Electric Vehicles and Traffic Incident Management

When we think about traffic incident management (TIM), we think about communication, coordination, and cooperation—working together to get the roadway cleared faster; less exposure means less risk. Right?

Does that work with electric vehicles (EVs)? Post Covid-19, and with the new administration, we have seen an extreme rise in these vehicles on the road. They have been here for years, but during Covid shutdowns, vehicle manufacturers changed their assembly lines and produced an enormous amount of these vehicles. But the motoring public, and first responders have been left in the dark about what to do when something goes wrong out on the road. Where’s the training and information to handle an incident with an EV? Yes, there are a lot of committees out there within all branches of government developing guidelines—I have the honor of sitting on several of them dealing with EVs and TIM. I am here to tell you the information is ever changing and just isn’t really available.

This is not just towers, this is all responders. The ones most affected, though, are fire personnel and towers. I have been fortunate enough to partner with a company called the Energy Security Agency that specializes in the field of lithium ion batteries. The Energy Security Agency developed a facility to blow up these batteries and investigate the results. Now, the federal government employs them to deal with EVs involved in catastrophic events, such as a hurricane in Florida. The people behind this agency are all fire personnel, which is a huge bonus. They are detailed and specific and will help all responders over a phone call—free!

Most responders don’t know anything about these vehicles, and many towers think they can engage these vehicles like all the rest. This is false! To tow an EV safely, you need to know certain things. Such as, EVs do not weigh the same as other vehicles; they are much heavier. Fire personnel, if they don’t have the knowledge, will just throw copious amounts of water on an EV fire without results. It is like a trash can on fire in the center of your living room: The firemen start drowning the house with water, but by the time the water reaches the trashcan to put it out they have wasted much time and water. If they knew exactly where the source was in the house, however, then they could reduce the time and potential damage. EVs are the same: They each have a key area where the batteries are located. Firemen need to douse that key area with water in order to extinguish the fire faster, rather than wasting time and water.

Now, imagine that scenario on the roadway. Your queue is miles long, an EV is on fire, and the responders have no training on what to do. How will this affect TIM? Does any responder know what to do?

The Society of Auto Engineers (SAE) has issued a federal guidance about the care, custody, and control of these vehicles SAE 2990 see https://www.sae.org/standards/content/j2990/2202011/. Many first responders aren’t aware of this guidance. They are utilizing what resources they have, but too many don’t know what is available. Any responder I speak with I make them aware of the _free training on ResponderSafety.com, offered by the Emergency Responder Safety Institute (ERSI). This site offers training modules on EVs, which everyone should take.

TIM is about safe, quick clearance, and to me, that is the opposite of working with an EV on fire on the roadway. Bottom line is we need more education, information, and understanding when it comes to these types of vehicles. There are many facets to handling these vehicles, not just how to shut them down, but how movement reenergizes the batteries, thermal runaways, fire, putting out an EV fire, the runoff, and how they recatch on fire and destroy other property, among other potential concerns.

My advice is to take as much training and gain as much information on these vehicles as you can. This information is constantly changing as these vehicles are being developed. And, finally, share your knowledge with others.

Stay tuned to stay up to date on information and training for EV incident management.

About the author Angela Roper: Angela Roper, is the Executive Director of the Arizona Towing Association and the former Executive Director of the International Towing & Recovery Museum, in Chattanooga, TN, and has been involved in the towing industry since 1997, owning two towing companies in Texas. Under Angela's consulting company, 3CE Consulting, LLC, she is the director of three (3) other non-profit state towing associations. Click here for Angela Roper's full bio.

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