24 May 2021

Repairing the cracks: keeping the public onside during emergency road closures

How to reduce public complaints when it comes to unplanned, emergency activity on the road network

Before the pandemic, unplanned roadworks and road closures had been rising steadily each year. In fact, emergency and urgent works increased by 9.2% between 2017 and 2019.

Reduced road work activity during Covid appears to have caused a temporary respite but, as restrictions have started to ease in the UK, we’ve seen the volume of unplanned works accelerating.

Plenty of unplanned activity is unavoidable. More intensive rollout of telecommunication utilities such as fibre and 5G — combined with the ever-increasing burden of maintaining legacy infrastructure across the water, wastewater, gas, and power sectors — means that mains failures, utility strikes, and other urgent and emergency activities are inevitably more frequent.

But that doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. Below, we explore how utilities and highway authorities can work together to achieve some common goals: minimising disruption to road users, protecting road workers, and upholding the reputations of all parties undertaking emergency works.

How can works promoters minimise impact on road users in emergencies?

Works promoters at utility companies and highway authorities, as well as contractors and developers, are typically obliged to give advance notice to the public for planned works.

In the case of reactive works (Immediate Emergency and Urgent), however, this demand disappears for obvious reasons. The requirement to raise a permit and TTRN is retrospective; a regulatory formality to be completed after the fact.

But the lack of advance warning for emergency works means that road users are often delayed and unable to plan alternative routes, leading to congestion and disrupted traffic flow.

When drivers are unaware of works and only find out whilst travelling, they’re likely to make choices on-the-go that cause confusion, and which increase the likelihood of collisions with other vehicles — as well as accidents involving works sites and road workers. As a result, road workers often feel justifiably unsafe in the course of their job.

This problem is further aggravated when there’s a network conflict; for example, when emergency works clash with pre-existing planned works.

But this component of the emergency closure ecosystem is not inescapable. It can be mitigated, and even avoided completely, through the right kind of stakeholder communication.

Strong partnerships between utility companies and highway authorities are essential to good communication with the public: both parties need to be aligned before sharing information. They also need to collaborate in ensuring that conflicts between unscheduled works and existing, planned activities are minimised.

The challenge for workers closing roads in emergencies is twofold: a lack of time, and a lack of tools to share live information with the public. This is what makes real-time digital communication so valuable.

Roadside apps like one.network’s Live Link allow highway authorities and utility companies to send real-time road closure information and updates straight to sat-navs such as Google Maps, Waze, and TomTom. This gives operatives at works sites the power to issue instant updates, sharing when the first cone is put down and the last cone removed. The opportunity to add detail about the works and why they’re happening reassures the public that road closures are necessary, and gives rise to a shared understanding that minimises both reputational risk for works promoters, and safety concerns of the workers onsite.

This in turn provides an outcome in which highway authorities, utility companies, road workers and the public get along with less friction. Communication is clearer, safety and welfare of workers is improved, and the reputation of works promoters stays intact.

Curious about Live Link?

Get in touch to talk to our team about how Live Link can help you manage and share your emergency road closures.