IN THIS CASE STUDY YOU WILL LEARN:
- How traffic incident management (TIM) response training can be done safely in a test track facility
- How a test track can provide training in a multitude of physical features encountered in all three regions of the North Carolina: coastal, piedmont, and mountain, as well as incorporate a broad range of physical characteristics that allow agencies to practice various incident work zone applications and vehicle maneuvers
- How the test track education and training can reduce incidence clearance times.
The North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) has had a formalized Incident Management Assistance Patrol (IMAP) program since 1991. Though this program has evolved over time, the benefits and efficiencies gained by the IMAP program continue to be realized each year. Incidents—defined as an occurrence on the roadway that temporarily impedes traffic flow—can cause major congestion. Highly skilled IMAP responders provide a cost-effective means of setting up safety barriers and addressing incident- induced congestion. Their efficient response times, specialized equipment, and knowledge of managing incidents reduces the duration of incident impacts.
The risks and dangers of on-scene incident management cannot be overlooked. According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI), in 2019 alone, 44 emergency responders were struck and killed by vehicles while they were working the scene of an incident, and many others were injured after being struck. Although 2020 traffic volumes have decreased across the country due to the ongoing pandemic, deadly strikes of emergency responders are unrelenting, with 39 deaths attributed to struck- bys through October 15, 2020. (source: https://www.respondersafety.com/Struck-By-Incidents/2019-ERSI-StruckByVehicle-Fatality-Report.aspx )
NCDOT has envisioned a lifelike classroom where IMAP responders can train and refine their skills in a more realistic environment without being exposed to the hazards of live traffic. In 2018, NCDOT began to implement these ideas in a Traffic Incident Management (TIM) Training Track that replicates elements of the real world. The initiation of the track design focused on the intended purpose of training IMAP responders to safely and efficiently manage and clear incidents.
TSMO Planning, Strategies and Deployment
In the continual effort to advance the maturity of the IMAP program, NCDOT designed a training facility to enhance the capabilities of IMAP responders beyond classroom- style training. In addition to improved training, the Department is focused on improved collaboration with law enforcement and first responders, who will also have access to the track and the opportunity to attend multi- agency training sessions. The TIM Training Track is unique in that it affords representatives from all responder disciplines an opportunity to train in an environment that includes physical features encountered in all three regions of the state: this is critical when IMAP responders from one region of the state are needed to support evacuations due to hurricanes, assist with winter storm events, and supplement responses to other significant events that cause increased demand on the roadway network.
The NCDOT partnered with the North Carolina State Highway Patrol (NCSHP) to construct a training track on land located within the larger loop of the NCSHP’s high- speed training track. The new TIM Training Track includes a half- mile of TIM- focused training facilities and ties into the existing two miles of track. The TIM Training Track was designed to incorporate a broad range of physical characteristics that allow agencies to practice various incident work zone applications and vehicle maneuvers, including:
- Multiple lane configurations
- On & off ramps
- Weave section
- Horizontal curvature
- Vertical curvature
- Turn- bay
- Cross over area
The following track features allow agencies to engage in specific training exercises:
- Bridge Deck: implement emergency traffic control to protect approaching and on- scene first responders and prevent secondary crashes when responding to an incident in the vicinity of a bridge deck during inclement weather
- Drainage: practice strategies for keeping hazardous spills from contaminating nearby water sources
- W-Beam Guardrail: practice techniques of attaching to guardrail to upright overturned vehicles
- Cable Guardrail: practice the process to detach and reattach cable in the event a vehicle has damaged the guardrail
- Concrete Barrier: positioning of the IMAP truck with minimal shoulder for motorist assist; visual and physical protection of NCSHP officers during the placement of stop sticks for NCSHP
- Permanent Traffic Signals: practice setting signals to flash
- Temporary Traffic Control Devices: safely maneuver through yield/stop/signal- controlled intersections during a response
Additionally, on- site storage allows for traffic control devices to be kept on hand to assist with training exercises, including:
- Portable water- filled barriers
- Portable yield sign
- Portable stop sign
- Skinny drums
- CCTV cameras
- Traffic signal equipment cabinet
- Speed limit signs
- Stop sticks
- Interstate shield signs
Communications Planning and Execution
Even though the track is focused on physical characteristics and the geometrics of the roadway, it also allows IMAP responders and other agencies to train on newer technologies such as drones for crash investigations and on new technologies for IMAP vehicles. The typical classroom- style learning paired with hands- on practical training on the TIM Training Track will prove helpful in efficient on- scene management, quicker incident clearance, and injury reductions to first responders while on the scene of an incident. These primary benefits of the enhanced training also provide secondary benefits to the transportation network by reducing congestion and decreasing emissions caused by slowed and stopped vehicles.
With the construction of the TIM Training Track, IMAP training is evolving from individualized, agency- led training to an all-responder training environment, focused on fostering consistent TIM culture across multiple agencies. Training scenarios include a variety of incidents that require IMAP responders to manage a scene - before, during, and after emergency responders arrive on- scene. The coordination with law enforcement, first responders, and towing agencies will be instrumental in developing the expertise needed for the rapid response and management of traffic incidents. The IMAP responders’ priority is to set up traffic control strategies to keep traffic flowing as much as possible, while keeping all responders safe. As part of the training curriculum, IMAP responders also spend one day in the Statewide Traffic Operations Center (STOC) to better understand the importance of communicating the details of the incident timeline. From their field role in the incident response, IMAP responders
provide those updates to the STOC or a Regional Traffic Management Center (TMC) and coordinate any requests for additional resources, when needed. Lastly, the IMAP responders continually assess the scene and manage appropriate traffic control accommodations for all on- scene responders.
An additional benefit of training on a closed course is having the ability to record activities and review the response. These recordings are used to play back and highlight specific actions that were conducted properly as well as identify activities that require further training or the development of additional training modules. Having these recordings will enable efficient coordination with all regions of critiques that require corrective action to be taken. Regions will be able to implement changes quickly without having to be back on- site at the training facility.
Outcome, Learnings and Public Benefit
An efficient IMAP program can be vital for managing traffic and benefiting the public in terms of motorist assistance, reduction in incident-induced delay, improved safety (reduction in secondary incidents and responder struck-bys), and improved air quality through reduced emissions. The enhanced education and training responders will gain on the TIM Training Track aims to influence incidence clearance time. The Department is conducting a before- after study to measure the improved performance of clearing an incident.
NCDOT was successful in obtaining CMAQ funding to support the construction of the TIM Training Track based on the anticipated air quality benefits from the improved IMAP response. The NCDOT expects to see enhancements in the IMAP program with the utilization of the TIM Training Track and additionally expects to realize savings in fuel consumption and more efficient use of emergency services. The analysis conducted to support the CMAQ grant application identified an expected 5% reduction of incident clearance times as well as increased safety, recognized by a 5% reduction in secondary crashes.
The training activities conducted have given agencies an opportunity to train together and build relationships and have shown challenges or weaknesses that could be improved with additional training. These exercises will allow the Department to tailor future training activities to address challenges. Additionally, NCDOT is excited to invite neighboring state agencies to conduct training sessions together to aid in improved incident response at the borders. Though recently completed, blended learning benefits are already being realized at the NCDOT TIM Training Track, where traditional classroom- type learning is being paired with real-world situational learning.