T3 Webinar Question and Answer Transcript

Emergency Response in a Rural Setting: the US Route 163 Utah Motor Coach Crash (August 26, 2009)

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Q.  You're talking about the lack of elements in the rural area. What, specifically would help in this situation, what types of elements?
A.  John Leonard: It would be one of the things we talked about--it's just for verification that the crash had even occurred. At the time, it was quite a while before we were aware that the crash had happened. The elements, whether it be cameras, or some type of sensors, we wouldn't be detecting backup, because, for example, it was maybe 20 minutes before the next vehicle came-[un]like in an urban area where the sensors [could alert us], in these remote locations, a lot of times, unfortunately, with the rural run-off-the-road, there is nobody else to make that phone call. So with the thousands of miles of roadway we have, it's very hard to try to set up a comprehensive ITS network that would provide that type of verification. So what we really need to look at is saying how the vehicle or the occupant of the vehicle would be able to transmit or provide that information.
Q.  Did you have any additional curve warning?
A. John Leonard: We did not. We did a ball bank study--the ball bank shows that it makes it just fine through there. We have the one warning sign, and we did not even replace the guardrail. The rail was not damaged, it was just barely kissed, so other than replacing the delineator panels, or not the-- the delineators themselves, and the field fence, there was no roadwork done to the facility at all. The question was, how many miles of straightaway do we have prior to the curve? And the curves are a little bit more gentle in advance, but it's pretty straight right-of-way. As you saw in those shots, like, before, the road extending forever, and then there's some gentle curves, but I think it was 1,600 feet prior to the curve was straight as straight.
Q.  After the crash, was the guardrail extended throughout the curve?
A. John Leonard: And the answer is no. The guardrail was not extended. The guardrail was not protecting the curve or the slope where the bus went off. The guardrail was protecting a culvert that was immediately preceding that curve where it was very sharp. The area where the bus went off was a three to one slope, maximum, and in other places, it was shallower than that. But the guardrail was not-- did not need to be repaired, nor was it needed to be extended.
Q.  What time did it occur, versus when the first call for assistance? Two times have been mentioned so far. One around seven-thirty, and the other was 8:02?
A. Jeff Nigbur: Yeah, I pulled our initial time. Not sure when that first call came in, but our fatal notification form, and our guys put down in all their nines and reports the seven.

John Leonard: The NTSB mentioned in their report that there was a slight discrepancy as to the time, because the various reporting agencies did not have, using a universal time so there was some overlap and some underlap based upon the different time elements that they were using.
Q.  Were there any air ambulance available to assist on the crash?
A. Linda Larson: No there was not. Due to the weather, none of the air ambulances could fly to the scene. They all had to fly to a town that was at least an hour and forty-five minutes to two hours away, for them to even fly in to help us.
Q.  Due to the number of travelers unfamiliar with the area, has the DOT considered installation of mile markers with highway identification symbols and route numbers at more frequent intervals?
A. Manny Puentes: No we have not considered that. Just because there are so many lane miles that we have to do. But every route in the state has a mile marker at every mile along the way, that's a mile marker, but they're there, and at the beginning of the routes and then occasionally every eight to ten miles along the routes, we have route seals that identify the route itself. So every mile there's a mile marker, every eight to ten miles there's a shield that identifies the route.
Q.  Do any of the local responders--have night time scene illumination?
A. Linda Larson: Yes, all of our fire rescues do come with lights that we can set up from the truck to help us illuminate the scene, so that we can tell what we're working on while we're there.

Jeff Nigbur: Highway Patrol does not carry that, so we rely on fire and/or DOT, and call somebody out to assist us in that.

John Leonard: That's correct. Our stations generally have a light plant, and then in the urbanized areas we have incident response vehicles that have lights mounted on them as well.
Q.  How successful was DISM after such a horrific incident? Did San Juan end up losing any responders by resignation post-incident?
A. Linda Larson: No, we are very lucky the debriefing that we had with the CISM was very successful. We did have to have a few debriefings after the initial ones for some people that were having a hard time above that, where some of the responders were with their patients for five and six hours, and you can imagine, in that time, they became very attached to them. The one girl that did pass away on her way to Grand Junction, we had spent a lot of time trying to save her life. All of us had worked really hard to try and save her, and then to have her pass on was very hard for the people who were involved in her care, did have to take some initial debriefing after that, in order to get them back up. But thankfully we did not lose anybody. This incident has made us tighter as a unit, and we do work more-- work better with each other since this incident happened.
Q.  Is there any thought for there to be an industry requirement for charter services to file a trip plan with UHP or other agencies?
A. Jeff Nigbur: I think anything like that, especially in this rural area is extremely helpful. To know which route they're taking, to know any passenger itineraries, unfortunately the black box on the bus was not working. We went that route, or was not attached. The bus was new, and I guess it was just not attached by the company or what have you, so I think more information is better in any situation, so I think that would be helpful.
Q.  They also ask about trip following, requirement for OnStar tracking or notification devices.
A. Manny Puentes: That was part of the recommendation of the NTSB. That would almost have to be a national standard, rather than a state standard, because, for example, these buses were going through multiple states, three states in this particular case, and so it would be difficult for one state only to make those requirements. But just due to the rural nature of these facilities we have to rely on vehicles to be able to tell us what's going on, because we can't monitor all the roads out there. And so that type of legislation, and unfortunately it takes a horrific event such as this, to get individuals off center and provide that, but that may be one of the positive outcomes that comes from this.
Q.  Have changes been made in other rural areas of Utah based on this event in San Juan county?
A. Linda Larson: I don't know if any other EMS have changed. I know that several of the EMS agencies around the State of Utah have come to us and asked how we've changed our mass casualty plan, asked how we've changed our mass casualty trailer, and we've helped give them advice on what we did that helped us. I don't know if they've taken those back and implemented them or not.

Jeff Nigbur: As far as the Highway Patrol goes, I think it's definitely changed San Juan County, obviously. We've looked at our different policies and how we can rely on manpower in different parts, versus just relying on three people, call somebody down from a different part of the state to assist. We've also done that throughout the state, and looked at other rural areas as far as how we respond to mass casualty incidents, so the answer is yes on the Highway Patrol part anyway.

Linda Larson: The question that was asked is if we used our emergency management people to help us with this. Yes, our emergency manager actually came to the scene and helped us there. We did not activate our EOC, we just used a local incident command structure and then kind of moved that structure to the hospital to help get patients out.
Q.  Does your EOC have mobile units?
A. Linda Larson: Yes, but we felt at the time that we would probably be out of the situation before we could get it down and get it situated. It's true, because of the repeater situation, that happened to us, where we couldn't use the repeater and we couldn't get out, we do have a new mobile repeater that we can take anywhere with us and help us get better radio communication. We did pick that up since this accident has happened. The question was, is, do we feel that other agencies around-- you mean just in the State of Utah? Other EMS in general, so rural agency EMS agencies, should they have something, some type of mock training or drill in order to help us be more prepared for this? The State of Utah does require us to do a mass casualty drill every year. In San Juan County, we've done enough every year that we've hit that quota, but yes, I do feel that training for something like this is a huge asset. That is one of the reasons why I do go around and tell my story so that hopefully they can be better prepared for this in the future. And it is something that they should practice. I think we have over 120 buses that go through per week in the summertime, in San Juan County, so it's not a matter of when-- I mean, it's not a matter of, if, it's a matter of, when. And everybody should be prepared for that. Okay, what was asked was if we had a type three system that could respond to help us with the ICS command. Is that what you're-- No, we don't. We don't have enough personnel to do that, because basically everybody's already got another job. A lot of our firefighters carry the firefighter, the EMT and the police officer hats all in the same line, and so we don't have enough personnel to have something like that put together. It would be nice to have something like that, though.

Jeff Nigbur: I think that's possible, too, but you have to realize they have to travel 300 miles to get down there, so the incident is already pretty much over.

Rod MacKenzie: Well thank you so much, both for the phenomenal job you all did, and also in all of the work and the input and the insight that you've brought here to allow this great discussion. I think it's events like this that really allow us to understand what happened, and the lesson-- make future events work better. So, many thanks indeed for all of your contributions here, and thank you also to those that are here in the room and behind the scenes that helped to make all the technology work and mix this all together.

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