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Headlights On…

Skills that are very important and required by our Emergency Patrol operators are quick and independent thinking and decision making. Dealing with and responding to emergency situations that are always unique in some way requires strong decision making skills to safely and efficiently solve the problem.

Headlights On . . . Joseph Sagal

Operations Manager

Company: Maryland State Highway Administration
Department: Office of CHART & ITS Development
Position/Title: Operations Manager – Field Operations

Please describe your early aspirations/ career goals that led to your current role as Operations Manager for Field Operations at the Maryland State Highway Administration.

I began working with the Maryland SHA in roadway maintenance operations and picked up extra hours and part time shifts supporting CHART (Traffic Incident Management) during morning and evening rush hours. After spending a few years working with CHART, I wanted to go for a position as an Emergency Response Technician performing those duties on a full time basis. Having a background in Fire and Emergency Services, it was easy for me to apply my knowledge and skill toward accident response and working and partnering with other agencies on incident scenes. The job was more than that though. Spending days on the road patrolling and assisting motorists day to day reaped the reward of knowing you may have helped someone who was frightened or not sure what to do get going again out of harm’s way.

How has your previous work in the transportation field influenced the Emergency Patrol?

It has helped me in my role now managing the Emergency Patrol. Throughout my transportation career in Maryland I gained a working knowledge of roadway maintenance practices and the infrastructure in our metropolitan regions. I work every day with folks that I have had a working relationship with for many years.  Within CHART I worked in many roles and positions in the industry of traffic incident management: as an Emergency Patrol operator, a Traffic Operations Center dispatcher, an Operations Supervisor leading teams in the operations centers and patrolling the roadways, and now in the field operations division.

When managing the Emergency Patrol program, what different business models do you consider?

As an organization at SHA we set and follow a business plan with KPA’s (key performance areas) and assign managers to ownership of the different KPA’s. We set smart, achievable goals for each year, as well as goals that span over 5-10 years. We set goals for, annual number of assists by the Emergency Patrol, number of incidents, reduction of incident duration time and increase in direct benefit dollars to Maryland motorists. When determining the goal we revisit current practices and Standard Operations Procedures.

What services does the Emergency Patrol provide on Maryland’s Roadways?

The MDSHA Emergency Patrol, as part of Traffic Incident Management Duties, responds to and provides effective emergency traffic control and quickly clears the roadway of accidents and incidents. The Emergency Patrol provides motorist assistance, such as fuel, tire changes, water, jump starts and minor mechanical repairs. Our staff is trained in first aid and CPR and can assist with medical emergencies. Our staff is also National Incident Management System, Incident Command System trained and certified to work with other responders to handle highway emergencies, events, and disaster response.

When hiring new operators what do you view as the most important qualities and skills required for an Emergency Patrol operator?

Skills that are very important and required by our Emergency Patrol operators are quick and independent thinking and decision making. Dealing with and responding to emergency situations that are always unique in some way requires strong decision making skills to safely and efficiently solve the problem.  Effective communication with the public is also important because of the frequent one-on-one, face-to-face interactions our staff has with the public. Most of the interactions are positive, however, sometimes Emergency Patrol operators have to deal with a difficult situation or person and effective communication skills help the operators to  overcome any difficulties and ensure the situation ends with a positive outcome. Safety is a paramount quality required in any job that requires employees to work and to handle emergencies alongside fast moving traffic. The willingness and ability of Emergency Patrol operators to help others selflessly is also very important.

What type of training do the Emergency Patrol drivers undergo?

Emergency Patrol drivers undergo extensive, on the job, ride-a-long training with senior staff in order to become very familiar with the roadway locations, and infrastructure.

Other training includes:

  • Traffic Control Training;
  • Work-Zone Traffic Managers Training;
  • Flagger Course;
  • Hazardous Materials Response Training;
  • Tow Truck Operations Light and Medium Duty Training;
  • Blood-Borne Pathogens Training;
  • CPR/First Aid Training;
  • Defensive/In-service Driver Training;
  • NIMS ICS Training;
  • Traffic Management Training; and
  • Additional workshops and core classes administered by the MD State Highway Administration in communications, leadership, managing multiple priorities, customer service, bi-lingual proficiency, Microsoft Office, media relations, terrorism awareness training and roadway safety.

Are Emergency Patrol drivers given the opportunity for further training throughout their years of service? What type of additional training is made available?

Emergency Patrol drivers can re-certify their training every few years and can also take advantage of new training, technologies, etc. in the subject area. New trainings that become available in the subject of emergency response are offered to staff members, allowing them to take advantage of opportunities to work with and partner with both internal and external responders and agencies. As Emergency Patrol operators gain more experience and responsibilities in their career, they are offered trainings, which enable them to advance to an ERT Senior title. As they prepare for team leader/supervisory positions, the staff trains in leadership development and management courses.

Do Emergency Patrol drivers train with other incident responders? If so, why is it important for Emergency Patrol drivers to train with other incident responder representatives (e.g. firefighters, police officers and EMTs)? If not, what is the relationship like between Emergency Patrol drivers and other first responders?

Yes, most certainly. We support and host blended trainings and workshops with other responders. Emergency Patrol operators and other first responders train and partner together and get to know each other through these blended trainings.  Having a pre-existing relationship amongst responders who know each other’s goals and objectives and can work together on highway incidents makes carrying out our mission successful. Incident critiques are also beneficial and allow us to work out any issues that may have arisen at an incident scene.

What is CHART and how has it improved incident response in Maryland?

Since 1990 CHART is the Coordinated Highways Action Response Team and is the Office within the Maryland State Highway Administration that handles traffic incident management. The dedicated men and women working for CHART utilize technology and equipment to provide effective traffic incident management.  A Statewide Operations Center as well as three Traffic Operations Centers co-located with State Police Barracks around the state operate and dispatch Emergency Patrols. Access to over 300 CCTV camera streams, and over 600 ITS devices (CCTV, DMS signs, HARadios, weather stations, traffic sensors, etc.).  Maryland also started to display travel times on message signs along the roadways to help motorists make informed decisions and choices while traveling. Thirty Emergency Patrol vehicles cover nearly 350 miles of Maryland Interstate and Highways daily and handle 55,000 incidents and motorist assists every year in primarily three major metropolitan regions (Baltimore, Washington, and Frederick). Recent improvements made in incident response in Maryland include opening additional operations centers and more than doubling the response staff to incidents and accidents.  In the last ten years alone MD SHA’s CHART has reduced the average incident duration blocking lanes from 41 minutes to 28 minutes. As a direct result of this progress, Maryland motorists save 32.4 million vehicle hours of delay and a direct benefit of 1.6 billion dollars in productivity, fuel, and emissions savings.

What other types of changes and improvements have you made to the Emergency Patrol over the years to ensure safety remains the first priority on Maryland’s highways?

Effective and applicable training in regards to traffic management; compliance to changes in worker retro reflective visibility standards; MUTCD traffic control standards; and partnering and networking more with our local, state, and federal partners in our region.  More training has been made available to better prepare our staff.

Recently Maryland also has been one of many states to enter into a public/private sponsorship with our Emergency Patrol program with the chosen sponsor State Farm.  This has enabled us to improve and increase the safety and visibility of our 52 Emergency Patrol vehicles by adding reflective striping, lettering, and conspicuity striping on the rear of our vehicles.  In addition we are also in the process of implementing two additional Emergency Patrol units in our regions with sponsorship funds from this partnership, which will help supplement our existing staffs.

How do you envision the program will change over the next decade?

I envision continued program growth in both technology and staffing. In particular implementation of 24/7 patrols in the major metro regions (currently 16hrs/M-F on call after hours) and the expansion of Traffic Operations Centers to other regions of the state as traffic volumes and congestion management needs grow. As populations increase, travel to regions in our state continues to grow and Maryland is unable to create and build new roadway infrastructures, investing more into effective traffic and congestion mitigation and management will be needed and the MD SHA / CHART will be ready

Please share an anecdote of a great assist or tale of a driver that went “above and beyond the call of duty.”

There are so many its hard to pick just one. Here are just some of the great comments we receive thanking our operators:

“Well I just want to thank you again for your help, you were such a blessing to me on that day. I can not find enough words to describe a person like you, and you don’t know how much you meant to me on that day, you were a blessing from God, and I want to say thank you so much again, and please tell your boss that you deserve a raise, because you do your job very well, and again THANK YOU FOR YOUR KINDNESS!!!!!!!”

“Mr. Meeks had to work hard to change the tire, it was VERY hot and not much space. He was very kind to my daughters and our St Bernard and even got a big wet kiss from him. His kindness that day will be remembered by me for a life time.”

“I am very thankful for the State Highway response service that helped me return to my family at a reasonable hour, safe and sound, on Friday.”

What types of valuable information have you gained by collaborating with Safety Service Patrols in other states? Such as best practices, training guides, etc.

Best practices shared between other states and CHART regarding operations and incident response allows us to learn from each other and make informed and educated choices; Why re-invent the wheel?  If it’s developed, established, and proven, see if it works for your state.  Anything we have developed or written we share and lend to any of our partners. If another state’s program has found success in piloting something or a new way of operating and it proved successful, CHART is more than willing to consider implementing it.  We have shared SOP’s, training, job/salary requirements, etc.  Some specific information obtained from other states’ programs and implemented in heavy duty towing and recovery and rapid scene clearance has given us some great direction for our own programs in Maryland.

Recently, with the implementation of the patrol sponsorship in Maryland, having already established contacts in other states enabled me to reach out and discuss the transition and to find out how the sponsorship was handled in their state. I was also able to see and hear the benefits and advantages brought to their programs.

What do you find is the best vehicle for communication between states’ Safety Service Patrols (presentations, conferences, conference calls, newsletters, websites, etc.)?

I think a combination of communication methods is beneficial. The sky’s the limit in video/teleconferencing nowadays. I know that state travel budgets are limited sometimes, but nothing is better for networking and best practices than attending a workshop or conference with partners and cohorts from other state DOT incident response/traffic patrol programs. List servers and web sites and the direction the Safe Highway Matters web site and twitter accounts, etc. can also have a very high impact in information sharing among our programs. The establishment of a direct line of communication with those folks leads to more informed, educated decisions  because when a question, challenge, or concern comes up a quick phone call or e-mail asking for direction or advice can lead to the resolution of the issue.

What would you like other states with whom you have previously not communicated to know about the MDSHA Emergency Patrol?

That we are here to assist through sharing our information, best practices, lessons learned, procedures, and successes over the years. We’re here to help in any way we can.

What would you like to know about other state’s Safety Service Patrols?

Performance measures, data, numbers, etc.  These statistics are huge for us in Maryland and we provide these numbers monthly for our StateStat.  Also, I’d like to see how states are measuring up with the direct benefits and ROI for implementation of new technologies when proposing these in Maryland.  What are the other states programs and daily operations, procedures, safety improvements, future enhancements, and growth? Leveraging of resources and technologies.

Back to Safe Highway Matters: Spring 2011

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