To the Editor,
The I-95 traffic crash on Friday, and the gridlock and frustration experienced by Old Lyme residents highlights the need for a robust response by all the agencies involved and for ensuring they carry out their roles through the concepts and procedures under the National Incident Management System (NIMS). This national standard was implemented after 9-11 to ensure multi-agency interoperability, communications, and coordination. As a State Trooper, front line supervisor, and manager, I have been trained and worked within this standard.
My heart goes out to the family of the victim and those affected by this tragic event. We need to remember that our inconvenience pales in comparison to their loss. But we also need to examine the multiagency response and ensure the best possible practices were followed. The three basic components of NIMS involve Incident Command, Multiagency Coordination, and Public Information.
Incident Command falls foremost to the fire department, to render aid and ensure scene safety. This should be done in concert with State Police to help preserve evidence and consider immediate traffic flow and lane closures. Police often only have one chance to properly collect evidence, take photographs, locate witnesses, and identify involved parties. The enormity of these crashes can tax a shift of troopers, but the primary responsibility of ensuring justice by obtaining the best and crucial evidence is tantamount. Calling in the next shift early, getting accident reconstructionist specialists to the scene, and adjusting troopers to respond from farther away patrols takes time. All the while thousands of vehicles are searching for a way around one of the longest stretches between exits on I-95 in Connecticut.
But the town, and the first selectman, can play an important role in ensuring the best possible outcomes during any emergency situation, whether a crash on I-95, a hurricane or flood.
Where the town can be instrumental is with Multiagency Coordination and Public Information. The town can offer a location and request an incident command post be established. This allows representatives from all agencies to meet face to face and coordinate a response, while allowing the Incident Command to focus on the immediate emergency scene.
The fire department, CSP, town police, resident trooper, fire police, CDOT, and public works are all needed to coordinate the highway diversion plan, as it involves state and local roadways. The plan has remained generally the same for years, with any southbound traffic diverted off Exit 71 and right to Four Mile River Road and Route 1, and northbound traffic diverted off Exit 70 and right, to Route 156 and south. The theory is that the counterclockwise pattern should leave the opposite direction lane unimpeded. What is most likely thwarting this is the use of phone applications that show diversionary routes along local roads. Errant tractor trailer trucks, oblivious to bridge height restrictions and the sharp angled Buttonball overpass, compounded the congestion on Friday by being stopped at low bridges and confounding turns.
The town can help dissuade these side routes in a few ways. Firstly, more signage and barricades can be erected at local intersections directing motorists to remain on the detour. The fire marshal has told me funding from an outside source may already be possible for this.
The town can aid the other component of Public Information by communicating with news outlets at the command post to help broadcast information. The town may also be able to bill insurance carriers for costs associated with calling in the town police and other personnel.
A very useful tool to notify residents of an event is the Everbridge reverse E911 system. This would help people decide if they should venture out or remain in place until the congestion clears. Broadcast text messaging is also a possibility. Pushing out information through social media outlets will reach users rapidly. Simply having an idea of what is happening can alleviate aggravation and dissatisfaction, and direct people away from the area.
Finally, proper planning is always benefitted by an after-action review (AAR). I have asked First Selectman Timothy Griswold, and he has wholeheartedly agreed, to request the CDOT Traffic Incident Management (TIM) team conduct an AAR with all the agencies involved. This will review what was done right and where improvements can be made during future events. I have been told by a TIM representative that the request will be acted upon immediately.
These are the types of ideas, experience, and leadership I would bring to the position of First Selectman of Old Lyme. I hope you will support me with your vote on November 7th.
Mesham is the Republican candidate for First Selectman in Old Lyme