News Release

CONTACT: Carl DeFebo
Phone: 717.831.7176
April 5, 2016

PA Turnpike Releases After-Action Review of Winter Storm Response

MIDDLETOWN PA. (APRIL 5, 2016) — The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) today released a 30-page After-Action Review (AAR) of the response to January’s record-setting snowstorm, which involved more than 300 responders from 30 state, county, municipal and private-sector partners — many of them volunteers.

“In January, I promised a thorough analysis of the events that led up to this incident as well as a review of our combined response to ensure we learn from it and do a better job the next time,” said PA Turnpike Chairman Sean Logan. “This AAR — the result of more than 400 hours' work by a team of staff and consultants over a 10-week period — lays out a blueprint for a better planned and coordinated response to future emergencies. Certainly, we owe that to our customers, our staff, our response partners and other incident-management allies like the PA State Police, PEMA and PennDOT, to name a few.”

The AAR Team was directed by PTC CEO Mark Compton, who noted that the Commission conducts an AAR after major incidents.

“We implemented this collaborative AAR process to engage and communicate with partners to get feedback to improve and strengthen our Traffic Incident Management program; doing so helps us provide a safer highway and identify future training, policy and operational needs,” Compton said. “The process focuses on lessons learned, best practices and opportunities for improvement; it gives us and our response partners a chance to review the quality of services provided to customers at the scene.”

The AAR includes a review of practices that had been implemented or were being developed prior to the Jan. 22 storm as well as a series of new recommendations — or opportunities for improvement — detailed in Table 3 of the report. The AAR is available at

Table 3 (AAR, P. 22), outlines 22 new opportunities for improvement along with the steps necessary to implement each improvement. Those opportunities for improvement include:

  • Review equipment and staffing at every maintenance facility to ensure essential resources are available when needed. The Commission is exploring the possibility of partnering with local agencies to identify available resources.

  • Evaluate access ramps, gates and median barriers to improve the capacity to manage backlogged traffic during an incident.

  • Refine the motorist assistance plan to address specific requirements across the system, and work with local responders on protocols for health and safety checks.

  • Maintain caches of emergency rations for motorists who may become stopped for long periods of time; develop a plan for timely distribution to any location along the Turnpike.

  • Enhance communication strategies with motorists to include developing a stronger social-media presence so motorists can access and share critical information on a timely basis.

  • Strengthen weather forecasting capabilities and technologies to ensure that the PTC and the Pennsylvania Emergency Management Agency (PEMA) as well as other partner agencies are sharing the latest forecasts in an emergency.

  • Improve communications with the Pennsylvania National Guard through joint training so that the Turnpike can better understand the capabilities and resources that the Guard can provide.

  • Evaluate a potential parking-availability system for trucks that includes identifying prospects for increased truck parking along the entire Turnpike.

Compton noted that backlogs during the storm were exacerbated by tractor trailers that — despite warning signs restricting trucks to one lane — were stuck in both travel lanes.

“Too many trucks were blocking lanes, making it difficult for our snowplows to keep lanes clear. As a result, passenger cars became trapped behind tractor trailers,” Compton said. “It would be irresponsible to direct trucks onto local roads in such conditions. Neighboring communities cannot safely accommodate commercial traffic in extreme-weather conditions. The AAR makes it clear that we need to identify better systems for managing commercial traffic in weather emergencies.”

The AAR also found that the PTC’s ongoing efforts to improve its responses to major incidents “proved beneficial” in the response to the Jan. 22 blizzard.

These actions, outlined in Tables 1 and 2 in the AAR, involved stepped-up incident management training for some 700 Turnpike staff and partners, including PA State Police and local first responders. The Commission’s efforts to enhance the use of Waze™ improved real-time communications for motorists as well as responders throughout the crisis, according to the AAR.

“Our communication in our own shop, with other agencies and our customers has improved, and we are taking more advantage of social media platforms,” Compton said. “But this is one area that is constantly changing, so we need to be more nimble and more aggressive in identifying the best platforms to deliver timely information.”

Compton added that the PTC is working with Carnegie Mellon University and PennDOT to study automated monitoring of social media for Turnpike incidents. A key goal for this partnership is to allow alerts from motorists to be fed directly into the Turnpike’s Traffic Operations Center.

The AAR was coordinated by the Turnpike’s general consulting engineering firm, Michael Baker International Inc.