A technical review of a 2002 traffic accident on Florida’s “Alligator Alley” that killed three people and involved 17 tractor trailers, was released by the
“This was a large incident, involving some 58 emergency responders and 27 vehicles and causing three deaths,” said Michael D. Brown, Homeland Security under secretary for emergency preparedness and response. “This review for ‘lessons learned’ is important to identify what went well in the response so that other first responders can strengthen their response planning and exercises.”
The review, compiled by the U.S. Fire Administration, also cites these lessons learned:
The challenge of removing a large number of vehicles from major highways, clearing debris, and salvaging and transferring cargo should be addressed during the emergency planning process;
Providing critical incident stress debriefing is important, especially in this incident, where responders treated multiple injuries, extricated three fatalities with severe trauma and were hearing collisions occurring around them without knowing if they were in a safe location;
Traffic was backed up due to this incident from the Gulf of Mexico to the Atlantic Ocean. The Sheriff’s Office responded by producing a large number of maps of alternate routes to help ease congestion, an example other agencies can follow.
“This traffic accident posed numerous problems to a variety of emergency agencies and it took 13 hours to restore conditions to normal,” said US Fire Administrator R. David Paulison. “This large vehicular accident offers us many opportunities to review what worked and what did not so response to such incidents in the future can improve.”
develops reports on selected major incidents, usually involving multiple deaths or a large loss of property. The objective reviews are intended to uncover significant “lessons learned” or new knowledge about firefighting and emergency response or to underscore ongoing issues in fire service. USFA, which has no regulatory authority, sends an experienced fire investigator to the community after a major incident only after conferring with local fire authorities.
The incident was reviewed with the assistance of the Florida Highway Patrol, Collier County Emergency Management Agency, Sheriff’s Department and Emergency Medical Services, the Golden Gate Fire Control and Rescue District, and the Collier County Medical Examiner.
The incident began on January 25, 2002 in a rural area of Collier County, along the major east/west thoroughfare in southern Florida. Eight separate collisions occurred in a half-mile stretch of road due in part to heavy fog. Traffic was blocked in both directions. In addition to three deaths, 13 people were injured. The closest emergency responders were 40 minutes away from the site and back-up units were farther away than would normally be encountered in a suburban or urban environment. Further complicating the situation was the continued presence of fog and the numerous 911 calls with conflicting information for emergency responders to follow.
A copy of the full report can be ordered by going to www.usfa.fema.gov/fire-service/techreports/tr155.shtm.