ATLANTA — HERO units patrol 382 miles across metro Atlanta and since 2014 it's been a 24/7 operation, but with their staffing cut in half Georgia Department of Transportation said they are not immune to the staffing shortage many agencies are also seeing across the state, with their own program down 50%.
"Fully staffed, our HERO operation is about 125 HERO operators. We're currently operating with about 60," GDOT spokesperson Natalie Dale said.
HEROs, which stands for Highway Emergency Response Operators, patrol metro Atlanta interstates working in conjunction with first responders while also providing free assistance to drivers such as changing a tire, providing fuel or jumping a dead battery.
HEROs are dispatched to ensure the safety of stranded motorists and first responders and to clear roads so that traffic flow is restored.
"As far as 24 hour patrolling with half the staff that we need, we wanted to be respectful of our current HEROs and really set the stage for success for the future of the HERO program," Dale said. "And that does at this time mean a reduction of hours. We're hoping that that will only be about a year."
On Wednesday, GDOT announced a reduction in hours, specifically the overnight schedule.
The new schedule, which will go into effect by July 1, is as follows:
- Monday-Friday 5 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
- Saturday-Sunday 6 a.m. – 11:30 p.m.
During the overnight hours, GDOT said HERO operators will be on-call for any significant incidents.
"These modifications will result in a greater HERO presence in a time that greatest number of incidents occurred," GDOT Operations Director John Hibbard explained.
Hibbard said data shows 91% of crashes HERO operators respond to are between the hours of 5:30 a.m. and 11:30 p.m.
“To provide the most effective emergency response and traffic management within the metro Atlanta area, it’s become necessary to make these temporary modifications to the HERO active patrol schedule and coverage,” State Traffic Engineer Alan Davis said.
He added, “This decision will give our team the time to rebuild the HERO ranks while ensuring better coverage, improving incident response and lowering the chances of existing HERO burnout.”
GDOT said while they are also reducing their coverage area. However, in the area's they scale back in, CHAMP units will cover. CHAMP stands for Coordinated Highway Assistance & Maintenance Program.
The HERO service area covers 382 miles of routes across metro Atlanta. During this temporary modification of their coverage, they'll scale back to 247 miles. CHAMP will pick up the remaining 135 miles of coverage area.
GDOT stressed no interstate will be without coverage. If you do find yourself stranded, call 511 and there will be an operator in dispatch 24/7. While it might not be a HERO unit sent to your location, they will get you help.
The HERO program was created in 1994 and only became a 24/7 operation in 2014. GDOT said their goal is to return to a 24/7 schedule in 2024.
GDOT is looking for fill close to 60 positions for the HERO program.
"We have recently increased the HERO salary at all levels. And all state employees based on the governor's budget are getting an extra $2,000. So, that applies as well," Dale explained.
She added, "HERO's are state employees and they get the benefits of being a state employee. We also have many different methods to engage at all levels."
If you're interested in applying for the job, check out their job site.