One day of sleet and freezing rain triggered more 911 calls in Johnston County than hurricanes Fran and Floyd.
From Friday morning, Jan. 22, into Saturday morning, county roads grew increasingly perilous for drivers, leading to one fatal crash and a number of other accidents. The county declared a state of emergency and activated all of its emergency-response capabilities, including its emergency operations center.
“The first part was a typical winter storm,” Johnston County 911 Director Jason Barbour said. “Then from 3 p.m. to midnight on Friday, it was the greatest event in terms of call volume we’ve ever had. We’ve never seen this level of call volume. Even Fran and Floyd didn’t equal this.”
In that eight-hour time-frame, Barbour said, his office fielded 1,100 calls and dispatched 800 responses. For comparison, Barbour said the Friday before the storm, 300 calls came in and 200 calls were dispatched.
“If we ran a full report for the day, the number would be higher,” Barbour said. “We had calls for everything: accidents, structural fires, structural collapse and then the regular medical calls.”
The weight of ice on trees and the unrelenting freezing rain made the afternoon the worst part of the storm, with downed power lines closing both directions of Interstate 40 near Benson. Barbour said everything seemed to happen at once.
“All the trees started falling, and the wrecks started increasing,” he said.
County Commissioner Jeffrey Carver wondered about the difference in the number of calls and dispatches. Barbour said those calls were from residents asking when their power might return.
“A lot of people were calling 911 asking about their power,” he said. “That is truly a misuse of 911.”
In answering calls, the radio chatter was so thick between first responders that communications backed up significantly. Barbour said his office tallied 40,000 pushes of a radio button that Friday evening; 3,400 of those met momentary silence.
“In those cases, someone goes to push a button and no one is able to hear them for a moment,” Barbour said. System upgrades coming this fall will double the county’s radio capacity, he said.
In Clayton, branches and trees fell on power lines all over town, but electrical crews were able to keep outages to no more than 4,000 at a time, the town said. The work, though, went well into the night, and as the storm continued, the effort at times seemed futile.
“I was on the phone with one of the line crew, and as he was saying the line had been repaired, he said, ‘What a minute; another tree just fell across the line,’ ” Town Manager Steve Biggs said.
Biggs said the town would look into more aggressive tree trimming or right-of-way acquisition to give more space to power lines.
Drew Jackson: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104; @jdjackson