Evacuating Aspen isn’t easy
The Aspen Times
Aspen, CO Colorado
ASPEN ” A targeted evacuation in Aspen is harder than it looks ” especially when it comes to people who are staying within the evacuated area.
That may explain why some retail businesses were evacuated on New Year’s Eve, while the hotels above them stayed open ” or why some restaurants and bars were evacuated, while residents remained in nearby condominiums.
Assistant Police Chief Bill Linn explained Friday that computers made reverse-911 calls to those in evacuated areas, and officers went door-to-door to make sure there was compliance.
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But he noted that officers simply didn’t have access to many private residences. For example, several top-floor condominiums on Cooper Street are only accessible via a locked elevator protected by a locked gate, he said.
“As with everything, we are being absolutely as reasonable and diligent as we can,” Linn said. “There are only so many steps we can take. We do our absolute best with the resources we have.”
At the Prospector Condominiums on Hyman Avenue, General Manager Scott Kirkwood said, though he received a couple of reverse-911 calls, guests stayed. Meanwhile, next door, Eric’s Bar closed after police came by and told staffers they needed to shut the bar down.
According to Kirkwood, officers told any guests in front of the Prospector Condominiums that they had to evacuate the area, but never entered the building to tell guests they had to leave their residences.
“If you walked out the front, you had to evacuate,” said Kirkwood. “If you walked back in the building, they didn’t chase you.”
Eventually, guests learned to walk in and out of the back door, he said ” though police wouldn’t let guests drive cars onto their street or go in or out of the parking garage.
Still, not all those staying in evacuated areas were able to stay. At the Residence Hotel on South Galena Street, 11 guests were evacuated from about 4 p.m. until midnight, according to a spokeswoman. Guests at the Hotel Jerome on Main Street were also evacuated for several hours.
Linn also noted that confusion was created by the computer system the department uses to identify an evacuation zone.
“You say, [to the computer program] we want to evacuate all people within “x” distance of this spot,” explained Linn. “What it does, is it throws up, effectively, a circle, which doesn’t work very well within square streets,” he explained.
The system placed an automated reverse-911 call to every building within the computer-generated circle. It also printed a list of the buildings to be evacuated, so that police officers could go door-to-door to follow up.
But some businesses that received reverse-911 calls were in the circle of the computer-generated zone but not in the revised, actual grid-like evacuation zone, said Linn. Several hotel owners who called the police before evacuating their guests were able to head off an evacuation.
One such hotel was the Aspen Square Hotel on Cooper Avenue, where General Manager Warren Klug said he spoke with the Aspen Police Department and was told that despite the reverse-911 call, guests were not required to evacuate. The same was true at The Little Nell on Durant Avenue, said General Manager John Speers.
“I’m aware that at some locations, people scratched their heads and said why this one and not another,” Linn said but noted that the decisions were not made in an attempt to target any one business over another. “We really apologize that it created some confusion,” said Linn.
Aspen’s New Year’s Eve evacuation began with small areas surrounding the locations of the bombs. It was later expanded to include an entire 16-block area “based on the size of the packages and a general safety margin of error,” according to Aspen Police Chief Richard Pryor.
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