Originally conceived with winter in mind, a more than two-year-old New Jersey Department of Transportation warning system for motorists is ready – but officials say so far it has only needed to be used once in its history.
It was for the rest of Hurricane Ida, which washed over the state on September 1 last year. NJDOT spokesman Steve Schapiro said “511NJConnect” worked as intended at the time, but is still something the department would like to avoid implementing if at all possible.
These warnings, Schapiro said, use geo-fencing technology to identify drivers in the immediate vicinity of an unexpected, prolonged closure on one of New Jersey’s highways.
From there, drivers can decide via their mobile SMS providers whether to approve further updates on the situation.
“They choose to get these notifications or not after the first one, so they do not have to sign up if they do not want to,” Schapiro said. “Once the incident is resolved, anyone who has signed up will be automatically unsubscribed and all their data will be removed so we do not store any of this information.”
Although 511NJConnect was first announced in December 2019 in anticipation of a snowy season, Schapiro said Ida indicated it could be a successful tool in scenarios other than winter weather, including major crashes.
However, it is not intended to warn or assist in isolated cases where a motorist, for example, runs off the road in a snowdrift.
Its main goal is to be proactive and preventative, according to Schapiro.
“This is a kind of major incident where we have a roadway where part of it, for whatever reason, is shut down, whether it’s because of winter weather or floods,” he said.
The 511NJConnect is also not intended to replace the 911, Schapiro said. If a driver has a medical or other type of emergency behind the wheel, the 911 should still be called.
But the system allows motorists to communicate with NJDOT, to help the agency and others refine the information disseminated and adopt an appropriate response.
“People can identify some issues there, and that gives the first responders a much better and broader picture of the incident and what’s going on,” Schapiro said.
Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5’s afternoon news anchor. follow him on Twitter @ plavery1015 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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