New system seeks to ease traffic snarls in Louisiana

Citing a need for better communication among first responders, State Police officials announced Tuesday plans for a new statewide training system aimed at getting roads reopened more quickly following accidents.

The Traffic Incident Management system developed by the Federal Highway Administration is already in place in 33 states.

The system aims to make sure all first responders — police, fire, medical and even wrecker services — have the same training and information when arriving at an accident scene to streamline the process and reopen roads more quickly.

State Fire Marshal Butch Browning said the ever-evolving role of a first responder and the people who are considered first responders make this type of program critical to public safety.

“You take the larger incidents that have ever occurred, even the minor emergencies that occurred and if you critiqued those emergencies, what you’re going to learn is we need more communications, more pre-planning,” Browning said.

The training will help first responders statewide quickly determine the best course of action at a crash scene, including whether to close the road, what detours are best and when to remove wrecked vehicles from a road so it can be reopened to traffic, said Sgt. Nick Manale, a State Police spokesman.

The main purpose is to have first responders all following the same protocols at a crash scene since all first responders are not trained to handle crashes in the same manner, Manale said.

First responders will be pressed to relay information in to the people who need it the most urgently and in turn, those people can get the information out to the public quicker, Manale said.

“Everybody has to have this mindset that we need to work and be efficient,” he said.

Dispatchers will be trained to ask the right questions in order to get the right information to the first responders so they can make the decision on who, and what action, is needed.

State Police Superintendent Col. Mike Edmonson gave the example of when a car breaks down on the Interstate or bridge and all area first responders send personnel, further clogging up roadways.

But if the vehicle just ran out of gas or needs a jump, then emergency first responders are not needed and only the appropriate personnel can respond.

“So it’s important that we know and communicate exactly what happens and that’s the whole thing about investigating an incident itself and managing the incident,” said Edmonson, who was flanked by about 40 law enforcement personnel from around the state as he announced the new traffic management system Tuesday. “As quickly as we can get the right personnel up there, then it’s that quickly that we can get that roadway open.”

The training will also come in handy during times when roads, highways and bridges need to be closed, such as the recent winter storms that led to icy, dangerous conditions.

Edmonson touted the plan as a way to make the roads safer for first responders as well as motorists, citing statistics showing that 40 percent of the law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty nationwide died working crash scenes, including about 130 officers in the last five or six years.

Secondary accidents and congestion that arise from the initial accident are also something officials hope to curb with the new program.

During traffic incidents, every minute it takes first responders to get to a scene adds about four to seven minutes of traffic that will be backed up in congestion behind the incident, Edmonson said.

Dennis Decker, assistant secretary of the state Department of Transportation and Development, also said the chances of secondary accidents occurring increase for every minute that roadways are closed.

Decker said state officials hope to train about 1,000 law enforcement personnel over the next year in the new system. In turn, he said, those people could return to their respective agencies and train other people there.

The first training class began Tuesday inside the State Police Training Academy and featured State Police Troop commanders from across the state as well as law enforcement personnel from Monroe, Shreveport, Caddo Parish, St. Tammany Parish, the state Fire Marshal’s Office and the Louisiana Department of Public Safety. They took notes in a classroom, watched videos and discussed best practices for handling crashes.

Decker said the classes will foster communication between the agencies and allow the different first responders to relay their concerns about certain issues related to responding to scenes to other first responders.

Baton Rouge Police Department spokesman Cpl. Don Coppola Jr., said city police did not have anyone attending the first round of classes to his knowledge, but said they are looking forward to attending future classes.

“It would be a great learning process, as Col. Edmonson said, a great training tool for everyone that way you work closely with your partners in public safety,” Coppola said.