Donna Kirklen and I set off for Hood County about an hour after the May 15th tornado obliterated a community. Honestly, we did not know what to expect. Our hearts were heavy for the citizens and our fellow dispatchers ; we wanted to help any way we could. The hundreds of calls were non-stop and mental images came and went with each call. The news showed images of the rubble that were once homes, cars , schools – dispatchers hear the voices of fear, panic and total disbelief of the people as they searched for loved ones, pets and anything resembling their former lives.
We could not stay but a few hours and I came away thinking our small part was like dipping water out of a well with a teaspoon- so much to be done. Hood County Dispatchers did an outstanding job as well as Hood County law enforcement and those from surrounding
counties. The response area wide was overwhelming. We were different agencies melded into one force, sharing a purpose.
On our way home in the wee morning hours, our heads were spinning with ideas for our own agency should a similar event occur in Erath County. I knew many people hugged loved ones a little tighter in the following days. I urge everyone to come to the aid of fellow dispatchers in times of crises. You will receive one hundred times more than you give.
I feel so blessed to have chosen Telecommunications as a career.
Jill Van Natta-Erath County, Texas
The night of the tornadoes still feels like a dream to me.We all knew hazardous weather was in the area but there is no way in determining when, or where, or how bad its going to be. Everything seemed to happen so fast! We activated the Storm Spotters, Code Red Alert System, and then the Tornado Sirens. There was a funnel
|Rex C. Curry/AP
cloud coming out of the sky right outside of our office but we didn’t budge knowing we still had a job to do. The 911 lines lit up the entire screen and that when we knew it had hit. People were picked up and thrown from their homes, severe lacerations, amputations, people trapped in their flattened homes, and the list goes on and on. It was utter shock on both ends of the phone. I sent every unit possible to the disaster site where they set up a command post and triage. Hundreds of calls continued to come in. During all of the chaos other agencies were offering assistance and EMS crews came from everywhere. Out of nowhere Erath County and Benbrook dispatchers were in our office answering lines with us. Citizens jumped to help wherever they could without anyone asking. EVERYONE was offering to help within just minutes of the disaster. I’m so grateful there are so many good people in this world.
I still cannon believe all of this happened to our community. This is definitely a night I will never forget as long as I live. I am so thankful to work with such a great group of people. Everyone comes together and stays together until the end. I am proud of my community, proud of my job, and proud to be a Texas.
Samantha Peck-Hood County, Texas
I am proud to say I am a Hood county 911 Dispatcher and I was working on the night the tornado hit Granbury. Nothing prepares you for that call that comes in, my house is gone or 2 people just landed in my backyard. I work with a good crew and everyone did a good job. We learned so much form this experience.
I was amazed at the ems crews who showed up and called to help. People showed up to help could not have done it with out you.
Thank you to the Erath county and City of Benbrook dispatchers who came and helped us to answer calls we could not have done it with out you.
Deborah young- Hood County, Texas
Everyday on my way to work I go through a routine that mentally prepares me for the day ahead. Noticing on May 15, 2013 that the sky was exceptionally calm and sunny I said to myself, “today is going to be a good day.” Not knowing that in just a few short hours I was going to be eating my words.
Non-emergency calls started just before 8pm with alarm after alarm after alarm. No big deal, nothing we haven’t dealt with before. And then the worst thing imaginable happened. The next call that I answered was, “My house has been hit by a tornado and my family and I are trapped in the bathroom!” What do you say to that? Obviously, “don’t move” is irrelevant at this point. Trying to think quickly and shift gears I asked her if she could see any light from outside. After she replied with a panicked “yes”, I was slightly relieved to know they were at least getting oxygen. That relief quickly dissipated knowing that I couldn’t stay on the line with her because there were numerous other people calling that needed help as well. With each additional 911 call the situations seemed to get worse. There were people seriously injured, more people trapped, gas leaks, fatalities, and other emergency calls not related to the tornado flooding the dispatch center. Being in an office with no windows and no comprehension of what is going on outside the one thing that kept coming to my mind was…how bad is it? This situation is just one of many that my dispatchers and I were faced with that night. A short time later our prayers were answered when dispatchers from Benbrook PD and Erath County came to our rescue. Having them here so that we could focus our attention souly to our radios was such a relief. Without question or regard for their own safety a multitude of other agencies came to our aide when we needed them the most. We can never thank everyone enough for what they did.
I still have a hard time comprehending what happened that night. So many emotions flood the dispatch center when a catastrophic event occurs. And when everything is so crazy and hectic you don’t have time to process everything until it’s over. I remember leaving the office that night in a daze still trying to wrap my head around everything that had happened. When your life is forever changed in some capacity due to a catastrophe your perspective on life is forever changed as well.
Katrina Davis-Hood County, Texas
Stay tuned for the details on the Oklahoma tornado in our next issue…