Guest Blog: Jamie Holter, Former State DOT Communications Manager

I sat in on a webinar with our Safety Partner Information Logistics the other day and came away with one thought, “If I still worked in communications at Washington State Department of Transportation, I would be banging down the operations manager’s door to get this product.”

It is everything every communicator wants and needs during a major incident: timely accurate information from the site and the ability to bypass social media and connect directly with those in the backup who need useful, accurate information and a way to connect directly to agencies and first responders about their condition.

My fellow communicators know the story all too well:  a crash happens or folks are stuck in a storm. Communicators provide information via social media and it works only if drivers and passengers know how to use it. Radio stations provide in-vehicle information but it is sandwiched between other news. Travelers get frustrated, feel like no one cares, and start tweeting or calling into a local live radio station. We (Communications/Public Information Officers) spend the next two month managing constituent correspondence based on inaccurate information and emotion.

H.E.L.P. Alerts help solve this problem.
HELP stands for Highway Emergency Linked Platform. It’s powered by INRIX data, integrates with FEMA’s Wireless Emergency Alert system and is recognized as a “Demonstrated Alert Origination” software.

It is a highly accurate, push-notification system like we get during tornados or brush fires or flash floods. It allows agencies to connect directly with travelers via phone call, text or a web interface. It’s easy. It’s their choice. There’s no app. Nothing. That is a big step forward in equity especially when it matters most. No one should be left out especially in an emergency.

Throughout an hours-long incident, agencies stay in touch with those who are stuck (1:1 or 1:many) to provide real information and prioritize medical issues or other needs. Transportation agencies get the most detailed picture of the area as they develop a strategy to clear out the back-up.

As a communicator, it’s a way to sideline useless, inaccurate or unhelpful social media and focus on those who need help and want factual, actionable information about their situation. As a DOT communicator, you just feel better helping people who need it in a way they can understand.

For agencies:

  • No app needed
  • Clearer picture of the event queue length
  • Better information on types of vehicles and passengers involved in the event
  • First-hand information from effected drivers
  • Familiar technologies
  • Minimal staff interaction required
  • Simple interaction for mass notifications

For those stuck, benefits are clear AND it’s easy to use

  • No app needed
  • Official updates and latest relevant information delivered directly to the traveler
  • Updates delivered in the method most convenient for the traveler (phone call, text message, visit web page)
  • No need to comb through social media postings to find current and accurate information
  • Agencies have access to the location of participating travelers
  • Automated status update reminders prompt the organization to remain aware of driver status

Ilog has a four-minute video that really sums it up. If you are a communicator, get 10 minutes with your operations team and show them!

The webinar focused on Georgia DOT and PennDOT. GDOT said they lean heavily on their communicators during these events anyway, so it seems like a win for everyone.