Pennsylvania recognized for its emergency communication tool

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Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf has announced that 511PAConnect, the administration’s initiative to provide motorists with information during long-term road closures, has earned several regional and international transportation awards less than a year after its creation.

511PAConnect is a new, trapped-traveler emergency communications tool that allows incident response teams to communicate via automated phone or text message directly with motorists who are trapped in a roadway backup.

The tool also gives emergency crews a clearer picture of who is sitting in a trapped vehicle and where they are, so agencies can better plan for the use of resources. 511PAConnect is not a mobile app and requires no initial download or action from motorists, and the service is only activated during prolonged, emergency roadway stoppages that are expected to last four or more hours.

Upon activation, the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) sends a geo-targeted wireless emergency alert (WEA) push message to all phones in the incident area, which provides motorists with instructions on how to participate and receive further information throughout the incident.

Since the service was launched, PennDOT and the PA Turnpike used it a combined five times from December 2016 through March 2017. During four incidents, an average of 77 people opted in for follow-up incident messaging over an average of 222 minutes. The system was also activated to inform travelers of a planned exit closure in January.

Coordinated between the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), PEMA, Pennsylvania State Police, and PA Turnpike Commission, the service recently earned four awards:

• 2017 Toll Excellence Award for Technology from the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA);

• 2017 Transportation Achievement Award for Operations from the Institute for Transportation Engineers (ITE);

• Outstanding ITS Project for 2017 from the Intelligent Transportation Society of New Jersey;

• 2017 Project of the Year from the Mid-Atlantic Section of the Institute of Transportation Engineers.

“Following Winter Storm Jonas, I asked our agencies to develop a tool to better keep drivers informed about the status of accident cleanup and highway reopening, and 511PAConnect was the innovative response,” said Wolf.

“511PAConnect is the first initiative of its kind to link directly to a targeted group of travelers who are being impacted by, or who are approaching, a large-scale emergency.”

PEMA director Richard D Flinn Jr commented, “The initiative was a collaborative effort that shows how agencies can work together for improved customer service. We are thrilled that the hard work our teams did is being recognized by other groups.”

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Tom has edited Traffic Technology International magazine and the Traffic Technology Today website since he joined the company in May 2014. Prior to this he worked on some of the UK's leading consumer magazine titles including Men's Health and Glamour, beginning his career in journalism in 1997 after graduating with a law degree from the London School of Economics (LSE).

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