How Smartphone Alert Apps Could Prevent Traffic Backups Delaying Emergency Vehicles

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A University of Southern California professor has suggested a way in which smartphone alert apps could prevent traffic backups delaying emergency vehicles.

In October, issues with the WEA alerting system resulted in many residents of Northern California failing to receive timely alerts to the devastating wildfires sweeping the state. According to the Los Angeles Emergency Management Department, the concern was that many residents not at risk from the fires would have received the alert, unnecessarily evacuated their properties, and caused traffic congestion that would have hindered the firefighting effort.

Unfortunately, in the most current round of wildfires, traffic congestion did hinder the firefighting effort when the closure of the Sepulveda Pass on the San Diego Freeway (I-405) resulted in thousands of drivers looking for alternate routes to complete their morning commute. The massive backups throughout the neighborhood delayed emergency vehicles from reaching the fire or helping with the evacuation of local residents.

How Smartphone Alert Apps Could Have Helped

Due to the issues with the WEA alerting system, resident of Northern California were urged to opt into emergency notification systems and download smartphone alert apps. With their better geo-location mapping, the emergency notification systems would have been used in the October wildfires to have alerted only residents in danger to evacuate their properties.
According to James Moore - a civil engineering professor at the University of Southern California - the smartphone alert apps could have been used in the most recent wildfires warn drivers to stay clear of key routes being used by emergency vehicles and to guide them onto roads with more capacity so as not to impede emergency response and residents’ access.

Moore´s suggestion would be more effective than another proposal put forward following the traffic chaos on the San Diego Freeway - that of utilizing navigation apps to prevent traffic backups delaying emergency vehicles. This is because the emergency notification systems use multiple channels of communication to send alerts, and drivers would be more likely to receive them quickly than if they were reviewing their options via a navigation app.

Further Benefits of Smartphone Alert Apps

As smartphone alerts apps support two-way communication, they could be used by residents caught in a wildfire to ask for help, or request alternative escape routes when theirs is blocked by the fire - or, in the most recent scenario, by the weight of traffic. Due to using GPS technology to guide first responders to the source of a call, the smartphone alert apps could be tracked remotely in order that residents could be guided to safety without putting the wellbeing of first responders at risk.

In addition, most emergency notification systems have a facility that allows residents to create a profile for themselves. This profile can be used to note special needs (for example, mobility issues), the number of people living in the property, alternate contact numbers and preferred language of communication when English is not the resident´s native tongue. If the smartphone alert apps had been put into use before the most recent fires in California, the fires might have been brought under control much sooner without such a substantial loss of property.

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