LEE COUNTY, Fla.-- When you think of first responders you may think: Emergency crews. But when it comes to hurricanes, think again. That's because when a storm strikes, debris remains on the roads, making it impossible for emergency crews to get to you. That's when a different kind of first responder hits the streets.
The Florida Department of Transportation, or F-DOT, is out on the road first, looking for flooded areas, debris and traffic signals without power.
"Our responsibility as first responders is to be sure the roads are as clear as they can be so other responders can get out and do what they need to do," Debbie Tower with F-DOT tells WINK.
And for the first time ever this hurricane season, F-DOT will have electronic eyes on the road to identify hazards along I-75.
Debbie Tower says if the cameras stay up during a storm, "We would be able to see what areas on the interstate need to be cleared, where signs have gone down. That really hastens some of the first response."
Also new on the roads this year: signs to aid drivers in knowing about road closures and travel time. The signs are also expected to help drivers during an evacuation.
Both the signs and the cameras are part of the $25 million Intelligent Transportation System, or ITS, activated this year. F-DOT operators gather information immediately from the Lee-Charlotte county line to the Collier-Broward county line. Operators monitor everything that affects traffic flow and then adjust accordingly.
"Now we can see what is happening," says ITS operator Allyn Black. "Before we had to sort of guess. We still were pretty accurate back in the day, but we are much more accurate now."
Debbie Tower tells WINK, "It's a tremendous resource and something we'll be very pleased to have routinely, but certainly if there's an emergency evacuation, it will prove its mettle."