Dispatchers Mobilize in Aftermath of Massive Pileup

New World Public Safety The Call

Dispatchers Mobilize in Aftermath of Massive Pileup

It was Feb. 13, 2016, when one of Pennsylvania's worst multi-vehicle accidents occurred on Interstate 78.

The accident happened in Lebanon County when a band of snow squalls generated hazardous driving conditions on an otherwise sunny winter morning. These squalls, along with the accompanying 40 mph wind gusts, resulted in white-out conditions.

In total, 64 vehicles were involved in the pileup, including 12 tractor-trailers, box trucks and buses. Almost immediately, 911 calls began flooding the Lebanon County Emergency Management Agency (EMA).

Emergency calls regarding the accident came in around 9:30 a.m., according to Lebanon County EMA's director Bob Dowd.

"When calls like this come in, we know that the situation is critical," Dowd said. "We focus on getting help to those in need and getting that help to them as quickly as possible."

To make matters worse, temperatures and the wind chill were well below freezing. This caused treacherous conditions for those involved in the accident and first responders. However, in just minutes, help was on the scene.

First responders acted quickly, providing care to the injured and ensuring the situation wasn't made worse from vehicle fires or hazardous spills.

Due to the size and severity of the pileup, the interstate was also closed as the rescue and cleanup process was underway.

This call for service resulted in more than 75 first responders and other emergency personnel arriving on the scene to care for the wounded, investigate, clear the accident, and make the interstate passable. To help do this, the Lebanon County EMA set up a mobile command station at the crash site.

This mobile command station is equipped with three computer aided dispatch (CAD) stations. It acts as a central location for responders and incident commanders so that they can work closely with CAD and dispatchers.

"With this capability, we're able to offload what's coming in to the communication center and keep the center of focus where it's needed most," Dowd said.

With this single point of command, public safety personnel eliminated potential communication barriers between dispatchers and first responders on the scene. In this particular case, incident commanders could interact directly with dispatchers.

The Lebanon County EMA also dedicated one radio frequency to the accident, which helped reduce cross-traffic on the radio and allowed dispatchers to focus solely on the incident.

"Having the ability to take our CAD system to the scene allows us to generate a clear situational picture of what is happening so that we can effectively handle emergencies of this scale," Dowd said. "By knowing everything that is happening on the scene we can come up with objectives that best suit the needs of everyone involved."

This mobility also helps the Lebanon County EMA and its CAD system effectively handle other calls for service. With one or more dispatchers dedicated to a single large-scale incident, call takers and dispatchers at the communication center are better equipped to handle the normal call volume.

Isolating the major incident from the standard emergency calls for service helps dispatchers to effectively send a response as quickly and efficiently as the community expects.

"Anything that helps us to respond faster and more efficiently ultimately results in better emergency services to those who are living in or visiting our county," Dowd said. "Our mobile command station certainly helps us to meet our community's expectations of sending a quick response."