IN THIS CASE STUDY YOU WILL LEARN:
- Georgia DOT leverage longstanding collaborations, partnerships, and resources to develop and operate CHAMP.
- The communications team in Georgia was an essential part of the rollout, both internally and externally.
- CHAMP now has 51 vehicles equipped with push bumpers, message boards, and other traffic control devices.
The state of Georgia’s continued population growth, along with a growing need to monitor and respond to highway incidents and emergency maintenance needs, prompted Georgia DOT to consider offering expanding its existing a roadway safety and maintenance patrol on to all interstate highways. GDOT’s popular Highway Emergency Response Operators (HEROs), a program launched in 1996, respond to traffic incidents and stranded motorists on Metro Atlanta highways.
In considering expanding the service, GDOT referenced a national survey of major metro areas and other southern states, such as Tennessee and Florida, about their use of contracted highway safety patrols. Data from that survey and local research helped the department, its district offices, team of consultants and community leaders plan extensively for a similar statewide service. By Oct. 2016, Georgia DOT had solidified plans for deploying the Coordinated Highway Assistance and Maintenance Program (CHAMP) to cover interstates outside of metro Atlanta.
What is CHAMP?
CHAMP, the Coordinated Highway Assistance and Maintenance Program, is Georgia DOT’s roadside assistance and maintenance program covering Georgia interstates outside of metro Atlanta with the exception of short stretches of I-59 and I-24. CHAMP is integral to the department’s statewide road safety program.
- 88 employees: 57 operators, 24 full time dispatchers, 4 managers and 3 supervisors.
- Patrols on 20 interstate routes outside metro Atlanta in Georgia, 16 hrs. daily and on-call 24/7 on I-20.
- An operator patrolling an average 51-mile section of the interstate during an 8-hour shift up to 4 hours on-call.
- 51 trucks equipped with push bumpers, message boards and other traffic control devices.
Georgia DOT sponsors CHAMP as a complimentary service to the public. Operators do not accept tips or payment for services from motorists.
Planning and collaboration
A team of cross agency, public safety and local governments joined forces on planning a program unique to their region. Data from a national survey and local research helped the department and its partners plan extensively for an expanded state safety patrol. CHAMP provides support for GDOT’s maintenance crews whose supervisors and executive management team had previously received incident calls (unrelated to their regular jobs) creating a backlog in their regular duties. Essential to this plan was developing incident-priorities for the new operation.
Concerns for CHAMPs to address in priority order:
- Lane blocking incidents
- Shoulder blocking incidents
- Routine maintenance issues and
- Motorists requiring routine assistance
Additionally, program managers and partners met with GDOT’s communications team on developing a comprehensive communications plan to properly launch the new program. It included an outreach component that identified audiences such as for-profit roadway services and called for meetings with owners of these services to discuss CHAMP and its role. The message reiterated that CHAMP is a public service offered by GDOT. Its primary role is support the department’s maintenance crews and to assist stranded motorists to maintain traffic flow on interstates. Importantly, the message was that CHAMPs would be additional eyes and ears for first-responders and public safety vehicles while serving the state’s main arteries.
CHAMP hit the roadways in early February 2017. The addition of CHAMP to Georgia DOT’s safety program makes Georgia the first state to provide statewide interstate highway assistance. CHAMP operators hit the roadways in early February 2017. GDOT phased in CHAMP across the state from February to May 2017. At the beginning of the program, there was a one month period of field training while operators worked on the interstates. The field training process allowed the department to identify gaps and additional opportunities to finalize program needs before moving to statewide implementation.
The TMC, as the deployment head for CHAMP (and HERO), maintains cohesion by focusing on these areas of interconnectivity:
- Traffic Incident Management; Recovery and Resilience
- Business Processes/Policies and Procedures
- Work Zone Management and Infrastructure Protection
- Continuity of Operations and Communication
- Organizational Capability Element
Thanks to the Georgia General Assembly, transportation became a number one quality-of-life issue for the state. Thus, the passage of the Transportation Funding Act (TFA) of 2015 made the CHAMP operation possible. GDOT prides itself on being excellent stewards of public dollars and honoring the wishes of legislators who wanted state transportation dollars to show vast improvement on projects around the state. Georgia DOT uses contractors expensed at approximately $10 million/yr. over a five-year contract with AECOM which is more cost effective than hiring additional fulltime workers. With TFA support, CHAMP has leveraged existing services through partners, GDOT and 511. This includes:
- Active Traffic Management/Travel Demand Management (TMC 511 Navigator)
- Emergency Transportation Operations (TMC)
- Traveler Information
- Local Government, Public Safety Cooperation
CHAMP has shown tremendous success since its inception in 2017. This diagram shows CHAMP assists by region (districts) in areas it serves with districts 3 and 4 reporting the highest number of assists.
CHAMP Learnings key to success:
- Get your agency’s communications/public information office involved early. They already have connections with external partners such as media and can help with designing brand assets such as logo and collateral.
- GDOT communications created the CHAMP collateral (fact sheets, press kits, and promotional items), videos and logo and helped identify additional target audiences.
- Existing relationships are advantageous; for example, GEMA already had relationships with all response agencies through their disaster response planning and recovery activities, and these relationships were critical to a successful CHAMP launch. Involving statewide GEMA partners in the beginning helped with concerted outreach to its local offices.
- Meet with key staff. Meetings during the implementation phase for CHAMP included those with GDOT offices to garner understanding and buy-in. This approach helped maintain an open line of communication with the central communications office and district communications who were critical for helping CHAMP build and maintain its reputation.
- Target message to each audience and keep it simple.