Emergency response squads are HEROs to motorists
In preparation for the 1996 Summer Olympics, Atlanta braced itself for extremely heavy traffic. As part of its preparations, the Georgia Department of Transportation initiated the Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) program, which was established to render aid to stranded motorists and accident victims.
A component of Georgia’s “Navigator” ITS program, HERO was designed to keep traffic flowing, aid in accident removal and help visitors find their way around Atlanta. HERO’s objectives also include minimizing traffic disruption whenever there is an “incident” such as a flat tire or material spilling off vehicles, and attending to stalled vehicles.
HERO’s assistance could include changing flat tires, reviving dead batteries, providing fuel or coolant, distributing road and travel information, offering use of a cellular phone and transporting stranded motorists to a safe area off the freeway. If a motorist requests it, a HERO will stay with him or her until police or other help arrives.
At the outset, HERO consisted of 10 operators plus Mike Hendon, the incident management coordinator, and his assistant. The program has been so successful that, in November 1997, it was expanded to 26 operators and four supervisors, and 16 vehicles were added.
The beefed-up operation now serves 175 miles of highway during peak hours and 247 miles during non-peak hours. HERO personnel work two shifts Monday through Friday and weekends whenever a large special event is planned. The state DOT budget pays for most of the $1 million annual operating costs, but federal money helps with large purchases such as new vehicles.
HERO training can last four to five months. Approximately 360 hours are spent in “controlled environment” training. A minimum of five weeks is spent riding with a certified HERO for on-the-job training, which includes certification in such areas as radio communications, hazardous material spills, work zone traffic control, auto vehicle extrication and first response for medical emergencies.
Some employees are former DOT road crewmembers, but the program also hires people from outside the department. “We like to hire people who are familiar with the danger of working on freeways,” Hendon says. “Trainees who have not worked on road crews do not fully understand the dangers of the freeway.”
During its first two years, the HERO program has rendered aid to 30,788 motorists and given assistance at 4,832 accident sites in metropolitan Atlanta. The average response time has been 12 minutes, but the DOT hopes to reduce that to 9 minutes.