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Harrisonburg dispatcher reflects on Miller Circle explosion one year later

Sunday marked the one year anniversary since a natural gas explosion in the Miller Circle...
Sunday marked the one year anniversary since a natural gas explosion in the Miller Circle shopping center shook Harrisonburg. The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communication Center was flooded with calls that morning and dispatchers helped handle the crisis.(WHSV)
Published: Oct. 17, 2021 at 7:58 PM EDT
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HARRISONBURG, Va. (WHSV) - Sunday marked the one-year anniversary of a natural gas explosion in the Miller Circle shopping center that shook Harrisonburg. The Harrisonburg-Rockingham Emergency Communication Center was flooded with calls that morning and dispatchers helped handle the crisis.

“We actually heard and kind of felt the explosion. Initially didn’t know what it was, and it was maybe 30 seconds until all the 911 lines were ringing, literally all of them,” said Christina Adams, HRECC assistant supervisor.

HRECC dispatchers were having a staff meeting on what Adams said had been a quiet morning when they heard the explosion. Over the next several hours, they had to weather chaos and direct first responders to the scene.

“The first probably 30 minutes were the most hectic with scene size ups, figuring out patients, helicopters, getting everyone on the ground going and then it was just continuous communication for several hours until they got the situation under control,” said Adams.

Adams has been a dispatcher for several years. She said had never experienced anything quite like that morning.

“Initially you get that adrenaline rush, and then you start going mentally through your checklist of ‘what do I need to do, who do I need to notify’ and you just kind of jump in and go with it,” she said. “It was definitely an experience that none of us are going forget from that day.”

The HRECC dispatch team played a huge role in the heroic efforts of all the first responders that day.

“We were the first impact of that day trying to figure out the correct location and getting all the apparatus there. I don’t even remember the numbers of how many fire trucks and ambulances and police officers. We all were coordinating that. We were the ones getting the help started,” said Adams.

Dispatchers learned a lot from the experience of the day, and a year later, Adams said they feel more prepared should something similar ever happen again.

“We plan for large incidents, we plan for mass casualty incidents, things like that but actually having the hands on experience and knowing ‘OK this is how it went last time, this is what we did that worked, this is what we did that didn’t work as well’ and just having that knowledge,” she said.

As she reflected on the day a year later, Adams said that it reminds her of how important her job is, as well as how unpredictable it can be.

“It just for me cemented that this job is ever-changing, and you never know what’s going to happen. You can go from sitting around doing nothing, having a nice meeting to chaos,” she said.

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