DENVER, CO - Governor Polis today signed three bills into law that better prepare communities for evacuations following a wildfire or other disaster, help homeowners better protect their properties from wildfire damage, and expand language accessibility for emergency and public safety alerts.
“Communities throughout Colorado have seen devastating wildfire damage, sometimes wiping out entire neighborhoods in one day,” said Rep. Marc Snyder, D-Manitou Springs, sponsor of HB23-1075 and HB23-1273. “Home and property owners want to do everything they can to protect themselves and their property from damage, but those measures can be costly. These new laws will improve evacuation methods and structural resiliency against wildfires so we can better protect Colorado lives and property from natural disasters.”
“Wildfire prevention and mitigation strategies are essential in protecting vulnerable community members who are most at-risk of losing their homes to a wildfire or other natural disaster,” said Rep. Junie Joseph, D-Boulder, sponsor of HB23-1075 and HB23-1273. “I’m proud and grateful to Governor Polis for signing these two bills into law because Coloradans deserve better protections against wildfire and natural disaster damage, and these new laws will help better protect them and their homes.”
HB23-1075 requires the Office of Emergency Management to conduct a study to identify and assess the availability of technology to help with evacuation and clearance time modeling in local emergency management plans. The study will also determine if evacuation and clearance time modeling for proposed developments in a wildfire risk area is feasible.
The study must be completed by December 1, 2023 and the Office of Emergency Management would be required to report the findings during the 2024 legislative session.
HB23-1273 creates the Wildfire Resilient Homes Grant Program. Qualified homeowners can apply to the program to receive grant money to cover retrofitting or structural improvements to existing houses and other buildings. This grant program also expands to new-builds and rebuilds to make any structure on a homeowner’s property more resilient against wildfires.
Wildfires have become an increasing threat in Colorado, with the three largest wildfires in Colorado history occurring in 2020 alone. The International Wildland-Urban Interface Code (IWUIC) provides standards for building wildfire-resilient homes, including non-combustible roofing, underfloor protection, defensible space, and residential sprinklers.
“Rural and urban Coloradans rely on emergency notifications to alert them about a wildfire, snow storm, or other potential danger, but language barriers make it nearly impossible for non-English speakers to protect themselves from potential threats,” said Rep. Elizabeth Velasco, D-Glenwood Springs, sponsor of HB23-1237. “With this bill being signed into law today, we can improve methods to communicate emergency information to non-English speakers and Coloradans with a disability so everyone can access the resources or information they need to protect themselves and their families.”
HB23-1237, also sponsored by Republican Senator Perry Will, would direct the University of Colorado’s Natural Hazards Center, in consultation with the Division of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, to conduct a study to identify how municipalities, sheriff's offices, counties, fire districts, and local 911 agencies can best provide emergency alerts in a non-English language and implement live interpretation during a 911 call. The study would identify essential components of a multi-hazard early warning system needed to successfully reach residents and visitors and would include recommendations for how to better reach at-risk communities that may have difficulties accessing English language text alerts.