InTrans / Oct 12, 2017

The more you know: teamwork and collaboration key strengths of Statewide MDST Program

At a dozen locations around Iowa, people are meeting in the name of traffic safety. That’s good news for Theresa Litteral, tasked with helping keep the local meetings relevant and the participants talking.

“So far, so good,” says the facilitator for Iowa’s Statewide MDST Program. MDST is Multidisciplinary Safety Team, and Iowa’s 12 local teams consist of various traffic safety-related personnel. They meet regularly to discuss local safety issues, specific projects such as work zones, and ideas for highway safety improvements.

“MDST participants come from several agencies that all have their own missions and ways to conduct business,” says Litteral. “It is important to have a platform like the MDSTs for these diverse professionals to come together to improve local roadway safety collaboratively.”

Participants vary from team to team, but may include law enforcement officers, first responders including fire and emergency medical personnel, Iowa Department of Transportation staff, traffic planners, city and county officials, and others such as tow truck service operators.

The Statewide MDST Program is the first of its kind in the U.S. It is a joint effort of the Iowa DOT, Iowa Governor’s Traffic Safety Bureau, and Iowa Local Technical Assistance Program, which is administered by Iowa State University’s Institute for Transportation, where Litteral is housed. She also is an InTrans research scientist who works on other traffic safety projects.

As the statewide MDST facilitator, Litteral assists current teams and helps form new ones. In the past year, she played a role in adding teams in Linn County (Cedar Rapids) and Ottumwa. These teams joined existing ones in Ames, Clinton County, Council Bluffs, Davenport, Des Moines, Dubuque, Fort Dodge, Iowa City, North Iowa (Mason City), and Sioux City. Additional MDSTs are in the works.

Through collaboration, Litteral says participants “gain a wider perspective on safety issues and learn from others outside their areas of expertise.” The result can be novel solutions that save lives.

One of her jobs is to encourage teams to follow similar procedures. She promotes, for example, participation in the Federal Highway Administration’s National Traffic Incident Management Response Training Program, which instructs emergency personnel how to efficiently respond to vehicle crashes.

Iowa’s local MDST teams, some of which were formed to deal with a specific traffic problem, are independent organizations, although they generally have similar goals:

• Improve traffic safety

• Develop interagency cooperation

• Help resolve local safety issues

• Identify and mitigate crash causes

• Improve crash response practices

Litteral, who grew up in Great Britain and came to the U.S. for graduate school, plays several roles with the teams. “My job is to support them as they need it.” She makes presentations, contributes agenda topics, provides resources and training opportunities, and most of all, keeps teams motivated. She says, however, MDST team members do a good job of that themselves.

“The teams are made up of people passionate about traffic safety. They give a lot of themselves to their local areas.”

MDST success story: Addressing wrong way drivers

More than 80 times in a five-year span, drivers were reported going the wrong way on U.S. Highway 30 in Story and Boone counties. The potentially deadly situations prompted Iowa DOT, local law enforcement, and InTrans personnel to form an MDST to address the problem to improve safety. The collaborative efforts led to enhanced signing, painting, and lighting on U.S. 30 in addition to the use of intelligent transportation systems to detect and alert drivers and 911 centers.