Would you ask a surgeon to do your taxes?

So why would you expect your emergency service personnel to direct traffic?

Barbara Hauser, ITS Incident Management Program Manager
Maricopa County Department of Transportation, Phoenix, Arizona
Presenter, 2004 APWA Congress

Is it safe for emergency service personnel to be rerouting traffic onsite? Is it efficient? Is it cost effective? The Regional Emergency Action Coordination Team (REACT) is a unique, pioneering program in the Phoenix metropolitan area that is bridging the gap between incident management and traffic management. The only interjurisdictional emergency traffic management program in the nation, REACT manages arterial roadways in support of emergency service deployments by local agencies within Maricopa County. Launched in 2001, REACT is operated by the Maricopa County Department of Transportation (MCDOT). The program is an offspring of the AZTech Model Deployment Initiative (ITS) regional partnership.

The REACT team provides emergency traffic management on arterial roadways for incidents ranging from traffic accidents to hazardous material spills, criminal investigations, and extreme weather events. REACT has even been called upon to assist with traffic management during Presidential visits and to close the roads near Luke Air Force base in response to increased national security measures following the events of 9/11.

Vision and Need for REACT
A regional need for emergency traffic management required a regional solution. Maricopa County and the Phoenix metropolitan area include several large jurisdictions. Major arterials throughout the metro area almost always traverse multiple jurisdictions. This has been one of the significant factors for the cities and towns that comprise the urban area to work together to solve traffic issues on a regional level. What happens on the roadways in one city likely has an effect on traffic patterns and flow in nearby cities and towns. Accidents on arterial streets often lead to extended road closures, which present safety concerns for emergency responders and investigators working on-scene, as well as motorists trying to detour around the incident.

The REACT Program
REACT was established as a pilot program primarily focused on the northwest portion of the Phoenix metro area, which includes the Cities of Glendale, Peoria, and areas under Maricopa County's jurisdiction. REACT teams are first responders to incidents when requested by the Maricopa County Sheriff, local police, fire or street transportation agencies. The purpose of REACT is to assist agencies with emergency traffic management by setting up lane/road closures, installing and maintaining signed detour routes, and providing directional information to motorists at or near the incident scene. In doing so, REACT provides valuable traffic management support so that police, emergency, and other support crews can focus their resources on investigating and clearing the incident scene—not on directing traffic.

The purpose of REACT is to assist agencies with emergency traffic management by setting up lane/road closures, installing and maintaining signed detour routes, and providing directional information to motorists at or near the incident scene.

There are currently 10 REACT team members from MCDOT, and they are on call 24 hours per day, seven days per week every day of the year. A pager notification system alerts the team when an incident is reported. The REACT teams respond with specially designed vehicles equipped with programmable two-line dynamic message boards, safety equipment, and traffic control devices. The trucks also are equipped with communications so that REACT team members can be connected with the MCDOT Traffic Management Center (TMC) to provide vital information about conditions, the scene, and traffic control measures that have been implemented. This link to the MCDOT TMC means that other AZTech partners will be alerted to the incident via the AZTech network, the incident location and impact on the road network.

REACT's primary objective is to provide traffic management for emergency traffic situations on roadways. This specialized team has been called upon to support incident management for vehicle crashes, power outages, fires, weather emergencies, HAZMAT spills, and even criminal investigations such as homicides. Incidents duration ranges from a couple of hours to several days. REACT becomes a key part of the Unified Command procedure. This process is aimed at combining multiple response agencies into a single command structure to develop cohesive objectives and strategies for managing the incident—thus streamlining the incident response and clearance and quickly restoring the roadway back to full operation, safely and efficiently.

REACT Meets the Challenge
Incident management on arterials poses several challenges; effectively managing emergency traffic situations with multi-jurisdictional interests can make for even more challenging situations. Phoenix is nationally known for the cooperation and mutual aid arrangements among public safety agencies in the region, and crossing jurisdictional boundaries is a normal business practice for most of the public safety agencies in the area. REACT was able to build on these strong relationships, and backed with the ITS capabilities of the AZTech network and partnership, provides a valuable service that helps to save lives and reduce congestion during emergency situations on arterial roadways. The cost/benefit for this is about 8:1.

Proven Success
The successful partnership of MCDOT, public safety, and local traffic management has made REACT a vital part of the region's incident management capabilities.

The response to REACT by local public safety agencies that have benefited from the REACT program has been extremely positive. The Maricopa County Sheriff's Office, who has been a strong supporter of REACT from the program's early planning stages, commented on REACT's services during a meth lab search warrant operation in Peoria, Arizona, in July 2001:

Transformer fire in Westwing substation. Loop 303 was closed for nearly 12 hours due to the proximity to the roadway.

"Generally speaking, our unit is forced to utilize our own vehicles and police tape to section off the street, or worse yet, hold the local agency's patrol cars there for lengthy periods of time. During this particular search warrant, however, I noticed that both ends of the street were being blocked with police tape, portable 'street closed' signs and personnel from the MCDOT REACT detail...[REACT staff] are to be thanked for their tireless efforts and their contributions in helping to create a safe working environment for our investigators. These folks were on-scene for no less than 12 hours...and made our job much easier. We hope to utilize them again in the near future." (Sgt. Michael Deltenre, MCSO).

Local police agencies in the pilot deployment area also have expressed strong support for the REACT program: "We were able to send our patrol officers back to the road to handle numerous calls. I can't tell you how impressed we are," said Glendale Police Officer John Singleton. Matthew Brown, also of the Glendale Police Department: "The Glendale P.D. is very appreciative of REACT. It is one of the most prompt and professional services we have dealt with. REACT makes our jobs much easier and helps to release officers from the accident scenes much sooner."

Barbara Hauser will present an educational session at the APWA Congress in Atlanta entitled "REACTing to Traffic Emergencies." The session is on Wednesday, September 15, at 8:30 a.m. She can be reached at (602) 506-4612 or at barbarahauser@mail.maricopa.gov.