Expert analysis presented to the Colorado Springs City Council on Monday showed that residents on the northwest side of Colorado Springs and the Broadmoor area could face long delays if they had to evacuate from a wildfire.
Old Dominion University Professor Mike Robinson, an expert in evacuation modeling, found it could take 3 hours and 50 minutes for all residents to leave the Broadmoor area, excluding tourist traffic. Factoring in tourists at Cheyenne Mountain Zoo, Broadmoor resort and Seven Falls could increase the time to 5 hours, with major delays on Cheyenne Boulevard and Cheyenne Road, he said.
Mountain Shadows resident John McLain, an expert in modeling and simulation, built on Robinson's work, adding in more tourist traffic in the Broadmoor area, and found that it could take 8 hours and 20 minutes for everyone to leave.
Northwest Colorado Springs could also see delays, with a best-case evacuation of 1.5 people in each car taking 4 hours and 20 minutes, Robinson said. If 3,000 are people are exploring Garden of the Gods, the time for everyone to leave could go up an additional two to four hours, he said.
"That’s just a simple problem of too many cars and too little road," he said.
Evacuations from the northwest side could see significant backups along Rockrimmon Boulevard and Garden of the Gods and Woodmen roads. The models are meant to inform, not replace, evacuation plans, fire models or local expertise, he said.
University of Utah Professor Tom Cova, another evacuation expert, called on the city to consider that fires are moving ever faster and exceeding fire professionals' expectations.
"We are going to have more and more scenarios where there is not enough time to get people out," he said. The city should consider where people could safely shelter, such as parking lots, as the community burns around them, he said. Cova and the other evacuations experts were invited to speak by Westside Watch, a group of residents concerned about wildfire and development.
After experts explained the wildfire risk, Bill Wysong with Westside Watch called on the city to consider a moratorium on growth in the wildland urban interface, those areas close to forested open space, until the city can pass an ordinance tying approvals for new construction to safe evacuation times. Residents called for a target evacuation time of 1 hour based on a city emergency planning document.
City Council members didn't discuss the long evacuation times that the experts presented, ask any questions or make comments on the residents' proposal, making it difficult to discern how the board the felt about the potential ordinance.
Council President Tom Strand assured the audience the board will revisit the issue in December.
"We take this extremely seriously," he said.
Councilman Bill Murray asked the city administration to review the proposed ordinance and report back in February.
Councilman Randy Helms said in an interview he was concerned the group has an anti-development agenda.
"I believe our fire department, fire marshal and police department have a really good understanding of what we need to do in evacuation," he said. However, he noted it is important to understand how much time people could have in an evacuation.
Colorado Springs emergency managers have disputed the value of evacuation models. In a recent written statement, city officials said modeling was "only mildly valuable because models are inflexible and do not allow for the variables of an emergency — especially a wildfire."
Louisiana State University Professor Brian Wolshon, an expert in evacuation traffic, addressed some of the statements city officials have made about evacuation models in his presentation. He acknowledged that while a model can't tell you exactly what's going to happen in wildfire, it can give you a range of possible scenarios that are possible and likely.
"I think you can plan, and I have seen it done in other places," he said.