Emergency dispatchers re-live 911 phone calls made during Montecito debris flow

Emergency dispatchers relive 911 phone calls made during Montecito debris flow

VENTURA COUNTY, Calif. - For the first time, 911 dispatchers who answered the calls from frightened residents on the morning of January 9th recall the sheer panic of the situation.

“I don’t know if any training would prepare somebody for a natural disaster like this,” said Staci Brown, a public safety dispatcher with the California Highway Patrol.

The morning of January 9th was not only a tragic day for the people of Montecito, but the deadly debris flow also affected those taking the frantic 911 calls.

“There was a call that came in from a gentleman that had his family up on the roof and when I asked if he needed rescuing, he said the whole neighborhood does," said Brown. "There’s houses missing and people trapped. That was not an easy call to take.”

Ventura Communication Center dispatches calls for Ventura and part of Santa Barbara County CHP. They handle everything from the LA County line to Gaviota. The night of the big storm there were only four dispatchers on duty taking the calls.

“That morning we took approximately 352 between the hours 4 a.m.-7 a.m.," said Jennifer Allen, Public Safety Dispatch Supervisor with CHP. "To put it into perspective we usually take around 40 calls between those hours.”

Jennifer Allen has worked for the California Highway Patrol for 14 years and says it was by far the hardest morning she has ever worked -- and for many reasons. Not only were people calling frantically, but the storm had destroyed the cell towers making the phone service nearly impossible to understand anyone.

“It was frustrating not able to get the location from the people," said Allen. "The cell service was really bad. And people were trapped in their house. It was really sad to hear, but as dispatchers, we go into our mode of getting them the help.”

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