“There’s always a lot happening,” said Tom Stidham, web applications developer at WSDOT. He was talking about the myriad of planned and unplanned events taking place across the roadways in Washington State: collisions, traffic jams, and construction work. It’s all these events that the DOT and its operators are responsible for communicating to the public in order to keep drivers safe and traffic flowing.
“In an ideal world, drivers would visit the website prior to getting into their vehicles,” added Stidham, chuckling. The reality? To keep drivers in the loop, the team at the DOT needs to get their message out every way they can. But communicating effectively and at scale with finite resources is complicated.
First, with many roadways across the state, no single mass communication will meet their audience needs. Drivers frequent different roads and will only be interested in updates on roadways that affect them. Beyond that, certain communications have more urgency than others, and therefore are best delivered via different channels. A planned event — a major roadway reconstruction, for example — is best communicated ahead of time, via email. Whereas an accident can require more immediate communications, an alert via text message.
Finally, the act of creating and sending communications must fit into the workflow of DOT staff. The DOT’s dedicated operators, who, according to Stidham, have much to monitor at once (“Picture screens and screens and screens!”).