I spend a huge portion of my work day driving around the Metro Atlanta area. At any given time I can find myself upwards of 100 miles from home. Given the nature of the type of work I do I might start off five miles from the house and within a few minutes get routed to a location seventy miles from home. That has made me quite aware of the very distinct possibility of not being able to make it home at the end of the day.
Atlanta has some of the worse traffic in the country. According to this article it's the seventh worse in the country. What that means in practical terms is that a relatively small event such as a multi-vehicle wreck, or a fatality accident can have a ripple effect that can create congestion on all six interstates in the metro area. I have sat in traffic for around three hours before because of a wreck, which induced another wreck, which in turn induced a third. That's common in every major city in America.
Today there was a suspicious package taped to the side of the 14th Street Bridge which crosses over The Connector. To those not from the area The Connector is the stretch of interstate where I85 and I75 merge. The package was seen and called in, investigated and the authorities responded in a predictable manner.
The 14th Street Bridge was closed.
The Connector was closed.
Vehicles were routed out of the area regardless of the direction their drivers wanted to go.
Entrance Ramps were closed.
Side streets were suddenly deluged with many, many more vehicles and drivers that didn't really know where they were going.
The EOD guys showed up with their gear, did their due diligence and detonated the package.
All the pieces were picked up and the the interstates were slowly opened back up.
As of this writing, five hours later the commuters are still wending their way home.
I firmly believe the best way to avoid this type of hassle and the troubles caused by impatient drivers is to get in front of the wave. In my case, I was approximately 600 yards from the bridge and the package working in a high rise, I was able to finish up what I was working on, get all my tools down to my van, get loaded up and take an alternate route past the blocked traffic, get back on the interstate and be home in an hour. How did I accomplish this?
First I picked up on the conversations of folks around me. Comments like "No trains, No buses, No cars, No Nothing!", and "It's a bomb threat! They've done shut down the highway and the bridge." brought me out of my work related focus and into what was going on with everyone around me. People crowding the windows to see what was going on, hovering helicopters, then I saw the section of interstate that was closed. I knew it was time to pack up and get moving.
I was fortunate in that I was able to finish what I was working on, pack up, make my way from the 17th floor to the loading dock, load up my van and scoot. My fifty mile drive was accomplished in forty minutes. That's a record for Monday in Atlanta at 3PM. My main concern wasn't the package that turned out to not be a bomb. It was the thousands of frustrated and angry drivers that would be making a mad dash once the interstates were opened up again. In my opinion, the best approach is to avoid that type of situation completely. In case you can't, I'd suggest reading Greg Ellifritz's blog and especially his post on Mob Mentality. Greg has plenty of good advice. While his post deals more with being on foot, many of the same tactics apply to vehicles.
Here's a few pointers that I try to abide by when I travel to Atlanta.
Have at least half a tank of gas, preferably keep it full.
Have alternative routes. Travel them regularly. Traffic patterns change. Road construction, even on streets that aren't part of your route can affect vehicle volume on your alternate routes.
Don't depend on a GPS, Know Your Route!Have a map of your travel areas and know how to read it.
Don't depend on your cell/smart phone. On my way home I tried to make calls to various persons, the cell circuits were getting overloaded. Text is a good alternative to voice communication. Cellular data is another alternative.
Communicate with your family. Let them know what's going on and that you might be late or held up for an indefinite period of time.
Have an emergency kit in your vehicle. Spare clothes, a blanket or sleeping bag, food and water will go a long ways towards making a long wait tolerable. If you work in an environment that doesn't allow casual dress be sure to have some good socks and comfortable, sturdy shoes.
Have clothing for the weather. The folks that got caught out on the iced over roads here can attest to that.
Don't get caught up in the emotion. If drivers are getting aggressive, it might be prudent to find a spot off the main route of travel to pull over, or start making your way to one of your alternate routes.
In the end, the tube taped to the bridge was benign. It still caused a huge delay and several sympathetic traffic issues, such as fender benders and stalled vehicles. The potential for a much greater calamity was there, the City of Atlanta and the State of Georgia acted in a predictable manner. With the increased frequency of terrorism it's quite possible that a similar situation could lead towards coordinated attacks, much like the abortion clinic bombings. In those types of situations the public safety folks can easily get overwhelmed. It's up to us to see to our own safety in a responsible manner.