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(Raleigh) – The N.C. Department of Transportation’s traffic operations center has earned national recognition for its response to Hurricane Florence.

The department’s Statewide Transportation Operations Center (STOC) was recently honored with a Transportation Systems Management and Operations (TSMO) Award. The Raleigh-based STOC coordinates state responses to travel emergencies.

The award comes from the National Operations Center of Excellence.

The honor recognizes STOC staff, in part, for executing plans that helped make it easier for people to evacuate, coordinating the state’s use of drones to determine which roads were safe for travel after the storm, and regularly updating an online service that provided accurate information about road conditions.

"Each entry showed creativity and highlighted the fantastic traffic management and operations work going on around the country to address everything from hurricane preparedness to connected and automated vehicles," said Patrick Son, managing director of the National Operations Center of Excellence. "Over the coming months, we plan to share as many of these ideas as possible to benefit the entire industry."

The STOC won its award for “major incident or special event planning and response,” one of four categories in the contest that featured more than 60 entries in its inaugural year. The award recognizes an agency's response to an incident using tools that maximize roadway efficiency and safety through management and operational ingenuity. The award also recognizes interagency cooperation and other measures that improved safety, and travel time or congestion issues.

Florence caused more than 2,400 road closures in North Carolina, including more than 1,600 at a single time, and its record rainfall brought widespread flooding that affected roads of all sizes. This included multi-day closures of both I-40 and I-95 due to flooding.

The STOC optimized traffic flow on routes away from the coast during the evacuation. Highway speeds averaged more than 50 mph during that time, and the department was prepared to employ creative plans to increase capacity if speeds began to decrease.

Staff in the center also coordinated the use of a new drone program in cooperation with other agencies - including the N.C. State Highway Patrol, N.C. National Guard and local emergency personnel. Drones were used after Hurricane Florence to help the department determine which roads were passable for the public and accessible to emergency officials.

STOC and other NCDOT staff and volunteers provided information to more than 27,000 citizen phone calls during the response to Hurricane Florence. DriveNC.gov provided self-service roadway condition information to 7.5 million viewers during Florence.

As a lesson learned from driver and law enforcement frustration during Hurricane Matthew, the department also worked with private partners to ensure GPS information was as up to date as possible throughout Florence.

STOC will be recognized at an awards ceremony during the 2019 Transportation Research Board meeting, where it will have a chance to be named the best overall submission out of the four category winners.

An individual will also be presented with the TSMO Champion Award at the ceremony.

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