Routt County officials get emergency management training with Rainbow Gathering, wildfires in mind

There is a “fair chance” the gathering could happen in Routt County, as it did in 2006

Routt County Emergency Operations Director David "Mo" DeMorat speaks during a emergency management training for local officials at the county's new Emergency Operations Center on Tuesday, April 26.
Dylan Anderson/Steamboat Pilot & Today

As several local officials gathered in Routt County’s emergency operations center for emergency management training, County Emergency Manager Mo DeMorat told them to keep two things in mind.

The first was wildfires — historically the cause of the lion’s share of emergencies in the county, including three large fires since 2020 that each cost about $10 million to combat. The other was more unique.

“There is still a good possibility we have the Rainbow Family gather in Routt County,” DeMorat said, referencing a planned gathering of as many as 30,000 people that will return to Colorado this year for it’s 50th anniversary. “We still don’t know, but there is a fair chance it could be in Routt County.”

Earlier this month, commissioners in Grand County sent a statement to Sky-Hi News saying the gathering could happen there, near where the group first gathered at Strawberry Lake. But the group also gathered near Clark in 2006 and even if they don’t gather in Routt County, that amount of people will require help from neighboring counties.

“They keep it very secret and they won’t advertise it, so no one really knows,” DeMorat said of the gathering’s location. “Wherever it’s going to be it’s going to be a big impact, and I don’t necessarily mean that in a negative way. … Anytime, in addition to our normal tourism, you have an influx of thousands of people, it is going to be a strain on resources.”

The officials — elected commissioners and Steamboat city council members, as well as various city, county, fire district and law enforcement personnel — gathered Tuesday, April 26, to learn about their role in responding to an emergency, whether that be the much-talked-about gathering or a more traditional emergency like a flood or fire.

Bobbie Lucero, the Northwest Colorado field manager for the Colorado Department of Emergency Management, spent a few hours walking the officials through a variety of the processes and agreements used to manage emergencies, emphasizing that now is the best time to understand their role, not when an emergency situation is unfolding.

“Then when you have that bad day, everybody understands their roles and responsibility,” Lucero said.

Bobbie Lucero, the Northwest Colorado field manager for the Colorado Department of Emergency Management, overviewed this diagram with officials, adding that there are entire courses focused solely on understanding this process.
Colorado Department of Emergency Management/Courtesy

Lucero shared a colorful diagram with numerous lines and shapes outlining the life cycle of a disaster with the roles of the various incident management, emergency operations and policy-group teams identified. She said there are 8-hour classes focused solely on explaining the diagram.

For example, the incident manager would be the one to order an evacuation and the emergency operations people would be the ones to communicate that out to the public. But there are also people working on developing longer-term planning, ensuring resources get to the incident and paying attention the cost of the response.

Lucero said many of these agreements and resolutions outlining who has authority over an incident can be put in place or at least drafted before an emergency starts.

“That’s the point of this class,” Lucero said. “Being able to identify what do we need pre-disaster, not when there’s smoke in the air. We need to talk about this stuff now.”

Lucero said she has been in on planning meetings with the U.S. Forest Service preparing for the Rainbow gathering. Commissioners in Grand County have even asked her about putting an emergency declaration in place now to ensure they can get the resources, should the Rainbows come to Grand County.

If the gathering was to be elsewhere in the state, Lucero said her agency and the Forest Service would share any planning with local officials there. If information was strong the Rainbows were coming to Routt County, she recommended officials get agreements with the forest service in place, as they will likely depend on local resources in addition to their own.

“We’re all trying to be prepared for it,” DeMorat said. “It’s just a matter of an influx of that many people that are drawing upon limited resources. … We only have so many ambulances that are on duty at any one time.”

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