Highway Safety: A Practical Approach

The first responders on the scene need to ensure that the traffic is controlled prior to placing themselves and others at risk.


Do not congest the work area with unneeded equipment; stage those vehicles off site until they are needed. When you increase the number of vehicles and personnel on the scene, it heightens your exposures and the chance of a secondary incident involving emergency responders. If emergency medical services is needed, place those personnel and apparatus within the protected area so they can triage, treat, and load victims safely. Call additional equipment as needed and instruct them where to place their apparatus. All emergency personnel should exit the vehicles on the downstream side, away from moving traffic, if possible. The reduction of emergency lighting can be helpful, as strobes and red flashing lights can blind, attract or confuse the general public. The use of amber lights, arrow boards, arrow sticks, message boards, and police vehicles seem to be effective in slowing traffic. The use of overhead lighting to illuminate the scene is preferable when visibility is limited.

When the incident is mitigated, the incident commander needs to limit your time on scene, which reduces your exposure. Clear up emergency crews as soon as possible, and keep in mind that this is a very dangerous task. Traffic must stay under control until the last cone is picked up and all emergency responders have left the scene. Always expect the unexpected so that you will not be shocked when it happens. Mr. Murphy is always just around the corner, waiting to implement his Law when we become complacent.

Highway incidents are very dangerous. Traffic volume and the speed at which vehicles are driven have increased dramatically. We need to deal with this threat using a systematic and thorough approach when planning, writing SOGs, and dealing with other involved agencies. This preliminary work will reduce the risk to our responders and the public. Take a practical approach to this very complex situation, and protect our most valuable asset, our emergency responders!