Friday, April 8, 2011

Work Zone Safety - A Testimony

As work zone awareness week comes to a close, David Bower, a MoDOT employee in the Kansas City district, shares his story of why work zone safety is personal. While National Work Zone Awareness Week ends today, we'll be working throughout the construction season to raise awareness of safe driving through work zones. Look for more information at

Traumatic events typically get lodged into the memories of individuals. Looking back to the events of an otherwise normal weekday in August 1996, they remain ever-present today.

The passage of this day was typical, nothing extra ordinary until late in the day when the stadium maintenance crew began taking down their work zone. For those who are unaware, work zone setup and take-down is often the most critical and highest-risk part of an operation. This is something I experienced firsthand having worked as a maintenance worker in overhead signing. There is an initial unfamiliarity of lane transitions for drivers, not to mention the congestion that occurs when drivers adjust to these changes.

Today was different though. With a promotion to an office position in Maintenance Operations, the responsibilities of two-way radio dispatch came with it. A new job classification meant there was very little to do except to communicate to others.  

The call came over the radio, “We’ve been hit! We’ve been hit!”

From the district office my response was “MoDOT4, go ahead.”

The caller responded, “They’ve hit the light trailer, we have men down!”

The urgency of the voice was present --it had to be bad and we needed to get more details.

My response was, “I need you to take a deep breath and answer my questions."

Meanwhile, several other employees entered the radio work area, ready to offer their support, assisting wherever needed. Turning to another employee, I asked them to get a 911 dispatcher on the phone. The finite details: route, cross street, direction of travel, number of injured employees, whatever we could relay to emergency services was given. The events seemed lengthy at that time; however in reality, were only a few short minutes.

In that time the smoothness of coordination was exceptional. Field operations were communicating with the district office and we were relaying to emergency services. Operations management and staff automatically mobilized and took to the field. We had part of our MoDOT family in need and everyone was answering the request for assistance.

In a nutshell, this is what had happened. While MoDOT employees were taking down the work zone, a motorist had collided with the arrow-board-style light trailer, which Raymond McKelvy and Jorge Bermudez were connecting to the back of their truck.

It wasn’t until everything was finished that the accident really hit home. You see, when I hired in, I worked on the stadium campus and knew Raymond and Jorge personally. These were friends, coworkers, employees with families.

We know smaller traumatic events don’t always garner media attention.  They don’t burn into the minds of the masses. Perhaps they should, perhaps the reality of potential fatal situations in highway work zones should be a call to our driving public, to slow down and draw cautionary attention. The reality is … it seldom does.

I remember where I was during the first and second space shuttle catastrophes.  I remember where I was when the twin towers fell. I will remember the details of that day in August 1996.