Behind the cordon - looking at what happens when a road is closed following a collision
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Staffordshire Police understands the frustration drivers feel when their plans are blocked by a road traffic collision (RTC).
But behind the cordon, there is a lot going on - and officers are working as quickly as possible to establish what happened and help fellow emergency service personnel with anyone who needs attention.
In the first of a series of features looking at what goes on behind the cordon when a collision has occurred, we look at the work carried out by officers who are the first to the scene when a 999 call comes in.
Frustrations may be rising within vehicles stuck with nowhere to go, but the message is simple – “the frustrated person is going home. But that person in that car accident might not”.
PC Sara Porrino, from East Staffordshire Neighbourhood Policing Team, based in Uttoxeter, has plenty of experience in investigating serious and fatal RTCs as an Investigating Officer. She revealed there were three main categories incidents can be classed as.
She said: “If it’s a fatal collision we need the road closing so we can get the Collision Investigation Unit (CIU) out and they can look into possible causes. The road at that point is shut for some time while the investigation is being carried out.
“You’ve got a short window to gather the evidence and prove there’s nothing suspicious. If you were to compare it to, say, a murder scene at a house, you can close that house down for maybe five days. When you’re dealing with a fatal collision that window is very small to gather the evidence to establish the cause.
“That is why a road can be closed possibly all day. If it’s multiple vehicles or if it is just the one vehicle it can affect how long that road can be shut.
“If it’s serious injuries we would also look at possibly closing the road. This is done once we’ve established we don’t need the CIU and us as neighbourhood or response officers can investigate it. The road could be shut for a couple of hours so you can do road sketch plans and gather as much evidence as you can.
“If the collision is vehicle damage only the road closure can include clearing the road. There’s recovery of the vehicles, debris on the road, possible damage to roadside furniture. If there’s been a vehicle fire or damage to the surface they may need to resurface that road.”
If CIU don’t attend then there is plenty of work for the constables to do.
“We’ve got to look at if we’ve got any traffic offences such as a driver at fault,” Sara adds. “We’d have to manage the scene and manage the road closure as well, which can be quite difficult. But you just crack on and do it. You’ve got a recovery to arrange, an investigation to undertake, statements to gather.
“And it’s not just for accidents either. A road closure could be in place for broken down vehicles. Or it could be for a collapsed road or a collapsed manhole cover, or power lines coming down. We’ve got no control over that. Sometimes they take a lot longer than we’d like because we have to wait for the council, water board, utility firms etc. to help us out.”
So the message to drivers stuck next to a cordon is that officers are trying as best as they can, so please remain patient.
“People do get annoyed and angry but at the end of the day they’d rather be getting home safe and in one piece then not get home at all,” Sara continued.
“Ultimately, there’s situations where the person doesn’t get to go home. Yet people get frustrated over maybe being late picking somebody up. And it affects me because that frustrated person is going home. But that person in that car accident might not.
“We might not just be dealing with a person who has died at the scene or is seriously hurt. They might have family there too. We might also be dealing with the other person involved in the collision – dealing with their emotions as well, trying to make them feel at ease.
“It’s not just about what’s happened, it’s about the people involved as well and making sure they are getting the right care. And people don’t see this. They might just be getting annoyed because they can’t get home. We understand the frustrations, but we have a vital job to do.”
So next time you find a police cordon in place at the scene of a collision, please spare a thought for those involved on the other side and be assured all is being done to get you on your way as soon as it is safe to do so.