Colorado Inclusive Language and Access in Emergency Alerts

What is the Challenge?

Public Comment Opportunity

Join us on December 14th, 2023, to offer feedback on a draft report (published December 7th) for Colorado Inclusive Language and Access in Emergency Alerts. Click here to register now!

Upcoming Public Comment Opportunity: On , we will be publishing a draft report and asking for public comment. For more details, visit the public comment page.

In December of 2021, the Marshall Fire devastated parts of Boulder County, Colorado. The fire, which destroyed more than a thousand homes and displaced tens of thousands of residents, spread rapidly through many neighborhoods. Investigative reporting found that at the time of the Marshall Fire, only 24% of Boulder County’s population had opted into the emergency alert system (Channel 9 News, 2022).

Phone With Text Alert

This lack of warning and subsequent harm prompted the State of Colorado to consider how to improve alert and warning systems to ensure that necessary information reaches those at risk. Additionally, there is specific interest in understanding the capacity of these systems to reach non-English speaking populations as well as people with access and functional needs.

During the 2023 legislative session, Representative Elizabeth Velasco (District 57) introduced Colorado House Bill 23-1237. Then the Colorado House of Representatives discussed and amended the bill and introduced it to the Senate where they followed the same procedure. The revised bill was passed by a majority vote in both chambers. On May 12, 2023, Governor Jared S. Polis signed it into law. This bill appropriates funds to the Natural Hazards Center to complete a study assessing existing capacities of emergency alert and warning systems in Colorado and to identify areas of improvement for language and disability access.

Project Overview

Colorado Language and Disability Landscape

Colorado is an increasingly diverse state in terms of languages spoken at home (Figure 1). In fact, 16% of Coloradoans speak languages other than English at home, and more than 300,000 people in the state are considered Limited English Proficient (Table 1; Migration Policy Institute, 2021).

Figure 1. Percent of Limited English-Speaking (LES) Households by County in Colorado (Source: Census, 2020). Across Colorado counties, the number of LES households varies from less than 1% to more than 11%. (Click image to enlarge)

Table 1. Top Non-English Languages Spoken at Home in Colorado

Language Number Percent
Total Household Population, Age 5 and Older 5,504,232 100%
Speak Language Other than English 892,249 16.2%
Top 5 Non-English Languages Spoken
1. Spanish 600,565 10.9%
2. Chinese (including Mandarin, Cantonese) 25,812 0.5%
3. Vietnamese 22,448 0.4%
4. German 21,627 0.4%
5. Russian 19,897 0.4%

Colorado counties are also home to varying numbers of people with disabilities and other access and functional needs (Figure 2). Additionally, the rural nature of some communities means a large percentage of residents do not have internet connectivity (Figure 3). These characteristics and others influence how people receive and respond to warnings.

Figure 2. Percent of People with a Disability by County in Colorado (Source: Census, 2020). Across Colorado counties, the number of people with disabilities varies from 5% to 25%. (Click image to enlarge)

Figure 3. Percent of People Without Internet Access by County in Colorado (Source: Census, 2020). Across Colorado counties, between 3% and 33% of the population lacks internet access. (Click image to enlarge)

The Natural Hazards Center team will use demographic and survey data, academic literature, agency reports, and meetings with key partners to determine the current gaps and existing needs for inclusive emergency information systems. There are already strong efforts underway—across multiple organizations in the state—to build equitable emergency communications. Our team will catalogue and summarize the state of the field in Colorado and identify key areas for improvement.

Project Timeline and Key Tasks

The Natural Hazards Center research team is working closely with key partners to complete the following study tasks and deliverables:

Key Project Tasks Anticipated Deliverables
September 2023
  • Review Literature On:
    • Essential components of multi-hazard early warning systems to reach minority language populations, including American Sign Language (ASL)
    • Best practices for hiring multilingual and multicultural staff for alert and warning services
  • Meet with Key Partners and Organization Representatives
  • Develop Emergency Alert and Warning Survey and Sampling Plan
October 2023
  • Distribute Emergency Alert and Warning Survey to sheriffs, emergency managers, 911 operators, police chiefs, fire chiefs and others who are involved in alert and warning distribution.
  • Review State Websites and Information
  • Catalog of Current Alert Systems and Related Efforts in Colorado
November 2023
  • Analyze Survey Results
  • Outline Report
  • Summary of Survey Results
  • Report Outline
December 2023
  • Draft Final Report
  • Facilitate Community Comments
  • Assign External Reviews of the Report
  • Draft Report
January 2024
  • Submit Final Report and Two-Page Brief to Colorado State Legislature January 8, 2024
  • Present Results to the Colorado Legislature
  • Final Summary Report
  • Two-Page Brief
  • Presentation Slides
November Project Update:
  • Annotated Bibliography: The document review process is now complete, and the research team is summarizing best practices as they relate to inclusive alert and warnings.
  • Survey: The survey closed on Nov 1, 2023, with 222 responses from emergency response professionals across Colorado (Figure 4). The research team is now cleaning and reviewing the results and beginning to draft the report.

    Figure 4. Survey participant roles.
  • Upcoming Public Comment Opportunity: On December 7th, 2023, we will be publishing a draft report and asking for public comment. For more details, visit the public comment page.

Project Team

Project Research Lead: Carson MacPherson-Krutsky, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder (

Postdoctoral Research Associate: Mary Angelica Painter, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder (

Graduate Research Assistant: Melissa Villarreal, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder (

Project Supervisor: Lori Peek, Director, Natural Hazards Center, University of Colorado Boulder

Bill Sponsor: Elizabeth Velasco, State Representative (District 57), State of Colorado