Macomb County Emergency Traffic exercise encourages cooperation across disciplines

The Intelligent Transportation Society of Michigan (ITS Michigan) and the Traffic Safety Association of Macomb hosted 60 Macomb County public safety officials and transportation professionals for an emergency traffic management exercise June 30, 2011, in which responders were asked to plan their responses to a major emergency event.  

ITS Michigan organized the speakers and discussion facilitators and arranged for a light breakfast for the participants.  The Traffic Safety Association staffed the reception the day of the exercise, which dealt with a scenario involving two overturned trucks at the I-696 and I-94 interchange.  Fire service, police, tow services, ambulance services  and transportation officials were asked to develop their response plans if such a major traffic incident were to occur at this interchange.

To prepare the participants, a few short presentations were made on the tools available to respond such incidents.  Richard Beaubien, of Hubbell, Roth & Clark Consulting Engineers in Mt. Clemens, opened the program with a description of the exercise purposes and the partnership with the Traffic Safety Association of Macomb. 

Gail Peterson, executive director of the Traffic Safety Association introduced Macomb County Executive Mark Hackel, who highlighted the importance of local public safety and transportation agencies working together in response to a major traffic incident such as this.  One of his goals is to advance the capabilities of the Macomb Emergency Operations Center with access to intelligent transportation systems (ITS) technology.  This technology includes closed circuit television camera images of both freeway operations and arterial street operations in the county. 

The camera images of the freeways are available from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) Intelligent Transportation Systems Center.  The camera images of arterial streets such as Metro Parkway, Mound and Harper are available from the Macomb Department of Roads Traffic Operations Center in Mt. Clemens.  These cameras help dispatchers know what resources to send to a traffic incident even before some of the first responders arrive.

Adam Merchant, Macomb Department of Roads traffic director and vice-president of ITS Michigan, described the technologies available at the Macomb Traffic Operations Center that could be used for traffic incident management.  These technologies include the closed-circuit cameras and the centrally controlled traffic signal system. 

Peter Locke, emergency management specialist from Macomb County Emergency Management, highlighted the importance of communication among the incident responders.  This exercise helped the various responders identify other agencies and their respective roles in responding to a major traffic incident. 

Phil Wagner, a retired fire chief and incident command trainer, introduced the scenario and broke the participants into three groups to develop response plans.  Each group included representatives from police, fire service, ambulance service, tow service and transportation professionals.  

Tom Bruff from the Southeast Michigan Council of Governments (SEMCOG) provided aerial photographs of the traffic incident site for each group.  All three groups reconvened at the end of the morning for a panel discussion of featuring group facilitators Sarah Gill (MDOT), Macomb Emergency Management's Locke, Paul Brouwer from Clinton Township Emergency Management and Wagner.

Exercise participants learned that there is now a single dispatch for St. Clair Shores, Roseville and Eastpointe Police and Fire Services.  Two groups agreed that the Incident Command Center would be set up on 11 Mile Road, immediately east of the incident. 

The third group decided to use the parking lot at Lakeshore High School on 11 Mile Road east of Little Mack.  I-696 would be closed at Gratiot Avenue, and Macomb County would be asked to declare an emergency so that appropriate emergency resources could be deployed. 

The hazardous material spill from one of the overturned trucks could require evacuations of all residents within a one-mile radius of the traffic incident.  Police would be asked to handle the rerouting of traffic with the assistance of MDOT and the Macomb County Department of Roads. 

An evacuation would require notification of local cable television providers and broadcast media.  In evacuation situations, the Red Cross handles shelter needs and the Salvation Army would handle care and feeding of evacuees. 

MDOT could mobilize the Freeway Courtesy Patrol to block freeway entrance ramps in the early stages of freeway closures.  For communication among the various responding agencies, responders were asked to talk to their supervisors and ask the supervisors to delegate appropriate response tasks for the incident. 
This exercise provided participants with an introduction to the range of responders with a role to play in responding to a major traffic incident in a way that secures the safety of both the travelers and the responders.  The next steps in the process will be for the participants to continue discussions about how to respond in a coordinated manner to a major traffic incident like this one.  These discussions should occur both within and across disciplines.