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Headlights on. . .

My primary objective is to improve the safety of traffic incident responders and the traveling public through good TIM principles. Good TIM principles not only improve safety, they simultaneously improve congestion and reliability.

Headlights On . . . Gary Millsaps

Current Company: Delcan Corporation
Current Department: Emergency Transportation Operations
Current Position/Title: Incident Management Specialist

Previous Company: Georgia Department of Transportation
Current Department: Traffic Operations
Current Position/Title: Incident Management Manager

Please describe your early aspirations/career goals that led to your current role as an Incident Management Specialist for Delcan Corporation.

I had no aspirations of ever leaving GDOT. I was blessed with the opportunity to work with some of the finest individuals in the industry. GDOT was and will always be a family to me. I never begrudged or hated going into work because I felt that we were truly making a difference. We were able to provide a service that provided safety for both the emergency responders and the traveling public, while at the same time reducing congestion and improving travel reliability.

Being able to work with such a great organization, who believed in me, we were able to accomplish some great things in TIM. It was through these accomplishments that I truly understood the value of TIM. Because of budget issues all across the country, the days of building our way out of congestion issues are over. While construction will always be part of the formula for success, the major emphasis now is improving operations for programs that already exist.

Part of that operations is TIM. Because of GDOT, the HERO Program and many other talented and dedicated emergency responders, the GDOT TIM Program began receiving national notoriety. I was fortunate to be the one representing this awesome group of folks. Through this Delcan presented me an opportunity to work with others across the country. This was no easy decision. I loved what I was doing and I loved the people around me. It was an agonizing decision to make. My goal now is to take the investment that others have made in me and hopefully help others by sharing that investment.

As an Incident Management Specialist, what are your primary objectives when consulting with states on their TIM programs?

My primary objective is to improve the safety of traffic incident responders and the traveling public through good TIM principles. Good TIM principles not only improve safety, they simultaneously improve congestion and reliability.

In your role as Incident Management Manager for the Georgia Department of Transportation, what steps were you able to take toward improving roadway safety?

In no way were the accomplishments a solo effort. The success was due to many great individuals providing their time, support and knowledge. Because of these champions, we were able to double the size of the HERO operations, from a staff of 48 to 107. This meant increasing the routes from 12 to 30 and the coverage area from 160 to 286 center line miles. These efforts also included the development of the Metro Atlanta TIME Taskforce, which has become a role model within the industry, the implementation of the TRIP program and multidisciplinary training.

What is the Georgia Towing and Recovery Incentive Program (TRIP) and what benefits have been derived from it?

The Towing and Recovery Incentive Program (TRIP) of Georgia is an innovative solution that was developed to mitigate the congestion of tractor trailer incidents. TRIP is reducing the impact of major traffic incidents by aggressively clearing commercial vehicle incidents in less than 90 minutes!  Implemented in January 2008, TRIP pays qualified heavy-duty towing and recovery companies monetary bonuses for the quick clearance of large commercial vehicle incidents in the Metro Atlanta area. The Program promotes safe, fast and efficient management of commercial vehicle incidents in an effort to reduce congestion, crashes and secondary incidents. TRIP is a result of collaboration among organizations including the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), Georgia Regional Transportation Authority (GRTA) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), in close coordination with the Traffic Incident Management Enhancement (TIME) Task Force.

An independent study calculated an 11:1 benefit: cost ratio of the program.  Namely, the results of TRIP show a dramatic reduction in the average duration of commercial vehicle incidents from 269 minutes in 2007 to 106 minutes in 2008 and 89 minutes in 2009.  The average cost of TRIP incidents was determined to be $186,684, a 71 percent decrease from the pre-trip average incident cost of $643,080. This time savings is three additional hours that motorists can invest into more worthy activities, such as working, helping children with homework, taking care of elderly parents or volunteering in their communities, to name a few.

Given your experience in TIM, how do you think Safety Service Patrols (SSPs) compare with other incident management programs?

All over the country, Freeway Service Patrols have been cited as one of the most effective elements of traffic management programs.  Many patrol programs started out as motorist assistance or simply a “courtesy” patrol with limited skills or equipment for handling larger incidents. These early efforts typically began with pickup trucks or vans with limited capabilities, especially in the area of crash scene vehicle clearance. In most cases the second or third generation of these early programs included more competent and better trained operators and larger, better equipped trucks. These evolutionary steps or transition moved the programs from motorist assist units to a more multi-functional “service patrol” or full function safety service patrol (FFSSP).

The objectives of these modern, fully functional incident response programs include prompt detection of incidents or disruptions in the traffic stream; minimizing incident duration; clearing obstructions; restoring full capacity to the facility; and scene safety activities to reduce the risk of secondary incidents. A major FFSSP responsibility is the prevention of injury to responders, as well as other highway users. FFSSP operators, properly trained, with fully equipped trucks with relocation capability, are typically capable of clearing the majority of incidents from travel lanes without having to wait for a wrecker called from a police or highway patrol rotation list. This quick clearance activity substantially reduces the duration of vehicle crashes or of abandoned vehicles left in hazardous locations. FFSSP operators relocate the disabled or wrecked vehicles to the closest safe location for pick up and towing by a wrecker.  All of these items help to improve safety for both the emergency responders and the traveling public while at the same time improving congestion and reliability.

What are some of the most easily implemented best practices that you would like to share with professionals in the SSP industry?

The best practice in TIM and FFSSP is also the cheapest and most rewarding and that is building relationships. This may sound hokie but it has proven to be the only real silver bullet time and time again. Through relationships, a better understanding of roles and responsibilities is developed. The time to get to know your fellow responders is before the incident occurs, not on the side of the road. Standing in the freeway at an incident scene is not the time to be exchanging business cards. This eliminates much of the misunderstandings and issues that can occur out in the field. Relationship building can come in many forms such as multi-disciplinary training, resource development, operational procedures, after incident reviews and many more.

In what ways is the GDOT HERO Program unique to other SSP programs across the country?

There are many variations of SSP programs across the country. Like the HERO program, many are considered full function safety service patrols.  Meaning that their main objective is to remove or reduce the impact of any congestion causing incident. Georgia law allows the HERO program to take an aggressive approach in meeting this objective. If they can safely do so, HEROs will move or have removed any congestion causing incident with or without owner consent, unless, in the case of a traffic crash where there are apparent serious injuries.  Under most circumstances, where there are no apparent serious injuries, HEROs will not wait on police or fire in removing incidents from the travel lanes.

The HERO program also has the full support of GDOT senior leadership. While all programs have some sort of training program, the HERO training program requires over 300 hour of in class training and 200 hours of ride time.

This issue of Safe Highway Matters focuses on Safety Service Patrol Sponsorships. The HERO Program entered a sponsorship agreement with State Farm in 2009 while you were the GDOT Incident Management Manager.

a. Before the program was implemented, what were your expectations and concerns?

  • Losing the HERO branding. The HERO program had worked extremely hard in being recognized as part of the emergency response world. The HERO vehicles were readily recognizable and we did not want to lose that recognition.
  • Losing our mission focus. As stated earlier, the HERO mission is to remove or reduce the impact of any congestion causing incident. There was a fear that the sponsor would begin to have a say in our operation and ultimately changing that focused mission.
  • Losing the aggressiveness in approaching the focused mission. The concern was that the sponsor would want to take a less aggressive approach for fear of possible liability.

b. After the program was up and running for two years, did your views of the sponsorship program change? If so, how?

Yes, my view did change. While the “markings” of the HERO truck did change, an agreement was reached as to acceptable “markings”. The new markings not only included the sponsor’s name but the addition of reflective safety markings. This improved the visibility of the trucks and ultimately the safety of the operators.  The HERO brand did change somewhat but it was not the end of the Earth. After the initial shock of the new looking trucks, everyone realized it was the same HERO operation. None of my other fears every came to reality. The operation and mission was never questioned nor changed but was actually supported.

How did GDOT utilize the funding provided by the SSP Sponsorship Program?

The first year of funding was used for operational improvements for the HERO program. Subsequent funding has gone toward the State match for Federal funds. The HERO program is supported through Federal funds which require a State match. The sponsorship dollars have paid for that match.

In addition to the monetary payment to GDOT, what other ways, if any, has the HERO sponsorship contributed to the program?

Due to the economic times, the funding reduced the risk of cut backs within the HERO program.

Because the one to one interaction between Patrol Drivers and assisted motorists is one key to a successful program, how do you go about hiring new drivers? What do you view as the most important qualities and skills required for a Safety Service Patrol driver?

This is a field of public service. These men and women are putting their life on the line every day and often times their efforts go unnoticed by the public. Therefore a potential candidate must have the desire to serve others. Often times this means putting their selves in harm’s way in providing that service. The men and women who have chosen this career are extraordinary people. I count it an honor and a privilege to have worked with the HERO program and other programs across the country.

How do you envision incident management will change over the next decade?

TIM will continue to grow. Safety is always first in response to any traffic incident. Congestion issues are not going away without better operating the infrastructure system that currently exists. TIM accomplishes both. As the principles of TIM become better understood, successful TIM programs will become the norm and not the exception.

In your position you are able to travel and speak with many DOT’s, what have you found to be the best vehicle for communication between states’ Safety Service Patrols (presentations, conferences, conference calls, newsletters, websites, etc.)?

The answer depends on the objective. Each form of communication works. There is a desire within the SSP’s to meet face to face to learn from one another. While this to me is one of the best methods of growing the industry, it is also the hardest due to travel restrictions (funds).

Back to Safe Highway Matters: Winter 2012

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