involved in emergency planning.

And, while McQueeney asked whether the valley’s fire district should consolidate, that’s a difficult question.

“It’s not really my role to drive for consolidation of public safety districts,” Barron said in a conversation following his presentation. “It’s my role to help public safety districts where there might be vulnerabilities.”

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