SA's Road Accident Management explained: October National Transport Month
Reading through media reports on South African road accident and fatality statistics, you’ll come across terms like “slaughterhouse, bloody weekends and prayers for road safety on our roads”.
In 2018 the Road Traffic Management Corporation (RTMC) State of Road Safety Report showed South Africa’s road fatality count sitting at about 12 900 people per annum. This amounts to roughly 35 people dying on our roads each day. Whether you believe in the accuracy of our country’s crash data collection systems or not, the number is still too high if compared with leading first world countries like Sweden, who reported 287 road deaths for 2018. Comparatively, the Swedish population is roughly 6 times less than ours, but regardless of this, figures are still high, with the rest of Africa not looking any better.
With this in mind, you may ask the question – “What happens if I’m involved in a serious accident anywhere, on any road in South Africa? Will the response from law enforcement and emergency services save my life?”
Part of the answer lies in the readiness and efficiency of an Incident Management System that aims to effectively coordinate, pre-plan and manage incidents in order to save lives and restore traffic back to its normal operating conditions.
Since 2013 South African National Road Agency Limited (SANRAL) has formally been running the Road Incident Management Systems (RIMS) programs across its national road network. The Program aims to coordinate and administer activities for the skills training and development of emergency responders, involved in managing incidents on a daily basis.
How is Road Accident Management implemented on the ground?
When an incident occurs on the road, the person reporting the incident would normally call a known emergency number. From international examples we know that one emergency number is a common standard, especially for ease of remembering – example USA’s 911.
On most national roads, SANRAL displays brown informational signs to urge motorists to use 112 (EMS), 10111(SAPS) or 10177(FIRE) numbers for emergencies. In Gauteng the 0800ITRAFF number is displayed on electronic sign boards for SANRAL’s on-road services’ response.
What SHOULD happen is that when a 112 / 10111 / 10177 call centre operator receives the call, after obtaining information on the type of incident and location, the call be routed to a Centralised Communication Centre (CCC) in the caller’s region. The status of how this call routing is currently implemented is under investigation and review by RIMS Role-players and the Department of Telecommunications and Postal Services (DTPS). Many tests and discussions with role players have confirmed that routing to CCCs mostly does NOT happen when a caller dials the national emergency numbers. Organisations such as SAPS or EMS are contacted directly, at the call operator’s own judgement of where they think the closest response should come from.
To ensure the system works as intended, agreements and concepts of operations are needed to ensure that the call centre operators are trained to know what end where CCCs are located. The CCC’s should be reliable and sustainable, and regulations should be in place to ensure the routing is done correctly.
When emergency response is activated, SAPS, Traffic Police, Fire Departments, EMS Services are usually the first to be notified and dispatched to the scene.
Limpopo is divided into 5 District Municipalities, each with its own CCC and teams of responders for each emergency service.
On arrival at the scene, the first responder establishes a joint incident command post (JICP), usually in the form of an orange cone on the roof of their vehicle. The scene is then analysed in terms of type of incident, injuries and spillages.
The first responder secures or cordons off the area, puts traffic control measures in place and communicates with the CCC to give a status quo and requests additional assistance. Once additional responders arrive, they report to the JICP, which is the visible marker to indicate the central point at which to report on arrival at the scene.
An Incident Management Team can then start to form, with each emergency service represented for coordination of decision-making and actions to be taken. This is core to RIMS. The Management team nominates an incident coordinator, who is responsible for communication to the CCC, coordinating decisions made, and reporting to the media and other major stakeholders if a major incident has occurred.
Image 2 shows an example of a team sizing up an incident.