“Families fled their houses to escape the deadly cold, huddling in their vehicles until their fuel ran out…”
In February 2021, as the southern United States was buried beneath an avalanche of unprecedented winter storms, the Texan city of San Antonio was literally powerless to defend itself. A state-wide electricity generation failure left millions without power, heat, food and water.
“People were desperate,” says Mandi Hernandez, Manager of the Traffic Management Center (TMC) for the San Antonio Highway Emergency Response Operations Program (HERO), which we manage on behalf of the Texas Department of Transportation. Mandi leads a team of TMC operatives who monitor the roadways and coordinate response to citizens in distress.
Before Serco, Mandi worked 17 years in emergency medical services, but never experienced anything like this.
“I took a call from a lady in tears, she was so cold. I spoke with another driver for 45 minutes – he was stuck on a hill with a heavy trailer and kept slipping back down – he just wanted somebody to talk to.”
“It was rough out there,” says Warren Morton, a retired fireman and paramedic who is proud to work for Serco as a Lead Operator at HERO. Warren and his team patrol the roads, responding to instructions from the TMC, supporting local emergency services and bringing state-funded aid and assistance to motorists in need.
“The whole city was covered in ice. Our elevated highways were shut down, creating terrible congestion. People here have no experience of these conditions – they couldn’t cope, getting stranded all over the place. In some cases, we were literally pushing people up hills.”
Our HEROs brave one of the most dangerous workplaces in the world, day and night, in all conditions imaginable. Sometimes only inches away from deadly walls of speeding traffic, with TMC colleagues their only lifeline, they routinely put themselves at risk to protect the public and other emergency responders.”
Even at the best of times, our service can mean the difference between life and death:
“When you breakdown on a US highway,” says Mandi, “it’s just you and the concrete barrier, with hundreds of other motorists hurtling past every minute. You’re a sitting duck.”
“And then suddenly we show up out of nowhere with our trucks and our uniforms,” says Warren. “They don’t expect it. When they realize we’re there to help, they’re so excited and grateful – it’s incredibly rewarding.”
Throughout February, all the teams pulled together under the direction of Mike King, Program Manager, to help the people of San Antonio weather the storms. HERO operators helped their TMC colleagues travel to and from work.
Warren’s priority throughout was the safety of his team:
“Everyone gets home safe – that’s our goal. We’re most at risk once we exit our vehicles and what we don’t need are other cars spinning out of nowhere because drivers are losing control on the ice. So, we took ‘careful’ to a whole new level – nice and slow, looking out for each other and focusing on getting it right first time, every time.”
Thanks to Warren and Mandi and everyone else at HERO, everyone did get home safe, colleagues and citizens, every day of the crisis.
“Our job is to help those who need it most,” says Mandi. “It means a lot to me to be able to share with them the kindness I would wish for in those circumstances.”
“I love helping people and I’m really proud of what we offer here,” says Warren. “Every day we go home knowing that we’ve made a difference – it’s awesome.”