Highway Emergency Response Operators

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A HERO truck

The Highway Emergency Response Operators program is a freeway service patrol operated in metro Atlanta, United States by the Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT). It is a part of the GDOT's Office of Traffic Operations. Both the program and the individual vehicles are typically referred to by the bacronym HERO. The program began in Atlanta in 1994 as the city prepared for the 1996 Olympics and has since been expanded with GDOT's 511 Navigator Intelligent Transportation System program.[1]

The HERO unit's primary purpose is to minimize traffic congestion by clearing wrecked or disabled vehicles from the travel lanes and providing traffic control at incident scenes. As a secondary service, HERO operates as a service patrol; assisting stranded motorists who often have a flat tire, out of fuel, or are stranded by a mechanical failure of their vehicle. In addition to their normal patrol duties in metro Atlanta, HERO is deployed to assist with traffic control at the Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia and along Interstates 16, 75, and 95 during hurricane evacuations.[2]

HERO Operators are GDOT employees, distinguishing the program from freeway service patrols in other states, such as California, which are operated under contract by private tow truck companies. The HERO day is split into four shifts: Alpha (morning), Bravo (afternoon), Charlie (weekend) and Delta (overnight). HERO operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Typically, HERO Operators work between 55,000 and 60,000 incidents per year.[3]

In Georgia, motorists needing HERO assistance dial 511 (and press 1) to reach the Traffic Management Center, GDOT's primary center for incident management. 511 is also the number for general traffic information throughout the state of Georgia.[4]

State Farm began sponsoring the program in 2009 during state budget constraints. The HERO Unit now operates independent of state funding receiving its funds from the State Farm sponsorship, 511 sign sponsors, and Federal Highway funding.[5]

In February 2017, GDOT expanded it to east Georgia with the Coordinated Highway Assistance & Maintenance Program (CHAMP), which performs all of the HERO functions, in addition to monitoring for any maintenance needs along rural state roads. It will at first cover I-20 east from metro Atlanta to the state line including I-520 around Augusta, and the middle of I-16 around Dublin. It will later expand statewide.[6]

Goals[edit]

  • To minimize major disruption of freeway traffic flow at incident locations.
  • To focus on the factors that cause disruption in the flow of traffic and remove those factors.
  • To relieve congestion and maintain a consistent flow of traffic at incident locations
  • To reduce response time to traffic-related incidents

Duties[edit]

The HERO Unit:[7]

  • Patrols the Atlanta-area Interstates 24 hours a day, 7 days a week
  • Initiate measures to reduce traffic congestion and delays
  • Provide support to law enforcement, first-response and other emergency agencies
  • Assist in clearing stalled vehicles from the travel lanes
  • Remove debris from the travel lanes
  • Help stranded motorists with minor mechanical problems including:
    • Changing flat tires and inflating flats
    • Jump start weak batteries
    • Provide fuel or water
    • Provide transportation to safer areas
    • Provide courtesy use of a telephone

Coverage Areas[edit]

The HERO unit is the only agency in Georgia that actively patrols the Interstates in Georgia 24 hours a day. HERO patrols:[8]

  • I-20 from Douglasville to Conyers
  • I-75 from Emerson to McDonough
  • I-85 from Newnan to Buford
  • GA-400 from Atlanta to Cumming
  • US-78 from Atlanta to Stone Mountain
  • All of I-285 and I-675
  • I-575 from Marietta to Holly Springs
  • I-985 from Buford to Flowery Branch

Fleet[edit]

The HERO fleet consists of the Ford F450 utility box configuration as their primary patrol vehicle, the International Rescue Truck, and the Ford F250 and Ford Expedition as supervisor vehicles, all painted in bright green. A HERO truck can pull a fully loaded tractor trailer out of the travel lanes.[9] Inside the trucks there are enough supplies to handle incidents from accidents, spills, and debris to the tools to get motorists back on the road.

Line of Duty[edit]

Since the HERO Unit was established in 1994, two operators have been killed in the line of duty. Spencer Pass was struck and killed in January 2011 while jumping a stalled car on I-85 in South Atlanta. [10] The motorist survived after being pushed out of harms way. In 2016, the overpass at I-85 and Cleveland Ave was renamed in his honor. [11] Moses King was killed in August 2015 when he was struck by an impaired driver that crashed into him on Atlanta's I-75/I-85 while providing traffic control for an earlier accident scene. The driver was arrested at the scene. [12]

Expansion[edit]

Under Georgia Governor Sonny Perdue's Fast Forward Congestion Relief program, the HERO program was expanded. Before the 2005 expansion, the HERO program consisted of 48 operators; in May 2009 there were nearly 90 positions in the program, 2015 there were 110 operators. This expansion as well as several others since added new routes to the HERO coverage area. As of 2015, GDOT's fleet of 90 HERO trucks cover over 420 miles of roads.

Towing and Recovery Incentive Program (TRIP)[edit]

The HERO units also oversee the TRIP program which now requires an accident to be cleared enough to have traffic significantly improved in 90 minutes from the time that the towing company arrives on scene and is given notice to proceed. (must be on scene in 30 (peak) to 45 (non-peak) minutes or less)[13] Most towing companies pass this requirement because of assistance from GDOT in getting to the scene. Towing companies in the TRIP program must meet a minimum set of standards and pass inspections by GDOT. The approved equipment is issued a TRIP certification sticker.

References[edit]

External links[edit]

"Georgia DOT Office of Traffic Operations Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) Official Web Site". Georgia Dept. of Transportation. Archived from the original on July 19, 2008. Retrieved 2007-07-28.