Did PEMA Learn from 2007 Storm?

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HARRISBURG -- Many of those who spent Friday stranded on highways in the Poconos wonder how they could be stuck for so long, 11 years after a similar event left hundreds of drivers similarly stranded on area interstates.

A report from a crisis management firm blamed the 2007 incident on what it calls a "total breakdown in communications."

Some who were stuck in the Poconos for a part of the weekend wonder if history repeated itself.

Back on Valentine's Day 2007, like this weekend, drivers sat in their cars and trucks on interstates, unable to go anywhere.

Pennsylvania Emergency Management director Richard Flinn was the agency's deputy director during that storm 11 years ago. Flinn says this time around, the state's interactive PA 511 Connect communications system got stranded drivers help during long waits.

"They deployed fuel assets, food, baby diapers. That's a total different story of what occurred in 2007," Flinn said.

Lawmakers representing the Poconos say they've been bombarded with phone calls. People wonder how after the storm of 2007, and the changes recommended in its wake, could so many cars be stuck on highways for so long.

"The level of frustration is very high and very disappointed in the response," said State Sen. Lisa Baker, (R) 20th District.

Sen. Baker's district includes parts of Wayne and Pike Counties.

During the storm of 2007, Baker had just finished her first month serving in the Senate.

Six weeks after that storm, a critical report from a crisis management firm called for changes to the way PEMA communicates with other state agencies to get crews in place ahead of storms.

"I think the lessons that we should have learned from that, clearly we did not learn," Sen. Baker said.

Flinn says his agency could not keep drivers from being stranded. Instead, it helped hundreds after they got stuck.

"Our emphasis was recognizing (that this could happen)," Flinn said. "So we activated early, got the Guard in early, totally different than the St. Valentine's Day (storm)."

Flinn also says PEMA and other state agencies will soon review the way they handled the storm in the Poconos.

They will ask if the state could have done more to reduce the number of stranded cars and trucks and reduce the amount of time they spent stuck on the road.


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