DIRECTOR'S ZONE, NOVEMBER 2007
October, 2007 was a month that tested the preparedness for us at Caltrans, as well as the people of the State of California, to be able to respond to emergency situations. We are reminded just how fragile our transportation system is in its ability to move people, goods and services, which is our major role – and how little it takes to have significant disruptions.
It also reminded us of how important the men and women of Caltrans are in keeping the highway system functioning – and the risks that we are exposed to.
Late Friday night, October 12, a serious accident occurred on the southbound Golden State Freeway (I-5) truck bypass lanes, involving numerous vehicles and big-rig trucks. Three people tragically lost their lives as the rains began. The resulting fire and following cleanup took until the following Sunday morning for Caltrans to gain access to the tunnel and begin the task of reopening the mainline roadway.
We succeeded because of teamwork. Our excellent staff in Structures Maintenance and Investigations, Maintenance, Traffic Operations, Structures Construction and Design, District Design, and External Affairs Public Information staff -- as well as our contractors C. C. Myers and Chumo Construction -- began working immediately to get the mainlines re-opened and keep the public informed. Our partnerships with the Los Angeles County Fire Department, California Highway Patrol, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, City of Santa Clarita and the Los Angeles Police Department provided the highest degree of public safety. And Caltrans workers and our contractors showed the public that we can perform! We did what we needed to do. It was very assuring to get that message out to the public so that they know that "We Are Here To Get You There!"
The following Wednesday of that week, showing again how fragile the transportation system is, another significant accident occurred on the Antelope Valley Freeway (SR-14) in Lancaster, in a blinding windy, sandstorm which resulted in two fatalities and many injuries, closing this major route for a period of time.
Then, on Thursday, October 18, on the Ventura Freeway (SR-134) at San Raphael Street in Pasadena, an errant vehicle lost control in a Caltrans work zone, injuring Maintenance Workers Carlton Strong and severely injuring Albert Hinojos – their injuries included a badly broken leg and severely bruised ribs. A Special Programs worker was also injured, and was fortunately discharged immediately from the hospital. Both employees are now out of the hospital but neither is back to work at this time. Thankfully, both are expected to fully recover.
And sadly, on Friday, October 26 an employee of the Mahaffey Companies, a sub-contractor to Caltrans’ contractor C.A. Rasmussen, while drilling piles for the sound walls on State Route 118 in Simi Valley, was fatally injured while on the job. The employee was a 31-year-old resident of Fillmore. Even with every safety precaution taken on transportation improvement projects, unfortunate injuries and fatalities can occur. Please join with me rededicating ourselves to keeping safety as Caltrans’ number one priority. Our thoughts and prayers are extended to all of these workers and their families.
Almost immediately after these events, strong Santa Ana winds began, and coupled with one of the driest seasons on record, Caltrans was faced with wildfires all across Southern California. These fires caused the closure of a number of conventional highways in District 7, and had much more devastating impacts on freeways and communities in our neighboring Districts, particularly San Diego, San Bernardino and Orange Counties. In the case of wildfires, Caltrans isn’t necessarily the lead emergency agency, but provided a very important support role, helping to keep the motoring public safe by closing roadways when necessary for the safety of the motoring public – and also providing equipment to help the fire departments get in and do what they needed to do.
These events are so significant that a number of Caltrans employees were directly impacted. In District 7, Frank Webster from North Region Maintenance, Xerxes Banduk Region Engineer from South Region Maintenance and Hugo Guzman, Transportation Engineer were either awaiting evacuation or had been forced to evacuate. And in District 8 and 12 employees were also affected.
Caltrans is a family. When any us are injured, we all “bleed orange.” The California Transportation Foundation (CTF) has set up a fund to directly help our Caltrans brothers and sisters who have lost their homes or have been severely impacted by the firestorms. As we are getting this article ready for publication of this newsletter, I have personally filled out my California State Employees Charitable Campaign form to donate to the CTF to help my fellow Caltrans workers impacted by these recent events. Designating this contribution, a star on my office has been placed.
Today I ask each of you to ask to consider making this same commitment. If you have not yet turned in your Campaign form – please see your key coordinator or contact program coordinator Raashan Bernard at (213) 897-0999 if you wish to make a donation. If you have already submitted your form declining participation, I urge each of you to reconsider. Additional blank forms can be obtained from your division’s key coordinator or Raashan Bernard. Donations can still be submitted through November 13 to make a contribution. The organization code for the CTF for your campaign form is #16017.
In addition, I, personally was very conscious of the importance of the American Red Cross (ARC) at the recent accident on the I-5 truck lanes. They were supporting our employees and our partners on the scene as they worked on the tunnel fire -- bringing in food and supplies so that everyone could continue doing the work that needed to be done. The ARC is still doing the same on the wildfires. With such a large series of events in a short period of time, their resources have been stretched very thin. You may also wish to contribute to the ARC. There are many organizational codes for the ARC – please see your key coordinator or Raashan Bernard to review the booklet.
Here at Caltrans we are very blessed. We all have the ability to give back in some way to our communities. Here is our chance to show that “We Are Here to Get You There” -- not just in reopening roads -- but as solid members of our neighborhoods, significantly helping the greater fabric of our communities.