Tampa CV Pilot Survives Hurricane Irma
September 28, 2017

Robert Frey
Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority

Tampa Bay Times: "Hurricane Irma approached Florida as a terrifying storm — by some measures the strongest ever to leave the Atlantic Ocean. It flattened Caribbean islands, devastated the Florida Keys and caused the largest evacuation in Florida’s history."

The following are my thoughts about how Hurricane Irma has impacted the Tampa Connected Vehicle (CV) Pilot.

We do have hurricane season every year, so the transportation professionals in this area are used to being flexible under these circumstances and procedures are in place. In Florida, you plan, prepare and train for disruption during this time of the year, however business does not stop. I don’t think it is different from anywhere else, natural disasters happen everywhere, earthquakes, blizzards, river flooding, tornadoes, tsunamis.

During the week of the storm, several of the actions needed for the hurricane impacted the Pilot including having to suspend work on roads, evacuation meetings, suspension of tolling operations, and communication messaging requirements being coordinated with the local and state governments. These are all skill sets that we also use on the CV Pilot, so the Pilot had to take a back seat for a while here. However, work was still going on in Michigan, Texas, and Washington DC.

After Hurricane Irma did pass, we discussed how CV technology may be able to help in the future. Areas that we thought were applicable include “apps” for evacuation notification, work zones, railroad crossing messaging, flooded roadways, “emergency vehicle up ahead,” and gas location to name a few. The technology exists. The next steps will be to show it works and getting it deployed. At first it will cost more, but like other technologies the price will come down and hopefully start becoming common place.

In the future, when storms come we will still need to be flexible, but maybe CV technologies can make difficult situations a little easier for the average person to stay safe.

Now that the storm impact is practically over in Tampa, I am happy to report that Hurricane Irma’s arrival did not impact our overall schedule besides requiring us to make adjustments to our testing |schedule.

Actually, Hurricane Harvey impacted our Pilot more than Irma. Due to Harvey we had to reschedule a “dry run” test on our system because most of our roadside technical team, Siemens, are from Austin. Transportation from both San Antonio and Austin caused a problem. This placed a hardship on our “in-vehicle team,” which are from Michigan (Brandmotion), California (Savari), Hungary (Comsignia), and Florida (Sirius/XM).

One of the biggest lessons learned with the CV Pilot is that an agency cannot do this alone. There are too many moving pieces from various locations. This is where having a culture of collaboration helps tremendously, something USDOT ITS JPO stressed consistently since the kick-off meeting.

We rescheduled our “dry run” and successfully completed it last week (September 18-20). The next big milestone is moving from design/deployment to installing in personal vehicles. That is the next big test for our Pilot.

The response by the public has been very strong. We will see how that goes in November – April. Concerns include managing the appointments and can the vendors maintain supply for an extended period? To this point, it has been all about prototypes and a very small number of units. Starting November 1, it is real. Can we manage the ebb and flow of supply and install for five months? I have no doubt we will, but it is still stressful.

An article with more details about the Connected Vehicle Pilot in Tampa will appear in the upcoming issue of ITS International Magazine.

Robert M. Frey, AICP, is Project Manager for the Tampa Connected Vehicle Pilot and Planning Director for Tampa-Hillsborough County Expressway Authority (THEA)