After the I-95 Meltdown, Virginia agencies prepare for winter ( News Washington )

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Virgin organizations say they are preparing for the winter season with lessons from the January snow that wreaked havoc across the state and paralyzed 48 miles of Interstate 95 south of the nation’s capital.

New equipment and plans are being put in place, transport and emergency officials said, trying to avoid the mistakes that happened on January 3, which left hundreds of people without food, water or gas overnight. The plans include modifying the snow course and tow boat, new police drones to assess conditions from the air and improving public communications, including a new traffic-tracking system.

The spill along the East Coast’s busiest highway has raised questions about the state’s preparedness for disasters while prompting both an investigation and calls for changes to emergency protocols. It was one of the country’s worst travel meltdowns since the 2011 blizzard hit Washington in the evening.

The three primary agencies that respond to weather-related conditions on public roads – the Virginia Department of Transportation, the Virginia State Police, and the Virginia Department of Traffic Management – have issued training and issued plans, they said, while also working on corrective actions issued by it. The Inspector General of the Virgin in reparation.

“VDOT is committed to continually improving our practices in order to achieve our mission through the snow – keeping passengers and workers safe,” said VDOT spokesman Hermann Marshall.

How the East Coast’s busiest road unfolds: 36 hours of confusion and misery on I-95

When heavy precipitation occurred in the early hours of January 3, tractors hauling on the slopes, snow removal crews were crushed and motorists were left stranded without help. Road traffic cameras and overhead signals did not communicate clearly with drivers to avoid the road ahead as it became impassable. It wasn’t until the next morning that Virginia State Highway Patrol officers closed it down.

State officials blamed the fall on challenging conditions from the storm, which hit much of the state with more snow than expected. Traffic camera outages and cellphone footage left service responders unable to assess road conditions that quickly turned dangerous amid heavy traffic and commuters moving through the corridor after the New Year’s weekend.

“Sometimes you can have all the plans in the world, but Mother Nature will send you a ball. And in this case, it was just the worst case,” said state Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax), who chairs the Senate transition. “This was a learning curve. “

After an icy 36 hours in January, Virginia was quicker to declare a state of emergency before the storm, prompting a quicker response to deploy resources. Public officials said the transportation approach will also help streamline communications between transportation, police and emergency management agencies that are responsible for responding to the storm.

This winter’s plans call for more messages to the public to be “clear and actionable,” and when Herman warned, he said “more aggressive messages encouraging motorists to avoid the road.”

Listen: Va. Don’t use lessons from the past to avoid the I-95 meltdown

Aug. A public report from the inspector general criticized VDOT’s role in communicating with the public as ineffective, noting that messages did not clearly state the need to avoid travel on I-95 or, in some cases, provided insufficiently accurate information.

The IG report issued 18 corrective actions for public agencies to improve response protocols that could alleviate problems in future storms. Officials at VDOT, VDEM and the City Council said they are working to make final recommendations, some of which have a deadline of a year.

“We always have and will continue to provide emergency news preparedness for all accidents, including snow events,” said Laurentian Opett, spokesman for the VDEM, which is responsible for providing local resources and public institutions during and after the accident.

Opett said the agency is working to complete a “full evaluation of policies, plans and procedures.” She declined to provide more details, saying she is continuing to work to implement corrective actions by the inspector general.

6 Reasons Why Conditions on I-95 Deteriorated in 3 Snow Storms

Driver advocates say it’s important for residents to be prepared for such scenarios during winter weather. Along the route, experts advise drivers to stay aware of the weather throughout the route and be flexible to detour or wait for storms.

Experts also recommend that drivers have an emergency kit available at all times, which can come in handy if traffic stalls after a serious collision. According to AAA, 40 percent of American drivers do not carry an emergency kit in their vehicles.

In winter, an emergency kit should include first aid supplies, drinking water, snacks, a flashlight with extra batteries, a woolen rope, warm gloves, clothes, hats and blankets. Gas tanks should not be accessed below a quarter full and the mobile and charger must not be accessed.

“It’s important to be prepared,” said Ragina Ali, speaking for AAA Mid-Atlantic. “I hope that the incident has caused people to carry an emergency kit in their vehicle. Unfortunately, they are painful reminders of how important it is to have one with you.

Others said travelers follow social media accounts or the websites of the state departments of transportation where they travel. Again, he said, the agencies “are best to advise motorists of what to expect until the storm passes … and also advise motorists to stop their journeys” when necessary.

VDOT said it is conducting an “increased review” of its state, district and local reporting systems, while employees have received preparedness training that emphasizes better reporting. The state’s 511 system, the main source of traffic information that remained relatively quiet during the January storm, is getting an upgrade expected to be completed next year, Herman said.

The state also purchased a new system to enable two-way communication between drivers and VDOT crews in emergencies. A new service to be launched in December will allow for maximum in-cab safety for commercial vehicles during weather events. The city also partnered with Waze to provide emergency updates, officials said.

VDOT nine Regions have also identified adjacent locations for wreckage and snow scenes, particularly where the zones are experiencing ground motion effects.

Virginia agencies at height of I-95 meltdown, report says

VDOT also plans to have more staff available to drive routes and report conditions, prioritizing areas where traffic cameras become unavailable. At the inspector general’s recommendation, VDOT is also exploring the use of backup power for road cameras, although those plans are in their early stages.

The Virginia State Police said they have several drones equipped with cameras that are used to evaluate traffic incidents and identify traffic points and detours, especially in areas where VDOT cameras are not available.

VDOT said each division would set up its own “command district” during severe weather events, with local leaders in a position to better communicate with the agency’s central office. at Richmond

State police will review emergency response plans and procedures to ensure safety during two consultations with weather advisories. Spokeswoman Corinne Geller said the agency has also changed its communications policy to ensure its superintendent’s office is informed of critical incidents and “significant unusual events.”

The three agencies plan to handle long-term closures and help stranded motorists, officials said, while coordinating health checks and, if necessary, messaging motorists through a texting program already in use in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. More immediately, the police in neighboring states began to receive training in dealing with social media situations.

Marsden said he is confident the state of Virginia’s agencies and leadership will be prepared to deal with severe weather and have learned from the problems that arose along I-95 in January.

“What you’re probably going to see on the management side this winter is hyper-vigilance.” “We learned from him. I think we will do better.”

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