It was called the 500-year-flood and it caused damage that had never been seen before in northeastern Louisiana.
In the spring of 2016, a slow-moving storm moved over Ouachita Parish and lingered for three days. This storm wasn't associated with a hurricane or other tropical event, which is common in the southern part of the state.
Meteorologists in the area said that the storm was unlike anything ever recorded in the area, especially considering the fact that it generated 45 percent of the area's annual rainfall after dumping 20 inches of rain in just a few days.
Naturally, this amount of rainfall wreaked havoc on the area, particularly in Ouachita Parish, where more than 9,500 homes were flooded. This flooding also resulted in first responders providing rescue services to more than 1,700 individuals who were in need of a water rescue.
As with any natural disaster, the call volume with the local emergency communication center reached historic highs.
"We were processing 4,500 calls per day during the flood," Ouachita Parish 911 network specialist William Jones said. "On a typical day, we process 350 calls. To get 4,500 during the flood was just obscene."
To handle the call volume, computer aided dispatch (CAD) managers had all call takers on duty to meet the needs of the public.
What made this situation even more challenging was the fact that Ouachita Parish 911 had only been live on its upgraded CAD software platform for a month. That meant dispatchers were dealing with a situation that many of them had never experienced before while using a new system.
"Relying on our CAD system during a massive flood emergency is something we never expected, but being prepared for the unexpected is all a part of this job," Jones said. "The system never faltered."
Dispatchers and call takers were tasked with getting emergency responses to those in need, which was made more difficult due to the fact that many roadways were impassable.
Luckily, dispatchers were able to use their CAD system to get help to where it was needed by making note of closed roads or other impassable conditions. This helped first responders from law enforcement, fire and EMS utilize the best routes to get to where they were needed most. To do this, dispatchers applied global changes to built-in response plans that indicated which roads or bridges were impassable and what routes to take to avoid those areas.
According to Jones, this capability helped improve safety of first responders, especially in comparison to a previous, less severe flood that happened prior to the flood of 2016.
Before Ouachita Parish 911 was using a CAD system with robust mapping capabilities, first responders were routed with paper maps. Naturally, those maps had no real-time information, which was detrimental to first responders. In one flood emergency, an agency lost three fire trucks due to flooded roadways.
"Having the tools necessary to send a better response is good for the public and it's good for first responders," Jones said. "Communication is key in an emergency response and we have the tools to do that in Ouachita Parish."
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