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Communicating to Survive When Severe Weather Hits

By: 
Wanda Klayman

Written by Wanda Klayman, Deputy Executive Director, IBTTA

When tragedy strikes a community like Moore, Oklahoma, highways are a lifeline for evacuees and an access and supply line for first responders.

Toll authorities across North America are always at the ready during storm season, knowing that timely communication saves lives in a hurricane, flood, tornado, or wildfire. That’s why emergency communication will be the subject of two special general sessions at Toll Stories from the Front Lines, IBTTA’s 2013 Organization Management Workshop, June 23-25, 2013 in Baltimore, MD.

Staying in Sync

Coordination was crucial after Hurricane Sandy slammed into the northeastern United States last October. A centralized communications center run by TRANSCOM, hosted numerous conference calls for the region’s transportation agencies and kept the overall recovery effort on track, according to an IBTTA forum held last January that brought together emergency planners from New Jersey, New York State, and Florida.

The first rule in an emergency is to be self-sufficient for communications, power, and fuel, said a Forum participant from Florida. Hurricanes always force emergency managers to improvise, he said, “but if you have a good plan to attack the storm, you can work with what you have and assign people to different functions.”

Keeping Customers Informed

Many agencies combine social media with traditional methods when they communicate with customers. That’s most definitely what happened during Hurricane Sandy.

When commuters had access to timely information and updates on closures and delays, they also received the crucial secondary message that someone was taking care of the problem—and taking care of them. Agencies that were less timely with their communications earned the frustration and wrath of customers who were used to instant information, and expected to receive it when they needed it most.

In addition to social media, agencies in the northeast used variable message signs (VMS) to let customers know which areas were open or closed, with fuel or service available.

Toll Stories from the Front Lines

The Organization Management Workshop is where tolling agencies’ public relations, marketing, communications and finance professionals gather each year to share ideas, information and best practices. This year’s focus on emergency communications brings a new level of urgency to the conversation.

Agencies have the tools and knowledge to keep customers informed and get critical infrastructure up and running as soon as possible after a major storm. Sharing that experience and learning from colleagues will be even more important in the months and years ahead.

Click here for more information on two emergency communications sessions at IBTTA’s Organization Management Workshop, June 23-25 in Baltimore, MD.