This post is one in a series of End of Year Highlights or “bright spots” for the City of Colorado Springs. A new post will be issued weekly through the end of the year.
Through the challenges of 2020, the City of Colorado Springs continued to serve residents through the activation of its Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency ManagementThe City and County are consolidating their Offices of Emergency Management in an effort to optimize staff resources, establish a single point of contact during major incidences and enhance communication both during and after an event. The new office, the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management (PPR-OEM) will support operations during a disaster or emergency in El Paso County and Colorado Springs.Because disaster knows no jurisdictional boundaries, we can most efficiently prepare for an emergency and respond to one by coordinating our efforts on a regional basis. The establishment of the PPR-OEM will allow the county and the city to more effectively coordinate and assist first responders in an emergency as well as preparing the government and the community for a disaster., increased commitment to park maintenance, and the work of its dedicated first responders.
Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management helps coordinate COVID-19 response
The COVID-19 global pandemic was the first major activation of the Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management (PPROEM) since the city and El Paso County consolidated emergency response and recovery efforts to better serve the Pikes Peak Region. Since March 2020, the PPROEM has collaborated with El Paso County Public Health, El Paso County and the City of Colorado Springs, and state and non-governmental agencies to provide a unified responded to the pandemic.
Close coordination with local and state public health agencies served to identify and set up four (4) free community-based testing sites at the Citadel Mall, and in Fountain, North Colorado Springs and Falcon/Peyton. Access to free and convenient testing accommodated more than 70,000 people at the Citadel testing site alone. Access to COVID testing helped guide El Paso County residents to take appropriate quarantine and public health precautions based on test results to prevent further spread.
Providing services for vulnerable populations and those in congregate settings is essential in the fight against COVID-19. Emergency management staff worked closely with El Paso County Public Health and local service providers to establish an isolation center for homeless residents testing positive for or exhibiting symptoms of COVID-19 to quarantine. Work to secure, staff and maintain the center has served to provide a safe environment for more than 200 homeless residents since it opened at City Auditorium in April.
Countless partners came together in March to establish a Joint Information Center (JIC) representing El Paso County Public Health, El Paso County, the City of Colorado Springs and several local government, nonprofits and response agencies to provide joint public safety messaging, information and resources to individuals and businesses. Efforts were further augmented by collaborating with Pikes Peak United Way 211 to support a call center for El Paso and Teller County residents to access information about the disease and access to mental health and economic resources.
“It has been an enormous undertaking to respond to the range of needs facing our community as we battle a threat we have known so little about, but has touched so many aspects of our community. Thanks to the many community partners, and local and state government agencies who have worked tirelessly to find creative ways to support our community and continue to provide local government services to El Paso County residents throughout the pandemic,” said Jim Reid, director, Pikes Peak Regional Office of Emergency Management. “It reflects greatly on how much we can do when we come together as a community.”
At this critical phase in defeating the pandemic, the PPROEM continues to collaborate with El Paso County Public Health to deliver the COVID-19 vaccine to El Paso County residents through a deliberate and phased process to safely and efficiently immunize the most critical populations first.
Outdoor amenities provide mental and physical health benefits
The City’s parks, trails and open spaces have always served as places where people can find respite and seek peace and restoration. In 2020, these amenities proved more essential than ever before, welcoming record numbers of users. Parks, Recreation and Cultural Services’ staff continues to meet the increased demand with maintenance efforts that keep these spaces safe, accessible and benefiting all users.
Staff is also providing digital programming options and has adapted new safety policies and procedures. Among the adaptations are the Incline Reservation System, increased cleaning of high-touched services and hiring of additional seasonal staff who served as public health ambassadors in the most popular parks and open spaces this summer. Also, the community centers continue to provide food distribution service and serve as e-learning sites.
“From the outset of the pandemic, we committed to keeping parks, trails and open spaces accessible, as long as it was responsible to do so,” said Karen Palus, parks director. “Through this time, we have dedicated hundreds of hours into maintaining these spaces and implementing creative ways to serve the physical and mental well-being of our community. My sincere thanks to the public for doing their part and for continuing to use these places in ways that respect one other and public health guidance.”
In addition to maintaining these spaces, the parks department continued its work on several improvement projects, like the finalization of Bancroft Park and the new Northern Incline Return Trail, plus several other projects that were funded by voter-approved ballot initiative 2B.
First responders adjust to new protocol and gear, continuing to serve in dangerous times
At the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Colorado Springs Fire Department (CSFD) staff, both sworn and non-sworn, continued to serve and evolve its service delivery as things changed daily. The CSFD's Medical Division was immediately tasked with anticipating the fire department's safety needs and securing protective clothing for the next year of responding to citizens' needs. A pandemic task force was created and has been meeting weekly since February to evaluate, plan and ensure CSFD has the resources to continue to do business.
CSFD graduated 27 firefighters in June; with eight of those firefighters being new additions to the overall staff that will help toward the restaffing of the Hazardous Materials Unit fulltime in 2021. The firefighters completed a 17-week academy that was 12 weeks of in-person, hands-on training and five weeks of a virtual academy due to the quarantine.
The department was able to bring its aging fire apparatus fleet back into the 17-year and 20-year replacement plan for fire engines and fire trucks with the addition of five fire engines and one fire truck. In the first quarter of 2021, they anticipate the delivery of one additional fire truck and the ordering of two additional fire engines.
The Division of the Fire Marshal’s community education and outreach program made significant adjustments to help senior care facilities deal with COVID issues. They retooled an entire school-aged curriculum on safety issues for distant learning as well as serving in-need youth misusing fire. Construction Services completed a record number of building plan reviews and inspections, maintaining one of the country's strongest economies during the pandemic. Code Services assisted restaurants in their ongoing struggles to stay in business and kept COVID testing and isolation shelters safe and operational. Technical and Support Services managed new and existing hazardous locations and maintained budgeted revenues while working with businesses and property managers.
In 2020, wildfire mitigation crews treated 2,241 acres in the City's wildland urban interface. They collaborated in many neighborhoods covering 4,393 homes and removing more than 624 tons of chipped materials from properties. The motto of "Share The Responsibility" was evident with the 26-acre Bear Creek Fire in November, where not one home was lost due to the firefighter's quick efforts and mitigation work completed before the fire.
Colorado Springs Police Department focuses on increased transparency and community relations
The Colorado Springs Police Department (CSPD) has had the opportunity this year to put more resources and an enhanced focus on community relations, such as:
- Continuing CSPD Chief Vince Niski’s Steering Committee, which is composed of community members and leaders who are helping to provide guidance for building better community relationships
- Making connections with the youth through classroom interactions, including partnering Atlas Prep, and other charter schools
- Connecting with community members through online forums and virtual community relations videos
- Despite a pandemic, continuing to partner with local organizations, such as Toys for Tots, Christmas Unlimited, Mt. Carmel, and more to serve Colorado Springs
“This has been a year of growth for our community and our department,” said Niski. “2020 has brought many accomplishments as well as challenges, all of which we will continue to build on in 2021.”
Additionally, extra efforts were dedicated to creating a more transparent department for the community. Throughout 2020, CSPD has worked diligently to create a data hub which will house not only crime statistics, but also data about the department and important community topics. The new online portal will launch in early 2021.
“Small Acts, Big Impacts” campaign highlights how the collective acts of one can make a big impact on the fight against COVID
The City, together with community partners, launched two comprehensive marketing and public awareness campaigns during the pandemic.
“In a crisis of this length and magnitude, it is extremely difficult to keep the public’s attention. We all get fatigued with the news and constant reminders to mask up, social distance and wash our hands,” said Jamie Fabos, Colorado Springs’ chief communications officer. “The two public information campaigns we designed were aimed at empowering people. What they have in common is that in both instances, we were saying, ‘hey, you can make a difference for our community.’ And, for the most part, they were very well received.”
“Mask Up, COS” was the first effort, aimed at encouraging people to consider who they might impact by wearing or not wearing a mask. The campaign highlighted business owners, a pastor, an immuno-compromised child and his mother, nurses, doctors and a local Army veteran. The campaign provided a platform for these Colorado Springs residents to share their stories and ask the question, “Will you mask up?”
Following the statewide mask mandate, and as COVID fatigue grew ahead of a second spike in numbers, the City launched “Small Acts, Big Impacts,” an unbranded campaign emphasizing how one person’s small acts can have a cumulative effect on reducing the spread of COVID. This campaign reminds residents that their small choices, such as social distancing, rethinking holiday traditions and avoiding gatherings can reduce transmission and help keep our community safe and our economy open. Individuals and organizations are encouraged to share the messaging with their audiences on social media and use the hashtag #SmallActs. Campaign graphics are available and updated regularly at ColoradoSprings.gov/SmallActs.
Local governments, philanthropy and innovation groups team up to assist business community
Though the state’s stay-at-home order in March and continued restrictions on the economy have stymied a long pattern of economic growth and prosperity in Colorado Springs, many local leaders, organizations and charities innovated and found creative ways to survive and support the local business community.
In the face of adversity, local charities and government alike stepped up with perhaps the most needed resource – funding. El Paso County directed $13.2 million in Federal CARES Act dollars to 864 local businesses through the Regional Business Relief Fund, which is estimated to have preserved more than 11,000 jobs.
Exponential Impact, a local tech accelerator, created the Survive and Thrive Fund, providing low-interest loans to 132 organizations, saving up to 1,545 jobs and protecting $156 million in revenues. And there’s continued opportunity with Exponential Impact. The City of Colorado Springs’ Community Development Department has just made $500,000 available through Community Development Block Grant funding, to support businesses impacted by COVID-19. More information and applications are available at ExponentialImpact.com.
The economy was also buoyed by contributions from the Pikes Peak Community Foundation, Downtown Partnership, Colorado Springs Health Foundation and the El Pomar Foundation, all stepping up to provide financial assistance to struggling local businesses.
Local business organizations mobilized quickly as well. The Downtown Partnership worked closely with City Planning to quickly create “Dine out Downtown,” a combination of permits and promotion that allowed restaurants to expand outdoor seating and successfully attract diners to local establishments. This program is growing with new locations in Old Colorado City and Manitou Springs.
The City and El Paso County have also initiated a sales tax rebate program for local restaurants who have experienced at least a 5% reduction in business during the pandemic. While it isn’t a complete solution, the rebates (including up to $1,400 per month from the City) based on sales in November, December, January and February will assist struggling restaurants as the city turns the corner toward a return to normal economic activity. Also helping local restaurants, the Downtown Partnership , Support the Springs, Visit COS and the Colorado Springs Chamber & EDC joined to promote ways that citizens can creatively patronize restaurants.