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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Colorado Wildfires: June 2013

As wildfires erupted in the San Juan mountain range of Colorado, a small rural hospital found an immediate use for plans and equipment funded through the Hospital Preparedness Program. Due to proximity of the massive fires, the Rio Grande Hospital in Del Norte, Colo., had to evacuate two associated clinics in South Fork and Creede, Colo., as well as prepare for potential evacuation of the hospital itself due to smoke.

They activated the hospital emergency operations center and for the first time had enough interoperable emergency communications equipment to allow incident command team to stay informed of all activities going on around them. Equipment such as 800 MHz radios and an 800 MHz consolette (for radio dispatch operations) allowed the team to monitor communications continually across the multiple jurisdictions involved from all levels of government and make decisions about hospital operations including evacuation.

“The information allowed the hospital emergency operations team to plan and react much more quickly than would have been possible otherwise,” explained hospital chief executive officer Arlene Harms. “We couldn’t have purchased this equipment on our own and it arrived just when we really needed it.”

Emergency room personnel also relied on the hospital’s preparedness plans – which guided drills and training over the years - to handle the surge in the demand for medical services brought by the fires. Using the new consolette, they were able to use information from first responders to adjust and prepare for the surge.

“Our plans and equipment were the key to an efficient organizational response during the fires,” Harms concluded.

  • This page last reviewed: November 20, 2013