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Summit County releases new hazard mitigation plan

Summit County Emergency Management Director Brian Bovaird leads a daily phone briefing with community leaders around the county in early April.
Sawyer D’Argonne / sdargonne@summitdaily.com

FRISCO — A new hazard mitigation plan developed by Summit County is giving local governments and residents a better look at the biggest natural safety risks facing the community and how best to combat them.

The Summit County Office of Emergency Management is rolling out the new Jurisdictional Hazard Mitigation Plan, a sweeping document that outlines the county’s vulnerability to natural disasters, severe weather events and even a few human-made dangers.

The Federal Emergency Management Agency requires an update to the plan every five years. Many of the top risks remain in the forefront, but the update does expand into new potential hazards and provides officials with a look into the disasters of Summit’s past.

In terms of risk assessment, the document measures each hazard’s overall significance by looking at the potential extent of an incident, magnitude and severity, and the probability of occurrence.

Unsurprisingly, wildfires, avalanches, severe winter weather and floods topped the list. Other hazards like dam failure and landslides came in just below, listed as medium threats, along with a couple of hazards recently added to the update, like pest infestation and hazardous materials release.

“I think it’s indicative of how this plan is evolving that we did include things like hazardous materials release,” said Brian Bovaird, the county’s emergency management director. “It’s the one hazard that is really man-made and not a natural hazard. So one high priority is to identify specific areas on Loveland Pass that are more vulnerable to these tanker trucks and hazmat releases. …

“In the old plan, there was also a section for pine beetle infestation, but now that we’re a little bit removed from that and have some lessons learned — and in reviewing other ongoing hazards within the county — we now have a much more broad take on pest infestation, as well.”

In addition to profiling each hazard, the county is also providing mitigation priorities and strategies to minimize risks. The plan also includes appendices for each of the county’s towns, fire districts and more, and the plan helps to identify funding sources.

Among the more more notable projects identified was conducting an emergency power study to strategically place and expand backup power generation for critical facilities, like Summit Middle School, the county’s primary emergency shelter.  

The plan also calls for a supply chain study, which would provide insight into the impact prolonged interstate closures caused by a fire or winter storms would have on essential goods like food and fuel.

“In general, we have about three or four days up here before the public would start to realize that our supply chain was compromised: gas stations without gas and grocery stores without food on the shelves,” Bovaird said. “The hope is to identify alternative routes, identify the biggest vulnerabilities and develop emergency measures and coordination to expedite supplies if there is a disruption.”

In addition to modern hazards, the plan also provides background information on the area’s geography and climate, and provides a look into the county’s history of disasters.

The plan tracks historic dry and wet periods as far back as 1893, floods back to 1918, and even a few recorded earthquakes as far back as 1964 — when a magnitude 4.0 quake shook the Grand and Summit county border.

“It is the best document any jurisdiction has to capture and maintain historical data and information,” Bovaird said. “As part of this plan, we’ve gone back and documented all of the major incidents that have occurred in the county. You get so much valuable information from an incident that goes away over time. This plan is really a fantastic way to maintain and keep that historical information.”

Descriptions of more recent incidents also have helped emergency officials fill in potential gaps in their services and build off past responses.

“Quite a bit of work went into updating this plan, and it gave us a chance to look back and make changes to prepare for any hazard we would need to deal with,” Red, White & Blue Fire Protection District Chief Jim Keating said. “Since the last plan was adopted, we’ve had some flooding situations, a wildfire and a building collapse. We had numerous larger-than-normal hazards, and this gave us a chance to look at the plan and update it.”

While COVID-19 created difficulties in getting the plan finished on time, pandemics and other public health related topics weren’t included as hazards. Those plans are in place with the county’s public health department, but Bovaird noted that there was a lot to be learned from COVID-19’s arrival from an emergency management perspective, and he said his office is expecting a report in the next month or so providing a review of the response.

Bovaird also said he was hoping to bring the hazard mitigation plan, public health plans and more into a new overarching Emergency Operations Plan in the future.

“One of my biggest initiatives right now in rewriting that plan is combining all of that,” Bovaird said. “There are so many different fragmentations of plans and guidance within the emergency management community that I’m trying to bring them all together to make them more accessible and understandable. It’s a comprehensive emergency management framework that can serve as a one-stop shop to integrate issues around public health, homeland security and natural hazards.”

The hazard mitigation plan already has been approved by the county and is making its way around to other jurisdictions before heading to FEMA for final approval.


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