Campus ‘a ghost town’ during 405-less weekend
A photo-illustration of the empty 405 freeway.
After weeks of preparations at UCLA
for massive traffic jams, utter gridlock and serious delays, Carmageddon turned into “Carmaheaven,” making traffic better instead of worse.
The campuswide Emergency Operations Center and its counterpart in the UCLA Health System opened Friday afternoon before the scheduled closure of 10 miles of the 405 freeway. When no crisis emerged, the weekend turned into a prime opportunity to practice using the command centers with a real scenario, but without an emergency, campus staff said.
“It was really smooth sailing from the time the freeway shut down,” said UCPD Lt. Russell McKinney, who led the campuswide Emergency Operations Center each night. “UCLA Transportation had extra officers to direct traffic if need be, but there was nothing. It was a ghost town.”
UCLA emptied out early on Friday, according to UCLA Transportation, and even with an estimated 8,000-10,000 people on campus over the weekend, cooperation from drivers kept the campus clear. The freeway re-opened early Sunday instead of the announced 5 a.m. Monday time.
Tweets from Bruins during the closure
- @Juan_Matute It's #carpocolypse: no-traffic—all the cars have been raptured. #carmageddon is every other day in LA, but not today. @lastreetsblog
- @sethodell They over-hyped #Carmageddon so we'd stay off the roads. It worked. Laugh at it now, but we're stuck next year when no one listens.
- @KathyLisiewicz @sethodell Overhype or effective hype? Same people who said "Could be another 1984 Olympics" now say "#Carmageddon fail!" #wantingitbothways
- @erg79 RT @LACarmageddon Photo from @latimes @sherrystern: Santa Monica Freeway at rush hour. L.A.'s best rush hour yet?
For patients at UCLA’s two hospitals, it was business as usual, said William Dunne, director of the UCLA Health System’s Office of Emergency Preparedness. Doctors transplanted two livers, a lung and a kidney and delivered more than a dozen babies. A few hundred health system employees stayed in UCLA’s residence halls as well, Dunne said.
“Patients seemed not to know that there was anything going on in Los Angeles that would affect their care, so I think we achieved our mission,” Dunne said.
Even the number of people who showed up to the emergency rooms was down around 15 to 20 percent, Dunne said. With traffic so low, some employees who had planned to bunk at UCLA were able to drive home and sleep in their own beds after all, he added.
Dunne, who stayed at the Hospital Command Center at Santa Monica-UCLA Medical Center and Orthopaedic Hospital, got just eight to nine hours of sleep during the entire weekend to make sure everything went smoothly. “The logistical support and interaction with all our community partners — the Los Angeles Fire Department, the Los Angeles Police Department, the county EMS (emergency medical services), and the campus community — was incredible and really provided valuable lessons that will make us even more effective in an emergency,” Dunne said.
Detail of a Metro map with recommended routes around the 405 closure. Click for the full map.
Judging by parking levels in campus parking structures, many UCLA employees took Friday off as a vacation day, said Renée Fortier, the executive director of Transportation.
“Exiting traffic was lighter than I ever remember on a Friday. The only comparison is the Friday before a holiday break,” she noted.
Extra traffic officers who were called in to keep intersections clear were sent home early. When 1,500 people checked into campus residence halls on Sunday, the mass registration didn’t even bring campus traffic to normal weekend levels, Fortier said.
“The whole weekend was a very good dry run,” she said. “We had the Emergency Operations Center open and staffed, and refined our emergency response plan. It was an excellent exercise. We were able, without any incidents, to put into practice our coordination with campus departments through the Emergency Operations Center.”
Parking Administrator Lisa Koerbling had the Friday night shift in the EOC. “It was boring, but much better than the alternative,” she said. “It allowed me to become more familiar with the Emergency Management Online System. I’d been oriented on it, but I got in some good practice, and I think that was true for everyone in the room.”
As planned, UCPD officers, hospital and transportation employees, Housing and Hospitality Services (H&HS) staff and even a handful of LAPD officers stayed on the Hill for the weekend to assure they could get to work, no matter how the shutdown affected traffic. But when traffic remained light, many people felt safe driving home after all, bringing the numbers down from a possible 950 to an estimated 450-500, said Angela Marciano, H&HS director of organizational planning, performance and development.
In addition to these guests on the Hill, H&HS also housed about 5,000 regular visitors, including students, summer campers, and those 1,500 Sunday check-ins, said Jason Walley, assistant director of Conference Services. “Everyone anticipated lots of traffic, so they got here too early and were bored,” he said.
This best-case-scenario version of Carmageddon is what everyone hoped for, said Lt. McKinney, who joked that his biggest challenge was staying awake during the long night shifts to monitor LAPD and CHP transmissions, Google maps and other communications from the unified command in downtown Los Angeles.
“Being able to sit down and work with all the equipment was a great experience,” McKinney said, adding that he hoped people would respond as well to next year's Carmageddon. It's a concern Marciano shares.
“Next year, it’s going to be harder to get everyone’s attention," she said. "But I’m really proud of how well everything went.”
The next challenge won’t be Carmageddon II, Fortier forecast, but the impending closure of the 405’s Wilshire on-and-off ramps this fall, just blocks from campus.
“They’re closing them for multiple weeks while they rebuild them for the freeway widening,” she said. “I think that will be much more difficult for UCLA commuters.”