What happened during the September Colorado floods – report of a multi-agency disaster response operation

Published:  18 December, 2013

EXCLUSIVE - Tim Dorsey, Deputy Chief at West County EMS and Fire Protection District reports on a storm system that started to impact north central and central Colorado on September 9-10, 2013.

Significant impacts began to be felt September 11-12, 2013, when record-breaking precipitation (some locales reporting more than 12 inches of rainfall) was observed along the Colorado Front Range from Larimer and Weld Counties southward to El Paso County, with lesser but substantial amounts noted across the adjacent High Plains.

This led to widespread flash flooding across the affected areas as well as overland flooding that impacted north central and eventually northeast Colorado, particularly along the Big Thompson, Cache La Poudre and South Platte Rivers as well as the St. Vrain Creek.

With local response resources taxed to the limit, Colorado Task Force 1 was activated, originally as a State Resource, to assist with the situation. Recognizing the magnitude of the incident, in the early morning of September 13, the US Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) activated two additional Urban Search and Rescue teams to assist with the event, Nebraska Task Force 1 (NETF-1) and UtahTask Force 1 (UTTF-1).

In addition, Missouri TF-1 (MO TF-1) and Nevada TF-1 (NV TF-1) were placed in Alert Status by FEMA at 0100HRS CST, which means they have their 80 person teams roistered and ready to deploy with final equipment preparations upon activation.  When the magnitude of the event was further realized at 2200HRS CST the evening of September 14, FEMA additionally activated MOTF-1 and NVTF-1 and placed three additional teams on Alert status.  All of the activated US&R Task Forces were categorized as a Type 1, which means they have a personnel roster of 80 members, four canines, and over 100,000 pounds of equipment including recently acquired water rescue assets including technician level water based personal protective equipment, boats, and support equipment. 

Missouri TF-1 and Nevada TF-1 were assigned to Larimer County and arrived at the Larimer Fairgrounds at around 1900 HRS MT on the evening of September 15. The Task Forces began setting up their base of operations and working with the FEMA Incident Support Team (IST) and the FEMA mission-assigned Federal Multi-agency Incident Management Team (IMT),  supporting locally prioritized missions to be carried out in Larimer County the following day.

The next morning, assignments were made and teams were deployed on a variety of mission types that continued over the next six days. This event involved active rescues and evacuations of trapped residents, assistance to National Guard helicopter evacuations, humanitarian aid, as well as search and reconnaissance of the affected areas. Due to the powerful swollen rivers and creeks in the area, many points of access, roadways and bridges were decimated.  Hundreds of people in the mountains outside the metropolitan area were stranded and needed to be evacuated

Missions were assigned daily by local Incident Command and teams rotated through a variety of ground searches, air operations and evacuations covering the expansive 900 square mile area of eastern Larimer County. Highly mobile, multifaceted teams were deployed comprising six US&R TF members, two Larimer County Sheriff’s SAR personnel and a Larimer County Sheriff Officer. Hundreds of residents and pets were evacuated from the affected areas. Thousands of lives were touched directly and indirectly by the actions of the Search and Rescue Teams.

A number of 'firsts' transpired on this event as well. This was the first federal US&R deployment where a Federal Multi-agency wild land IMT was deployed and integrated with Federal US&R teams almost immediately.  This partnership was invaluable and worked well, benefiting from the Bureau of Land Management and Forest Service’s expertise in logistical management and expertise in management of Air/Air Rescue assets.  Fourteen aircraft including Military CH47 Chinooks and AH60 Blackhawks were assigned to the incident to transport rescuers into and evacuees out of affected areas.

GPS Data Collection and new symbology was utilized by the US&R teams to provide a vast amount of demonstrable data to the AHJ, so that they could demonstrate the proficiency and completeness of the work the teams had completed. This included structures searched, damaged structures, evacuated victims, residents sheltering in place, and directed future searches to name a few.

This disaster response definitely demonstrated the efficiency of proper training, incident response, and organizational cooperation between Local, State, and Federal agencies.


  • Operation Florian

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