The Cypress Creek Communications Center handled dispatch for 17 emergency agencies during Hurricane Harvey and its record rainfall including many of the fire departments that were busy during the storm rescuing citizens. Some of our dispatchers worked as their own homes were flooding. This is the story of Harvey through the eyes of Communications Center Manager Lori Broadrick….
BY LORI BROADRICK
CCEMS Communications Center Manager
I have worked many natural disasters during my time as a 911 dispatcher, but none of them come even remotely close to the magnitude that was Hurricane Harvey. We were under mandatory recall beginning Friday night, August 25th at 1800 hours. Harvey had just made landfall, but as dispatchers we have to be in the center before the disaster strikes. The next 24 hours were a waiting game, we just didn’t know what was going to happen, if anything…until it did.
At 1900 hours on Sunday, the calls really started coming in. Our center has 14 dispatch consoles and normally dispatches about 250 fire and EMS incidents in a 24 hour period. During that first hour we handled 164 phone calls. The next hour, an additional 242. This continued until we peaked at 0800 hours on Tuesday, August 28. During that one hour period, our center handled 360 phone calls. The phones never stopped ringing.
The majority of the calls were for water rescues. The dispatchers had to determine the severity of each call in a very short time frame. The calls weren’t going to stop so they had to move quickly. There were three points we were using to determine the severity of each caller’s situation:
Were they sick or injured? If so, how dire was their situation? How much water were they dealing with? Are they in their home, car, or are they out in the elements?
How many people needed to be rescued? Children? How old are they?
Some callers were nonchalant, simply stating that they had about two feet of water in their house and would need a boat to get out. Others were panicked, like the three teenagers in swift water, clinging to life from a street light. Along with taking thousands of emergency calls, the dispatchers were also responsible for dispatching responding units, giving each detailed information on their priority calls. During one rescue the dispatchers heard a word they hope to never hear on a regular day, much less in the midst of a disaster, “MAYDAY.”
Rescue Boat 35 hit a tree and began to take on water. After what seemed like a century (five actual minutes) the firefighters were all accounted for, the boat lost to the current.
The calls continued, unyielding. People were trapped in their attic or on their roof, the water quickly rising. Neighbors were helping neighbors in an apartment complex after the entire first floor succumbed to water.
Many people were reaching out on social media, begging for help. We took those calls too. Too many of them to count. Most of them were duplicate incidents, calls in locations that the fire department couldn’t access yet. We’d let them know that we had the call and we would get help to them as soon as we could. I took seven calls in a row for the same address, each caller from a different state, all with the same story, “I saw it on twitter.”
Altogether, from Friday night through Wednesday, our center handled 12,228 phone calls and 4,668 incidents (4,495 of the phone calls and 1,787 of the incidents were on August 28th alone, a 614% increase in call volume).
The dispatchers worked tirelessly for days, never complaining, just doing. Their relentless effort to push through any personal emotional barriers or stress or frustrations to answer that phone; to let the citizens know that someone was there and that help was on the way, is beyond honorable. Some calls lasted a few minutes, others lasted hours. But they were there. They were the voice of hope to thousands of people. Every single one of them displayed an admirable character and strong will to serve in what honestly felt like a hopeless situation. They are all heroes. The FIRST first responder… and they will always be there to answer the call. (END)
Here are the agencies for which the Cypress Creek Communications Center handled 9-1-1 calls and dispatch in 2017