Clark County Fire Agencies practice Disaster Dispatching Operations at Five Area Command Centers

May 30, 2012

ARES/RACES Members, stationed at ECFR’s Grove Field ACC, broadcast and receive messages from the CRESA 9-1-1 Center in Vancouver. (ECFR photo)

Fire Agencies, throughout Clark County, recently practiced Disaster Dispatching Operations—taking over dispatching of some fire and medical units, when the Clark County 9-1-1 Center (CRESA) simulated being overwhelmed by too many calls for assistance.

The scenario involved a significant snow storm that knocked-down trees and power lines, reduced visibility, and made travel extremely difficult due to ice and snow. A total of five separate Area Command Centers (ACC) operated throughout Clark County.

East County Fire & Rescue’s Grove Field Station housed the local ACC, where disaster dispatching occurred for ECFR and the cities of Camas and Washougal. Personnel from all three fire agencies helped staff the ACC.

CRESA continued to dispatch calls involving significant threats to life and property. The Area Command Center dispatched the remaining calls of moderate and low priority—trying to handle the most pressing calls, first, using limited response resources.  The local ARES/RACES radio operators supported the drill with parallel communications.

ACC personnel process calls for assistance and dispatch emergency apparatus during the drill. (L to R) Terry Walters, ACC Volunteer; CFD Battalion Chief Larry Larimer; Zach Vetter, ECFR Intern Fire Fighter/EMT; and ECFR Deputy Chief Dean Thornberry. (ECFR photo)

ACC personnel downloaded calls from CRESA’s Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) System. The calls were prioritized and stored until response units were available. ACC personnel then dispatched fire and medical apparatus to those calls.

First Responders were tracked using a large wall map; with magnets representing vehicle locations. All units were subject to re-assignment if a life-threatening call or threatening fire was broadcast by CRESA.

The ACC also tracked hospital status and road closures to assist responding Fire Fighters in their efforts to reach their calls, as well as to transport patients to medical facilities.

The ACC processed approximately 100 calls during the two hour drilll–the equivilent workload of 8 average 24-hour days for the three fire agencies.  Local Officials noted that this was the first time the ACC had been operated in ‘real-time’ for an extended period of time.  Up to this point, ECFR’s ACC Volunteers and CERT students have only practiced short-term drills.

Scott Koehler, Fire Chief of East County Fire & Rescue, noted that “The drill went well. We found some ways to streamline operations and have incorporated those changes into our ACC Plan. We will practice those efficiencies in future drills.”

ECFR’s ACC Volunteers practice disaster operations monthly. They can set-up and activate the ACC in less than 15 minutes. They are also trained to develop Incident Action Plans and perform long-term planning for disaster operations.

CFD Battalion Chief Larry Larimer tracks fire and medical apparatus during the drill. (ECFR photo)

There will be future drills for the five ACCs. Some of them will involve having all calls dispatched by the ACC—simulating CRESA being totally overwhelmed by too many 9-1-1 calls to receive, process and dispatch the sheer volume of incidents (i.e., immediately after a significant earthquake).

Local Fire Agencies have also considered opening ECFR’s Grove Field ACC for potentially busy events like predicted windstorms, snow storms, flooding, etc.

For more information, contact Scott Koehler, Fire Chief, East County Fire & Rescue, 600 NE 267th Avenue, Camas, WA 98607.  Phone: 360.834.4908