If the purpose of shared emergency drills is to improve response, the early October Liberty Tunnel drill served its purpose, and then some. PennDOT's Tunnel Maintenance and Operations personnel and the City of Pittsburgh's Bureau of Fire conducted three separate drills over a 12-hour period. The event also included participation from the Allegheny County 911 system, PennDOT's regional Traffic Management Center staff, SPC Planning, and the U.S. Coast Guard's exercise team.
Mock fires and multi-vehicle crashes gave firefighters and PennDOT tunnel personnel a chance to practice and improve response activities, including coordinating communications, traffic control, and fire suppression. Pittsburgh Fire Chief Darryl Jones was on hand at the opening of the events, conducted in two-hour blocks to give three separate groups of firefighters the chance to engage with tunnel personnel in a typically unfamiliar environment. While one crew responded in the outbound tube, another crew was at the inbound end and conducted search and rescue tasks, including rescuing a woman sleeping with her dog in an abandoned car.
For many on both sides of the equation, it was a unique opportunity to learn about how to approach, fight, and survive a similar response in the future. For many firefighters, it was the first time they had ever been inside the tunnel, and several said the familiarity with the facility will pay dividends in the future.
The Bureau of Fire is working on a standardized approach to using their newfound knowledge and skills to the dangerous tasks to which to which they are entrusted run even smoother in the future.
For PennDOT, recent modifications and upgrades to tunnel emergency systems got a workout, as did tunnel personnel who work with responders during emergency incidents.