on the road, just trying to get where you need to go and you see a line of cars slowing down in front of you. You assume there’s a crash up ahead but wonder when the line will get moving again.
When there is a crash or other incident on the road, it puts both those sharing the road and first responders at risk. Two of our Iowa Department of Transportation core values are “Safety First” and “People Matter.” Part of living those core values includes managing roadway incidents in a coordinated way to make sure anyone involved in an incident is cared for in a fast and efficient manner and ensuring the safety of all responders and those travelers on the road near an incident.
WHAT IS TRAFFIC INCIDENT MANAGEMENT?
The basic premise of traffic incident management is simple. It is a planned and coordinated process to detect, respond to, and clear traffic incidents so that traffic flow may be restored as safely and quickly as possible. In practice, it’s a much more difficult task to accomplish.
When a crash or incident happens and traffic is impacted, there is often a team of responders deployed to assist. These law enforcement officers, firefighters, DOT maintenance workers, emergency medical workers, Highway Helper, tow operators, and others called to the scene must work together in a highly coordinated way to assure the scene is as safe as possible. Each has their own job to do and communication among each responder is key to clearing an incident quickly to minimize the risk of other crashes occurring near the original incident and to get traffic moving smoothly again.
HOW DO FIRST RESPONDERS KNOW WHAT TO DO?
While they all have good intentions at a crash scene, getting all first responders on the same page and working together is no small task. Everyone has the goal of taking care of the needs of those involved in the safest way possible, but each responder has a different job to do and may approach the incident from a different perspective. Coordinating all responders’ activities takes communication, collaboration, and training.
A foundational piece of that communication and coordination is participation in Iowa’s Statewide Traffic Incident Management Committee. One of the group’s main areas of focus is promoting a standardized traffic incident management training program developed by the federal government. National Traffic Incident Management Responder Training brings incident responders from a variety of disciplines together to engage in interactive, hands-on exercises that simulate real incidents. Learning to coordinate response activities and optimize operations in the classroom is vital to responding effectively in the field and building a unified national practice on incident management.
IS INCIDENT INFORMATION COMMUNICATED TO THE PUBLIC?
If you are traveling, communicating the traffic impact of a crash to you is also a key element in keeping those on the road safe. The Iowa DOT’s Traffic Management Center detects incidents using various methods 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. Through the agency’s more than 500 traffic cameras, staff in the traffic management center can directly observe what’s happening on the road. When an incident happens, they are also often contacted by law enforcement on the scene. Relaying all this information to you is done by TMC operators who put data on the 511 system that provides public notification of events using the 511 website, app, personalized text alerts, and other communication with third-party apps like Waze.
If the incident is on a major roadway and will block traffic for a considerable amount of time, the Iowa DOT has pre-planned detour routes. These detour routes have been developed in coordination with local agencies and are reviewed and updated regularly. When an incident occurs, the detour can quickly be displayed on the 511 map and appropriate messages are displayed on dynamic message signs, where available.
WHAT CAN I DO TO BE PREPARED FOR ROADWAY INCIDENTS?
If you know you are going to be traveling, check www.511ia.org before you leave to make sure your route is clear. You can set up an account in 511 and select routes you regularly travel. The system can send you text alerts if an incident pops up on a route you have selected. If you download the Iowa 511 app to your phone, you can get that information on the go by safely checking it while your vehicle is parked or having a passenger monitor the app.
Once you’re on the road, stay calm and be patient if you encounter an incident. Responders are working as quickly as they can to get you moving again. As always, buckle up, pay attention to the task of driving and never drive if you’re impaired.