Article Written by: Manu Shah
Photography by : Bijay Dixit, Unique Photo Images
IACCGH members and guests were treated to a fascinating inside view of how the city’s traffic is monitored and coordinated at a networking event hosted at Houston Transtar on 24th March.
This facility on Katy Road is a unique partnership of four different agencies – Harris County, City of Houston, Metro and TxDot and the first center in the nation to combine Transportation and Emergency Management Centers. Hurricanes Rita and Ike offered some valuable lessons on traffic management during evacuations and Houston Transtar has equipped itself with the latest technology to protect residents in the event of an emergency. Recently renovated, the building can accommodate 500 personnel and withstand winds up to 150 miles an hour.
IACCGH Executive Director Jagdip Ahluwalia welcomed the gathering and described the Chamber as an “inclusive Chamber” which worked to bring different Chambers and economic agencies together to “keep the networking active.”
IACCGH President Ashok Garg noted that there are 5 million registered vehicles in Houston and 230 incidents occur every single day. By monitoring traffic, Houston Transtar has saved commuters nearly $2.5 billion in reduced traveler delays and fuel costs. According to him, Houston Transtar is “a marvel of the modern world.” President Garg also thanked Harris County Judge Ed Emmett for making this tour possible.
Francisco Sanchez, PIO Harris County office of Homeland Security and Emergency Management described the center as a great partnership where the four agencies gather to “collaborate, coordinate and communicate” on traffic management. The Mayor and County Judge address residents from here “to evacuate or hunker down” during an emergency. The facility is actively engaged in speaking to the community about “preparedness” because despite all the planning, “it’s really how well the public is prepared and responds by following instructions on evacuations that makes things smoother.”
The group was taken on a guided tour to the newly renovated Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The new facility which can now accommodate 98 officials provides “situational awareness” with the wall to wall LED displays of news, satellite feeds and tracking maps to enable critical decision making.
According to emergency response team coordinator, Misty Gunn, officials were camping in the building for 5 days during Hurricane Ike. The EOC averages about 20-30 activations a year and will be activated for the 2017 Super Bowl in Houston. CenterPoint Energy and Comcast are the only two companies allowed to sit here during an emergency to update residents on electricity and cable issues. The group was encouraged to sign up for traffic alerts on Transtar’s website.
The Transportation Management Center works 24/7 monitoring the 930 cameras set up as far as Dallas. Its sensors read the last four digits of an EZ tag number to calculate travel times and speeds but rest assured, it cannot use the tag to catch you speeding. Bluetooth network devices are also used to calculate travel times and speeds.
Four media partners pay to sit here and report traffic updates. According to tour guide Pat Pilkington, there are an estimated 80,000 incidents a year and initiatives such as SafeClear have reduced accident rates by 20%. The Motorists Assistance Program (MAP) has also been extremely successful in keeping traffic moving smoothly. Stranded motorists can call 713-CALL–MAP for assistance.