Just a few days after Hurricane Irene hit Pennsylvania and caused flooding throughout the eastern portion of the state, the U.S. east coast was slammed again by rain from Tropical Storm Lee. As drought-stricken residents of Texas prayed to receive rain, residents along the east coast prayed for their rain to end. Tom Graziano, chief of the Hydrologic Services Division at the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration, told FoxNews.com that many streams in the Northeast were showing the highest flows ever recorded. With recovery efforts from the hurricane still underway in many areas and an impending disaster on the way, President Barack Obama declared an emergency in most eastern states, from the Carolinas up to Maine.
All of this presented Pennsylvania with a unique challenge: Flooding was expected to impact two-thirds of the state. Hundreds of thousands of residents would need to be evacuated, and hundreds more would be homeless after the storm moved out.
Since Pennsylvania and its neighboring states were still cleaning up and restocking from Hurricane Irene, Pennsylvania Emergency Medical Services (EMS) knew the state’s EMS response would have to be handled, at least in the beginning, solely with state resources. In addition, while still handling recovery efforts from the first storm, EMS would need to simultaneously prepare its resources for Tropical Storm Lee deployment. At its disposal were:
- 1,067 licensed EMS agencies operating 3,500 BLS and ALS ambulances;
- 517 quick response services;
- 59,000 current certified EMS providers;
- 30 EMS strike teams (representing 150 ambulances and support equipment); and
- 17 medical surge equipment cache (MSEC) trailers (50 beds, with basic life support units that can be set up in an area the size of a basketball court in 45 minutes).
As the storm moved in just days after Irene, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) and EMS officials looked at the areas that were most at risk for additional flooding and damage and assessed the resources at their disposal. The first deployment came from the western Pennsylvania EMS agencies, under the command of Thomas McElree, director of the Pittsburgh-based Emergency Medical Service Institute. These agencies responded by providing two EMS strike teams to northeast Pennsylvania to enhance local EMS evacuations and responses—the same units that had responded to assist New Jersey’s EMS after Hurricane Irene.
As those units began traveling the approximately 400 miles to the northeast, Pennsylvania’s other regional EMS councils and local EMS agencies began moving MSEC trailers into the northeast to assist in sheltering and providing care as well.
The second deployment of strike teams came from Philadelphia and Chester Regional EMS Councils, which deployed two teams to assist in evacuating 150 patients from a mental health facility. John Kloss from the Eastern Regional Council commanded this operation.
As more and more resources were needed and the system became more taxed by the results of the flooding, Pennsylvania’s Bureau of EMS decided to reach out to the Ambulance Association of Pennsylvania. The association drew five EMS strike teams from its membership to be on stand-by if needed. Finally, a strike team from Seven Mountain Regional EMS Council was deployed to Harrisburg to relieve EMS crews for 24 hours, allowing the crews, who had been operating nonstop, to get some much-needed rest.
Once the emergency needs were handled, the EMS operation in Pennsylvania turned to supporting the recovery. In coordination with PEMA and the Pennsylvania Department of Health’s Office of Public Health Preparedness, the MSEC equipment was off-loaded and put to use as transport trailers and portable warehouses to move cleanup and personal protection supplies into affected communities. Two portable warehouses, one in the north-central area of Pennsylvania and one in the northeast, were placed into service to provide masks, gloves, hand sanitizer and informational handouts. Staff from the Lycoming, Tioga and Sullivan Regional EMS Council, the northeast regional EMS councils and the regional district office staffed the portable warehouses as other regional EMS councils assisted in moving supplies to them and into communities. Throughout this operation, we provided more than 647,000 masks, 1.7 million gloves and 270,000 hand sanitizers to residents in the affected flood areas.