Let’s take a look at how we got here and why we are in need of this coalition of transportation and public safety representatives coming together to create safer roadway procedures for motorists and incident responders. According to www.respondersafety.com, at least two emergency responders are struck each day in America. And about 20 percent of all firefighter deaths are not related to firefighting at all, but rather occur due to vehicle-related incidents. And the danger is not limited to emergency responders. Studies show that the likelihood of a secondary crash increases by 2.8 percent for each minute the primary incident blocks the roadway.
Recognizing the harsh reality of these situations in 2002, Atlanta area leaders agreed it was time to work together to address the question, “Why does it take so long to clear an incident?” From there, the subsequent multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional meeting led to the creation of the Metro Atlanta TIME Task Force – of which I am proud to be a part.
Metro Atlanta’s infamous traffic congestion stems from too much demand and limited roadway capacity, or recurring congestion. But more than half of the traffic congestion encountered daily is the result of non-recurring incidents – crashes, disabled vehicles and debris blocking roadways. As a transportation engineer myself, I’d like to think our work leads to positive outcomes. But no matter how transportation engineers plan, design, construct, maintain or operate transportation facilities, the safety and efficiency of roadways can be severely compromised by the effects of traffic incidents. The saying “crashes are only predictable in their unpredictability” rings true.
The Federal Highway Administration defines traffic incident management (TIM) as the “planned and coordinated multi-disciplinary process to detect, respond to, and clear traffic incidents so that traffic may be restored as safely and quickly as possible. Effective TIM reduces the duration and impacts of traffic incidents and improves the safety of motorists, crash victims and emergency responders.”
Everything hinges on shortening the duration of a traffic incident and mitigating its adverse effects. The TIM timeline accounts for all aspects of the incident from detection to verification, response, roadway clearance, incident clearance and recovery to normal traffic flow. Effective TIM involves the coordination, communication and cooperation of TIM partners, including fire and rescue, police, HAZMAT and towing and recovery companies, emergency medical services, media, transportation and transit agencies. Anything that can be done by these entities individually or collectively to shorten the duration of any of these phases minimizes congestion and improves safety.
A critical component of quick clearance is for everyone to understand not just their roles, but the roles of other responders. The TIME Task Force accomplishes this by providing opportunities for agency members to come together through quarterly meetings, annual conferences, training sessions, special workshops and after incident reviews (AIRS). On a smaller scale, jurisdictions have formed local TIM teams for their emergency responders to discuss issues and debrief recent incidents.
Since its inception in 2002, the Metro Atlanta TIME Task Force has made significant accomplishments. Several agencies have endorsed the Georgia Open Roads Policy (ORP) and its 90-minute incident clearance goals. The Towing and Recovery Incentive Program (TRIP), which provides performance incentives and raises the bar for certified towers to have advanced training and specialized heavy duty recovery equipment, and the development of the Georgia TIM Guidelines are two of TIME’s notable successes.
Henry Ford once said, “Coming together is a beginning; keeping together is progress; working together is success.” By working together to learn more about each other’s procedures, priorities and collectively devising ways to fulfill objectives, the TIME Task Force has been able to reduce average incident clearance times in metro Atlanta by more than 60 percent. By spearheading legislation such as “Steer It & Clear It” and Georgia’s Move Over Law, the Metro Atlanta TIME Task Force has been instrumental in raising awareness about effective measures and encouraging citizens to support their local agencies and elected officials in advancing TIM practices and institutionalizing safe, quick clearance.
So whether you’re a transportation engineer, an incident responder or a motorist, everyone has an important role to play. It all boils down to working together and remembering what you can do to keep traffic flowing through an incident scene as efficiently as possible and with the safest possible environment for victims and responders. September 30th is a day to recognize and celebrate that the region is better because of the Metro Atlanta TIME Task Force and its member agencies coming together, staying together and working together.