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Traffic center gets a big break after storm
ISF personnel monitoring the state of Lebanon's roads at their headquarters in Cornishe al-Nahr (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
ISF personnel monitoring the state of Lebanon's roads at their headquarters in Cornishe al-Nahr (The Daily Star/Mahmoud Kheir)
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BEIRUT: Not many people were familiar with the Lebanese Traffic Management Center before the onslaught of “Alexa,” but recently, it has become one of the most sought-after traffic information hubs in a country often plagued by all-day rush hours and car accidents.

During last week’s brutal winter storm that was accompanied by intense cold and snow, as well as heavy rainfall, most media outlets in Lebanon procured information from the Traffic Management Center, known as TMC. The center worked through the night to relay traffic-related information across the country, where many suffered from flooding and road closures.

The center relayed information relating to almost every road closure, especially in mountainous areas, as a result of heavy snowfall.

Since its establishment, it has worked in continual cooperation with the state-run National News Agency in an effort to reach other media outlets and civil society members.

“We are mostly focused on the National News Agency as we want our material to be accessible to the public,” Capt. Michel Moutran, TMC’s operational manager, told The Daily Star.

There are approximately 30 employees at the center, located in the Beirut area of Corniche al-Nahr, who work in shifts and teams of 10. The center operates 24 hours a day.

The staff includes members of the Internal Security Forces as well as engineers and technicians who work on managing traffic lights and carry out other technical duties.

The department falls within the organizational structure of the Traffic Management Order, which works with the support of the Interior Ministry. TMC itself is directly funded by the Interior Ministry and supported by caretaker Interior Minister Marwan Charbel.

“[The center] deals with all traffic-related matters in the greater Beirut area and provides information and data [about traffic-related events] throughout Lebanon, especially lately, during the storm,” Moutran said.

It currently cooperates with the ISF’s internal operations rooms located in areas across Lebanon in order to relay traffic information to parties outside of Beirut, particularly pertinent now as the holidays are approaching and heavy congestion along Lebanon’s main roads becomes even more frequent.

The center has road cameras set up around the country, which it uses to produce images during rush hour and car accidents.

The center’s Twitter account, @tmcLebanon, which now has over 3,000 followers, was created as part of a joint effort between the Interior and Information ministries and has proven to be extremely successful so far.

Moutran, who is personally responsible for the account, regularly posts traffic updates, all of which he receives from the members back at the office, as well as road safety tips and guidelines to promote safer driving.

According to Moutran, the center uses social media, primarily its Twitter account, to spread road safety awareness as well as contributes to awareness programs in schools and universities on demand. It has also allocated special ISF forces to follow up on road-safety issues.

Moutran himself has studied road safety management and is the founder of Yasa, a nonprofit organization aimed at creating a greater level of road safety awareness.

The center was established two years ago, but according to Moutran, it wasn’t until recently that it began operating effectively.

“It had potential, but no one was working on it,” he said. “But Minister Marwan Charbel embraced the idea and decided to support it.”

The center is currently looking to train personnel as well as hire new ones, including information technology experts, in order to better improve its work. While current employees have at least 10 years of experience working in traffic management, they all lack academic experience, which is just as important.

“We can make a big difference with this, our forces just need motivation,” Moutran said.

“We dealt excellently with Alexa, so regressing is not acceptable.”

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 18, 2013, on page 4.
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