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Heavy storm brings heavy call volume at 911 Center

May 29, 2012

Local emergency crews had to wait out the weather before they could respond to this fallen tree that took down power lines following Sunday afternoon’s violent storm. Another storm struck Tuesday afternoon, but was not as severe. (Photo by Larry McGuire)

BROOKVILLE — The Jefferson County Emergency Management Agency said Sunday’s severe thunderstorm affected everyone in the county and left several hundred people without power, downed trees and power lines throughout the county and region.

Meanwhile, another storm struck the area again Tuesday, but this time, the damage from high winds appeared to have affected the northern portions of Jefferson County according to 911 scanner reports.

Punxsutawney Emergency Management coordinator Charlie Hoeh said there were no reports of trees, or utility lines down or power outages in the Punxsutawney area as a result of Tuesday’s storm.

In a statement Tuesday, Department of Emergency Services Director Tracy Zents said at 3:58 p.m. Jefferson County 911 received notification from the National Weather Service of Pittsburgh that a strong severe thunderstorm capable of producing damaging winds in excess of 60 miles per hour, destructive hail, heavy rain and severe lighting would impact the county.

As the storm struck, a lightning strike damaged the Maplevale Radio tower sight west of Brookville. The damaged equipment affected the fire and police dispatch frequencies, Zents said. The radio signal was diminished in the Brookville area and west.

“Though the radio signal was affected and did cause some dispatching issues, it did not totally impair the entire radio network,” Zents said. “Emergency units could still be dispatched even though radio signal was compromised.”

He said he notified radio technicians immediately after the damage occurred, and they were on-site within an hour making necessary repairs.

Additional 911 dispatchers were summoned to assist with the overwhelming influx of 911 calls due to the storm.

“Typically, the 911 center is staffed with three dispatchers, three additional dispatchers, plus Zents and myself assisted with the storm operations,” said Deputy Director Chris Clark.

Zents also had staff on hand to open the Emergency Operations Center for the county to determine storm damage and needs assessments.

Clark said during the first 45 minutes of the storm, there were a total of 57 911 calls processed, and by the end of storm operations at 7 p.m., there had been a total of 82 911 calls handled.

These calls included many trees down, utility lines down, natural gas incidents, activated fire alarms, a structure fire, flooding, motor vehicle accidents and medical emergencies.

As of Tuesday morning, Zents said there are still 162 homes in the Big Run area without power, and that power in that area was expected to be restored after midnight or early Wednesday morning.

But Big Run Mayor Joe Buterbaugh said the areas affected included Church Street, Union Street, Pennsylvania Avenue and East Main Street from the bank north.

“Our power was out for 45 hours from 4:54 p.m. Sunday through 1:10 p.m. Tuesday,” Buterbaugh said.

The borough’s Emergency Management Agency, with help from the American Red Cross, set up a shelter at the War Memorial for those without power.

There was no report available as to how many Big Run residents utilized the emergency shelter.

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