Enhancing Emergency Response in Inclement Weather: Leveraging Technology for Effective Assistance

By Chad LaBree, Former Executive Director at Penobscot Regional Communications Center in Maine, and Director of Pre-Sales at Carbyne car trouble person on phone

Introduction

Inclement weather conditions can significantly impact emergency response systems, challenging their efficiency and effectiveness. As weather-related emergencies become more frequent, especially during the winter months, it is crucial to explore innovative technologies that can enhance emergency response efforts. I know this only too well from my personal experience as the former Executive Director at Penobscot Regional Communications Center and Operations Manager of State DPS Communication in Maine. In this article, we will delve into the ways technology can be leveraged to improve emergency response during inclement weather.

Operational Challenges

Inclement weather such as heavy snowfall that we often see in Maine causes major disruptions to PSAPs, such as:

  • Communication disruptions – making it hard for PSAPs to relay crucial information.
  • Resource allocation – distributing people and equipment to affected areas.
  • Transportation disruptions – impeding staff getting to work, and dispatching resources.
  • Infrastructure damage – to communication towers, power lines, and critical infrastructure.
  • Increased call volume – need to address urgent calls promptly amidst call surges.
  • Power outages – PSAPs without backup power systems can suffer prolonged outages.
  • Limited accessibility – road closures make it hard to reach callers in isolated areas.
  • Personnel safety – adverse weather subjects staff to hazards during travel or on duty.


Surge in Call Volumes

When Hurricane Lee struck Maine, it capitalized on two elements that Maine doesn’t usually deal with during major storms – leaves still on trees, and the ground being water logged after a rainy start to the storm. Inclement weather such as Hurricane Lee often leads to a surge in emergency calls as individuals face various challenges such as accidents, stranded vehicles, or health emergencies. This increased call volume can strain Public Safety Answering Points (PSAPs) and hinder their ability to provide timely assistance. My own center in Maine would frequently get inundated with emergency calls when the weather turned south. To address this issue, it is essential to explore solutions that streamline the process of handling a higher number of emergency calls.

Where Exactly is the Emergency?

Hurricane Irene entered Maine as a tropical storm, preparing to drop up to 10 inches of rain within 24 hours, causing major flooding and leading to evacuations and severe property damage, as well as multiple fatalities. One of the key challenges during inclement weather such as Hurricane Irene is accurately locating the caller. Poor weather conditions may make it challenging for individuals to provide precise location information. In Maine we get calls all the time about people not knowing where they are upon calling 9-1-1. Implementing technology that enables PSAPs to pinpoint caller locations can significantly reduce response times and help emergency services reach the scene promptly.

Seeing is Believing

Causing over $1.2 Million in damage across Maine, Hurricane Floyd was a tropical storm affecting Androscoggin, Cumberland, Kennebec, Oxford, and Somerset Counties. Some areas of the state received over 1 foot of rain, causing flooding of the Kennebec and Penobscot Rivers. During such storms, incorporating live caller video capabilities into emergency response systems can revolutionize incident assessment by giving responders eyes on the scene. During inclement weather, visual cues become crucial in determining the severity of an incident. Live video allows PSAP operators to assess the situation in real-time, helping them make informed decisions about the resources to dispatch. I know if my center had this technology when I was in charge, it would have been a game-changer for us. This technology can be particularly beneficial in scenarios such as accidents, where visual information aids in gauging the extent of damage and injuries.

Talk When you Can, Text When You Can’t

Some of the highest winds in Maine were recorded in Wiscasset, clocking in at an astounding 92 mph during Hurricane Bob. After beating up part of New York, Rhode Island, and Massachusetts, Bob made landfall in Maine, triggering evacuation of the coastline. During such noisy weather conditions or emergencies, messaging can be used to convey important information. This includes details like license plate numbers, medical conditions, or any other critical data that can aid emergency responders in their efforts. During some snow storms in Maine, the wind howls so loud that a person making a call outdoors is barely audible, so such technology can make a positive difference.

Your Workplace is Any Place

Inclement weather can disrupt the normal operations of PSAPs, making it difficult for employees to reach the center. Cloud-native technology provides a solution by allowing PSAPs to operate remotely. This enables continuity of services even when physical access to the center is restricted. Although I am not a fan of remote work on a routine basis, if it was a choice between remote work or no work, I know what I would choose. Remote operations enable PSAP staff to coordinate emergency response efforts from secure and accessible locations, enhancing overall resilience.

Conclusion

As the frequency and intensity of inclement weather events continue to rise, it is imperative to equip emergency response systems with advanced technologies. Pinpoint caller location, live caller video, silent messaging, and cloud-native technology are powerful tools that can significantly enhance the efficiency and effectiveness of emergency response during adverse weather conditions. By embracing these innovations, we can better equip our emergency services to handle the challenges posed by inclement weather and ultimately save more lives.

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