By Jim Kerry
A Growing Threat
According to the Emergency Responder Safety Institute, the number of Struck-By Line-of-Duty Deaths (LODDs) for emergency personnel has continuously increased since 2018. That year, a total of 34 LODDs were recorded, including 14 LEO fatalities. In 2019, the number increased to 44 overall deaths, including 18 LEO fatalities. Last year, despite a decline in overall traffic due to COVID-related shutdowns, the number of LODDs for the year increased again to 46, including another 17 LEO losses.
As of this writing, 2021 is already one of the deadliest years for struck-by incidents on record. 48 LODDs have occurred between January and September this year, including a record-breaking 20 law enforcement deaths.
Lights and sirens have been the only line of defense and protection on the road for generations of law enforcement officers. For decades, emergency lighting designers and manufacturers have worked to make lightbars more effective and conspicuous, and vehicle manufacturers have labored to design vehicles that are safer and less prone to injuring drivers in the event of a collision. However, the risk of danger to law enforcement officers on the road in the same time period has also increased at a dangerously fatal rate.
Since 2002, Move Over laws have been established in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. While the law varies by state, nearly all require that drivers slow down and move over for law enforcement and other emergency vehicles when their lightbars and/or sirens are activated. Despite these laws, statistics show that the risk to officers, troopers, and other law enforcement professionals on the road is higher than ever.
Redefining Emergency Alerting
The problem, as HAAS Alert CEO Cory Hohs noted, is that lights and sirens don’t always get the attention of approaching motorists. “Between mobile devices, advanced infotainment systems, and other modern innovations, drivers today are more distracted than ever,” Hohs said. “Modern vehicle cabins are designed to insulate drivers from external road noise, so drivers don’t even hear sirens until they’re dangerously close.”
If responders can’t count on Move Over laws and lights and sirens to get someone’s attention, then how can they actually alert approaching motorists that they need to move over before it’s too late? Hohs said that this core question is the reason why nearly 800 public safety agencies are using HAAS Alert’s Safety Cloud® service to deliver digital alerts to approaching drivers. “Real-time awareness isn’t enough to notify drivers,” Hohs commented. “They need advanced notification, and that’s where Safety Cloud comes in.”
Safety Cloud is a connected safety solution that enables law enforcement and other emergency vehicles to alert drivers through navigation apps and connected car systems to slow down and move over. Unlike lights and sirens, digital alerts are guaranteed to reach into the cabin of a vehicle and warn a driver of a hazard ahead. HAAS Alert keeps track of how many driver alerts are processed through its cloud-based service. To date, the company says more than 1 billion alerts have been delivered. Drivers receive the alerts on apps like Waze, and the Company is also working directly with automakers to bring the alerts directly into the dashboard or instrument cluster of consumer vehicles. This fall, Stellantis, the automaker for vehicle brands including Dodge, Chrysler, Jeep, and Ram, announced that it was testing Safety Cloud alerts in the market and considering a possible integration in the months ahead.
The company points to three studies that show just how effective the alerts can be for reducing the risk of a potentially fatal collision. A 2013 University of Minnesota study found that advanced warning systems reduced the likelihood of a collision by 90 percent compared to traditional lights and sirens alone. Then, last year, an NHTSA study in Washington, D.C. on the use of Safety Cloud digital alerting sent between responders approaching the same incident resulted in a 25 percent reduction in responder speed in one second after receiving the first alert. Finally, researchers at Purdue University this summer found that queue trucks equipped with Safety Cloud digital alerting reduced hard-braking events by 80 percent on Indiana interstates.
Captain Richard Arnold, Commander of the Michigan State Police Commercial Vehicle Enforcement Division, said that Safety Cloud has made a difference in their fleet. “Our troopers and officers are exposed to constant risk on our roadways,” said Captain Arnold. “It can be difficult for people to hear sirens and see emergency lights in heavy traffic and at freeway speeds. We believe that providing the public an advanced warning of our presence along a roadway, or during our response to an emergency, can enhance the safety of everybody in that area by affording extra time to slow down, move over, or prepare to stop.” Captain Arnold noted that MSP “equipped a small number of patrol vehicles with digital alert units, or ‘digital sirens,’ that can provide warnings directly inside motorists’ vehicles via mobile applications enabled to receive them. To date, over 108,000 motorists have received these alerts from Safety Cloud, and we believe our officers and motorists are safer because of it.”
Captain David Schnurstein from the Grand Rapids Police Department in Michigan also said that Safety Cloud has made a tangible difference in the safety of his officers. “As the second-largest city in our state, we work in a complex suburban and urban environment with blind corners and tight intersections,” he says. “For us, being able to effectively alert drivers while protecting officer privacy and safety is paramount. Digital alerting through Safety Cloud provides us with that enhanced protection without any safety tradeoffs.”
HAAS Alert says that the primary purpose of Safety Cloud and digital alerting is to improve Move Over compliance so that responders and other professionals who work on the road are less likely to be struck, injured, or killed in the line of duty. But Hohs noted that working so closely with responders inevitably led them to build even more functionality into their service. “We learn something new from every single department we work with, and our service has really evolved into much more because of that.”
A Year of Innovation
HAAS Alert’s earliest development work was done in part with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), as well as with emergency departments and Departments of Transportation (DOTs) across the country. Beginning in 2020, the company began collaborating with individual police agencies, sheriff’s departments, and highway patrol fleets to make its solution even more effective for law enforcement use cases.
The company says there were several features and enhancements that were uniquely necessary for law enforcement fleets: conspicuity customization, and an interoperable, multi-jurisdictional, fully integratable situational awareness capability for mutual aid and coordinated response.
Unlike firefighters, DOT roadside personnel, and towing operators, law enforcement officers on the road often alternate between conspicuous response and covert operations. There are many circumstances and scenarios in which officers often elect to use either their lightbar, siren, or loudspeaker independently. Hohs said that officers helped guide the company’s development of an alert customization feature that allows officers to selectively withhold digital alerting while activating the lightbar, so that digital alerts are only delivered when officers want to alert drivers imminently approaching an incident or while moving through an intersection in pursuit mode.
Interoperable Multi-Jurisdictional Situational Awareness Integration
As coordinated response and inter-departmental operations become more common across the country, law enforcement leaders require more insight than ever into the real-time status of their personnel, fleets, and partners. Safety Cloud includes a real-time Situational Awareness Dashboard where fleet managers can monitor the status of all equipped fleets to know which officers are actively engaged in incident response. Hohs said that the company further modified the Dashboard after law enforcement departments requested the ability to easily share this data with partners for both short-term, emergency needs, as well as long-term coordination efforts. Now, departments can track multiple partner fleets within a single dashboard and easily share dashboard access with trusted users in partnering organizations.
The Road Ahead
Hohs said that HAAS Alert hosts regular brainstorming sessions with public safety leaders in communities of every size in order to better understand how to make their service as effective as possible.
“Our core focus is to clear the way for our nation’s public servants to do their job safely and effectively,” Hohs said. “Preventing a single collision involving a law enforcement officer can save a community millions of dollars and lead to the safety and protection of countless lives. We have the tools to solve this problem today, and our public servants deserve every protection we can offer them.” Safety Cloud is available to any public safety agency fleet and equippable as an aftermarket solution on any emergency vehicle.
Jim Kerry has extensive public safety experience and is part of HAAS Alert Law Enforcement Division. For more information, call 833-433-4227 or visit HAASAlert.com.