When It Rains, It Pours!

Barry Furey discusses lessons learned when spring storms flood a dispatch center in North Carolina with calls.


The City of Raleigh and Wake County, NC, entered 2006 with significant rainfall deficits. A comparatively dry spring, coupled with shortages in previous years resulted in mandatory water conservation measures. Meteorologists predicted little end in sight, and forecast a long, dry summer. Boy, were...


To access the remainder of this piece of premium content, you must be registered with Firehouse. Already have an account? Login

Register in seconds by connecting with your preferred Social Network.

OR

Complete the registration form.

Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required
Required

The City of Raleigh and Wake County, NC, entered 2006 with significant rainfall deficits. A comparatively dry spring, coupled with shortages in previous years resulted in mandatory water conservation measures. Meteorologists predicted little end in sight, and forecast a long, dry summer. Boy, were they wrong. Beginning on April 22, the region was regularly assaulted by strong thunderstorms, reports of tornadic activity and a rain event associated with Tropical Storm Alberto that by itself dropped more than 7½ inches of rain.

While all of this additional water was a blessing for the reservoir, it was a curse for public safety agencies, resulting in numerous lightning-ignited structure fires and water rescues associated with local flooding. Particularly hard hit was the Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications Center, which provides call handling and dispatching for the majority of the approximately 720,000 residents of the region.

Although the workload and damage experienced pales in comparison to incidents such as Hurricanes Wilma and Katrina, it is representative of the challenges faced by communities during lesser but nonetheless disruptive weather events. On April 22, the communications center saw an increase of 35% in 911 calls. During the peak of the storm, incoming volume was close to 300% of what is normally experienced for similar time frames. Fire dispatches for that same period were even higher; rising to five times the expected norm.

Raleigh-Wake Emergency Communications services both the City of Raleigh and Wake County fire departments. The city is a career department operating out of 26 stations, while the county is an amalgamation of more than twenty part paid/volunteer departments. The city and county each have their own run orders, with some crossover in services in borderline areas.

During the late morning and early afternoon, the severe weather that blanketed the region was accompanied by numerous lightning strikes. In addition to the fire alarms and wires down calls normally associated with wind and rain events, there were numerous structure fires. In an effort to better manage resources, the Raleigh Fire Department instituted its storm plan, which, in some cases, replaced full first-alarm assignments with single-engine responses for less severe calls.

Despite this, at the height of the storm, all of Raleigh's resources were committed. Among the incidents in progress at that time were a fire in a large residential structure, a house fire which had communicated to an exposure and a fire in a 24-unit garden apartment complex. While the latter had both detection and suppression equipment, none was installed in the attic where the blaze began. This incident was fought by Raleigh firefighters, in addition to units from Wake and nearby Durham County. When dispatchers requested a recommendation from the computer-aided dispatch (CAD) system, they received a blank screen in return. Assignments were made on the fly to fill out the response. Adding to the drain on resources was the fact that a Raleigh fire captain suffered a broken ankle while assisting at an EMS call, thereby temporarily removing yet another company from the mix.

As hectic as this day was, it was only the precursor of things to come. On June 14, remnants of Tropical Storm Alberto entered the Triangle Region, as the Raleigh-Durham-High Point area is known locally. Before these uninvited guests departed, they left behind more than 7½ inches of rain and numerous street closures. Again, first responders were kept busy by myriad weather-related calls. The Crabtree Valley Mall was closed and evacuated due to rising water, and several cars had to be towed from the parking lot. Throughout the city, stranded motorists had to be rescued from their vehicles. While there were no serious injuries reported locally, there was one storm-associated death, when a youth drowned in neighboring Johnson County.

This content continues onto the next page...