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The Gridlock Guy- Doug Turnbull

  • My initial reaction to the viral video of a large group of people blocking off I-285 to do burnouts and celebrate the ill-thought pop-up party might have mirrored yours. I was stark-raving mad at the sight of a bunch of young men stopping their cars on I-285 and then creating their own perimeter in the eastbound lanes. The footage on the “Everything Georgia” / @GAFollowers Twitter account shows a crowd of a couple of dozen people out of their cars and filming a Dodge Charger doing a smoky doughnut under the Airport Tunnel bridge, just east of Riverdale Road. The clip shows vehicles not involved in this careless stunt helplessly coming to a stop behind the throng during the 11 p.m. hour on Saturday, Feb. 29. This kind of grassroots horsepower and traffic-snarling strut has become more commonplace in recent years. But no matter how talented and precise these drivers are, threading the needle between an unprotected crowd and someone taking video, these stunts are absolutely dangerous and inconsiderate. » RELATED: WATCH: Traffic stops on I-285 as drivers do burnouts, doughnuts in tunnel I get angry at any time we have unforced errors on the roads. When cars barely wreck and stay blocking a travel lane, it’s unacceptable. When GDOT crews stay out in a lane past the cutoff time, it’s maddening and annoying. When people drive the wrong way on shoulders to dangerously get out of a backup, I point it out on 95.5 WSB and in this column.  When the dangers and responsibility of driving are taken so lightly as these men took them that frustrating Saturday night, that needs saying. To those that applaud pop-up traffic RED ALERTS (shutting down interstates), one must also endorse several things. Shutting down a freeway or road terribly inconveniences those who have no part in the endeavor. The I-285 video showed a tractor trailer that could have been made late making a delivery; their or someone else’s livelihood hangs in that balance. Stopping in the middle of any road, but particularly an interstate, creates danger for not only those choosing to shut it down, but for those rolling up on it unexpectedly. Not a day goes by in Atlanta where an initial wreck doesn’t cause a chain reaction crash in the backup. Stopping on a dime for no reason (doing so to block off roads for burnouts qualifies as “no reason”) creates even further unnecessary risk. » RELATED: National traffic data shows I-285 deadliest highway This doesn’t include the risk those in the burnout assume on themselves when smoking out an intersection or freeway. What if someone plows into them or if the circling driver loses his handle and hits an innocent person or someone else in the crowd around them? Live roadways simply are not the place for these showcases. But before we all get high and mighty and virtue-signal about these dangers, let’s not pick sawdust out of the eyes of those that have blinded themselves to these externalities. We have planks in our own sockets. Before we call out these young men, do we call out our own spouses and kids when they are holding their phones and driving, something blatantly illegal and dangerous? Have we felt guilty about tailgating someone or cutting across three lanes to make a turn at the last second? These things happen at the hands of far more people, far more often and we, the indignant, are guilty. We, the guilty, also need to be careful in how we describe things we don’t like from people we don’t know. Comments on social media called the selfish participants “thugs” and made implications that the City of Atlanta is letting this behavior slide because of the race of the participants. This is misguided and hurtful. For one, the I-285 blockage and drifting was in College Park, not Atlanta, and that city’s own police department is investigating it. And assuming that all of the people involved are involved in other criminal activity, by calling them thugs, isn’t warranted. The same reaction likely wouldn’t occur if this gathering consisted of frat bros in their dad’s Wranglers. That same traffic interruption and risk should be just as maddening, absent of racial and cultural overtones. The plans to block off city roads not just in Atlanta, but elsewhere will continue. The Instagram account @_slideshowTV has an invitation up for the “ATL Ride Out” on Sunday, March 15. The organizer on the account is inviting cars and bikes to descend on Atlanta, but to not do burnouts. Considering that other posts on the account glorify burnouts, this seems like a bit of posterior-covering and not a real thought to the effect on other people. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice We seem to accept some other events that block traffic. The Georgia State Patrol often escorts sports teams to Atlanta venues. The annual Georgia Police Memorial Ride, in which I participate, shuts down parts of I-285 and I-75/85 (the Downtown Connector) for extended periods on a Saturday morning. Funeral processions stop traffic, too. The latter two of these examples may cause jams, but they are done in remembrance of those lost. Traffic delays should make us mad, and stupid behavior should also. But we have to remember that we are careless, too. Two dozen people texting and driving could be every bit as dangerous as these “Fast and Furious” wannabees were on I-285. Whether it’s this egregious behavior or the more common, insidious things we do every day, we need the police to step up and enforce the law. Fixing broken windows and graffiti in New York City helped decrease the crime rate, because of the message it sent. Applying that same concept on the roads could galvanize more safety and civility. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com.
  • Autonomous vehicle technology is mind-blowing. The fact that cameras, mapping, lasers and computers affixed to traveling vessels can see road lines and other vehicles and then drive is absolutely remarkable. The fact that these revolutionary cars can speed up and slow down on their own and follow inputted navigational directions is a transcendent breakthrough. But this technology is little more than an aid right now — we cannot count on it to be responsible for us. » RELATED: Traffic technology spreads, saving opioid victims An Apple engineer in Mountain View, California, lost his life as a byproduct of this false comfort two years ago. Walter Huang, 38, had repeatedly noticed his Tesla Model X kept darting toward a damaged median barrier on U.S. Highway 101, when the car was in self-drive mode. Huang had expressed this to some family members, but he was prepared for it and corrected the maneuver any time he passed that fateful spot. Huang also took his sleek SUV to his Tesla dealer, but they could not replicate the defect. On March 23, 2018, Huang had switched to the auto-pilot system. He presumably had forgotten he was on the approach to this trouble zone on Highway 101, between San Jose and San Francisco. Records show that his phone was streaming a video game. Disaster struck. Huang’s Tesla steered into and then hit the compromised wall. The impact was dashboard-deep. Game over. Huang paid the price for the complacency that brilliant technology causes. » RELATED: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice Tesla said that the crash was so severe because the median wall — designed to diminish such an impact — had damage from an earlier crash. The California Department of Transportation said that maintenance on that wall had been scheduled, but not completed. The automaker did not account for why the Model X decided to steer into the wall in the first place. A self-driving Uber hit and killed pedestrian Elaine Herzeberg in Tempe, Arizona — this was also in March 2018. The U.S. National Transportation and Safety Board (NTSB) ruled this crash, too, happened because the vehicle’s operator was distracted and because Uber’s corporate governance of this autonomous project was lacking. In a flavor of mea culpa, the NTSB said that even the government did not oversee such endeavors enough. A March 2019 crash took the life of 50-year-old Jeremy Baren Banner when his Tesla drove under a tractor trailer, shearing Banner’s Model 3’s roof off. Banner had just taken his hands off the wheel six seconds before the impact, and the NTSB said Banner entered autopilot mode just ten seconds beforehand. Tesla’s system did not detect that Banner had let go of the wheel. He was driving 68 miles per hour in a 55 speed zone. We don’t know why all three of these fatal instances happened to take place in the third month of the year. But we can safely assume we need to beware behind the wheel on more days than just the Ides of March. In a hearing on Capitol Hill last Tuesday, a bipartisan cadre of lawmakers urged that the United States needs to fund autonomous vehicles more steadfastly. The fear is that the U.S. will fall behind China and other countries in this realm. More funding and emphasis are not bad things, but hasty implementation can produce awful results. » RELATED: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 Many tragedies result from a series of errors, not just one idiot proverbially sitting on the candy-red button. Huang should have been watching where he was driving. The Uber driver should have also. Banner might have picked the wrong time to test his Tesla’s autopilot system at that speed. Tesla needs to beef up the flaws in its miraculous vehicles. Uber and other outfits need to not let convenience breed malfeasance. And the government needs to better balance innovation with safety — and the DOT needs to repair the roads fully. As we have said in this space many times, including in last week’s post about the forgotten dangers of driving: We all help each other in this community on the roads. Despite the aids of technology, we cannot lessen our vigilance and responsibility behind the wheel. Partially autonomous cars are here and could be a Godsend. Fully autonomous vehicles are still en route, and we shouldn’t act as if they have arrived. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com 
  • Last Saturday was unforgettable along I-85 in Norcross. In fact, one didn’t have to be anywhere near the tragedy that exploded into calamity on I-85/northbound at Jimmy Carter Boulevard to see or hear about what will be one of the biggest traffic stories of 2020. A Freightliner tanker truck carrying an 8,500-pound fuel shipment slammed into a car in the second right lane. The Volkswagen had just been in a small crash and stopped in the road. The impact sent the tanker truck sideways and flipping multiple times. The crash killed the drivers of the truck and the car, and it also sent the flammable shipment into massive flames. Fire birthed explosions, as people in the middle of the interstate fled their cars and crews evacuated nearby businesses along Dawson Boulevard. The massive collision caused fuel to leak into the freeway drainage system, catching fire and shooting out of the I-85/southbound drains, shutting that side of the freeway down. » RELATED: Victims ID’d in fatal fiery crash on I-85 in Gwinnett Everything about this conflagration was epic and WSB’s radio and TV coverage began with the keen eyes and ears of Triple Team Traffic reporter Mike Shields. Shields prepared for his top of the hour traffic reports for 95.5 WSB and Channel 2 Action News, duties he shares off-camera on the weekends with Veronica Harrell. At just after 8 a.m., Shields heard both DeKalb and Gwinnett police on our emergency scanner system dispatched to a call.  “I heard them looking for something. They didn’t say what it was, it was a report of a crash,” Shields told Smilin’ Mark McKay and me on our most recent WSB Traffic Podcast. As Shields searched the sensors on our Triple Team Traffic Alerts App and the WSB Jam Cams, everything took a dramatic turn. “I hear this screaming over one of the scanners and I’m like, ‘Oh my goodness.’” A former City of Marietta police officer, Shields knows better than any of us on the team that first responders see enough carnage to not exclaim like that at just anything.  “(I clicked on) always my go-to cam: over there at I-85 and Jimmy Carter — camera 87.” The public can view any GDOT camera, and we on the Traffic Team see them on a private system that makes us one of the few media properties that can actually move them. We do this so often that many of us have certain cameras memorized by number, so they are easier to find. When Shields got “good ol’ 87” to load, the situation was very bad. “It was just this massive ball of fire covering the entire interstate, I-85/northbound,” Shields explained, noting it was 8:01 a.m. - a time he will never forget. “My jaw just dropped. I immediately called our TV producer, Kimberly Page.” Shields continued: “I said, ‘You have to take me now.’” Shields said as soon as Page saw this, she knew it was severe. “At about 8:02 or 8:03 we went live on Channel 2 with it, breaking in.” » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing Shields’ and Page’s quick actions allowed Channel 2 to switch its opening block of the news show and get Shields on the air with this critical information and breathtaking live video. Fire engulfed the freeway in a way Atlanta hasn’t seen since the disastrous I-85 bridge collapse in March of 2017. Atlanta gasped again.  Shields then jumped on 95.5 WSB with the shocking news. “These flames are huge and I’m hearing Gwinnett County say that this may be a tanker truck involved,” Shields dispatched to WSB Radio’s listeners during that 8:05 traffic report, issuing a one of our traffic RED ALERTS for the closure. I-85/southbound would soon join that rank as the fire spread. “At that point we notified our radio news desk and our music stations so that everybody knew what was going on,” Shields said. An event of this magnitude transcends listeners and viewers just interested in news and traffic. It even became a national story, as ABC World News Tonight used an actuality of Shields and Ch. 2 anchor Sophia Choi narrating the harrowing video. The intense fire damaged the pavement on I-85/northbound, forcing crews to have to scrape off the top pavement layer and replace it, GDOT said. While I-85/southbound reopened within a couple of hours, the repaving of I-85/northbound pushed its closure up to dinner time: 10 hours. Shields also noted that after the crash scene cleared, GDOT HERO Units had to tow away abandoned cars, a la 2014’s Snowmageddon. Surreal. I had to call in Alex Williams to fill in on Saturday, unbeknownst to us that I-85 was burning. We each lost our breaths after that phone call. “I got a quick shower and got in there, because I knew I needed to help him,” Williams said of his arrival 45 minutes early. Williams handled most of the radio responsibilities, as Shields did extra reports on Ch. 2. They both dealt with extreme call volume from our Traffic Troopers and had to continue updating our app, Twitter accounts and monitoring the rest of the craziness on the Atlanta roads. Deep into the I-85 closure, I-20/eastbound shut down at Highway 138 (Exit 82) in Conyers with what became a fatality crash investigation. Williams noticed big delays out that way and pulled up a WSB Jam Cam in the area that showed no traffic moving toward it. “Alright, we’ve got another RED ALERT,” Williams recounted. “And this one ended up creeping on for hours, so I had those two things to cover.” 95.5 WSB had to carry UGA basketball that afternoon, so Williams had to work to squeeze in quick traffic reports on these two problems and also somehow also convey the terrible delays on I-285 in both directions in Fulton and Cobb counties near Hollowell Parkway. Construction took out multiple lanes on the west side. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: The urbanist view on street design This was a brain-scrambling mess, but Williams and Shields handled it with poise and urgency, and their extra efforts alerted drivers on the air and digitally as soon as possible of the closures. They gave the context and timeliness that a robot-powered, algorithmic app simply cannot on its own. “We are the Atlanta traffic experts. We’re always on the offensive; we’re always looking for things,” Shields spoke of the entire WSB Traffic Team. And he is one of our newer members. Just as one should be weather-aware in times of severe weather, one should also be traffic-aware. Atlanta’s commute can change terribly at any time. And there is no better place to turn to on the air, on mobile devices, and online than WSB Triple Team Traffic. Last Saturday’s cataclysm is yet another reminder. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com .
  • The first song on CAKE’s 1994 debut album “Motorcade of Generosity” is “Comanche” and repeats this line, “If you want to have cities, you have to build roads.” The line is symbolic, meaning success comes in steps. But in literal practice, the phrase is becoming less true for city developers. Connected or “smart” vehicles and traffic signs and signals are increasing in number, and Georgia has become a cutting-edge testing ground. With a main goal of decreasing traffic delay, the technology is bucking the traditional paths to gridlock relief. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Why I-285 flooded in the same place — twice iATL, the Infrastructure Automotive Technology Lab, just opened two weeks ago off of Haynes Bridge Road just west of GA-400 in Alpharetta. The main room in the brand-new building displays several types of traffic signs and lights on its left wall. Then two long rows of traffic signal boxes, simulating all the types in use around the country, take up the rest of the room. Each box and signal is equipped with wireless radio technology that allows them to communicate with each other — and with smart vehicles. “It all changed on January the 7th, 2019,” iATL director Bryan Mulligan explained. “The reason being is that the Ford Motor Company announced at C.E.S. that they were doing connected vehicles.” Ford became the first automaker to commit to making all of its new vehicles connected by 2022. This means that their entire showroom fleets will soon be able to work with traffic signal settings and other radio-equipped smart cars to decrease congestion and the instance of high-risk maneuvers. These cars will not all be self-driving, but they will be able to prompt drivers to make better decisions and move more freely. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 Enter the entrepreneur Mulligan, who is also the president of Suwanee tech company Applied Information. This firm builds this smart signal technology and also deploys it via its Travel Safely app, which can communicate with traffic signals as a smart vehicle would. Mulligan explained this technology in a Gridlock Guy piece on the North Avenue smart corridor two years ago. Applied Information and an army of other tech firms, automakers, and other stakeholders in the technology and transportation industries are using their strengths in the private sector to innovate and then work with the public sector for traffic solutions.  In metro Atlanta, the City of Marietta was the first to deploy Mulligan’s technology and now equips first responders’ vehicles and CobbLinc buses this way. Traffic lights turn green automatically, for example, for a bus that is behind schedule and has five or more people on board, and the city controls that threshold. Traffic lights also go green for fire trucks and med units on emergency calls. “(The cities using this technology) see that they can deliver better health outcomes by saving heart attack, stroke, accident and opioid victims,” Mulligan explained. Marietta City Manager Bill Bruton told Mulligan the hastened response time is most helpful to those who overdose on opioids, because successfully administering the opioid antidote Narcan is extraordinarily time-critical. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing “The data shows that (smart technology) saves about 11 seconds per intersection, and the paramedics fly between five and six intersections on their way to a call.” So the data has shown Mulligan and city planners that response times have decreased by about a minute. Mulligan calls this a “Day One Application” of his products: They are immediately successful for first responders, before the first civilian smart car ever prevents a crash or before the connected buses alleviate traffic. 125 smart intersections have just gone online in Alpharetta, and the city’s fire trucks are already equipped to trigger these traffic lights. The City of Marietta has continuously grown this technology in its densely populated areas. Atlanta has had the North Avenue smart corridor for more than two years, but now has smart technology on Campbellton Road and is working on it for Martin Luther King Junior Drive. Each of those corridors sees heavy MARTA use, and the city believes connected buses and signals can make big impacts there. This technology is catching on statewide, in fact, as smart speed limit and school-zone signs and signals dot the entire state. Mulligan said that Georgia truly is on the cutting edge in this realm. “There is a very robust and progressive culture here that is not prevalent in the rest of the world,” Mulligan said of both the Georgia private- and the public-sector entities with which he has dealt in the past few years. State officials, including Georgia Lieutenant Governor Geoff Duncan, mingled with stakeholders in the automotive and technological fields at iATL’s recent grand opening. Many chest-pounding events of these are all bark and little bite. But given the sincere interest from cities and automakers and their use of iATL as a testing field for the technology, this wireless wave has some punch. And given that any city that deploys these innovations can nearly guarantee faster emergency-response times means the investment is successful out of the gate. Mulligan estimated that the cost of the entire connected systems that Alpharetta bought roughly equaled the cost to add an extra lane to one intersection. The answer to building cities is no longer just building the roads. Listen to Turnbull’s interview with Mulligan on the WSB Traffic Podcast.  Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com. 
  • “What the flood?” — or some variation thereof — was a likely reaction from commuters stuck in recent watery messes on I-285. The pejoratives have flown twice in 2020. Heavy rain on both Friday, January 3, and during the line of severe storms on Saturday, January 11, caused heavy ponding in the four left lanes of I-285/westbound (Outer Loop) at Ashford Dunwoody Road (Exit 29). In each case, crews took a couple of hours to find and unclog the responsible drain, leading WSB Triple Team Traffic to issue our “GRIDLOCK ALERTS” for the stopped traffic back before I-85/Spaghetti Junction. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: Setting an extremely attainable commuting bar for 2020 The first flood came on the tail end of AM drive and at least one vehicle got stuck in the water. That kind of flooding one time raises eyebrows. But a second occurrence just a week and a day later connects faces and palms. And GDOT has had to wag some fingers. “We had intense or heavy rain in a short amount of time,” GDOT’s Stephen Lively told the AJC. “And then inadvertently the developer and their team had temporarily blocked an outfall, which was in stage construction.” Lively is the construction lead for GDOT’s Office of Innovative Delivery. So this tasks him with making sure various developers hold up their end of the work contracts. The developer of the Transform I-285/GA-400 project is North Perimeter Contractors (NPC), and we talked about their responsibility in maintaining the roads in their project zone last week. Someone on the ground at NPC’s I-285 job in Dunwoody supposedly accidentally blocked a certain drain twice during this rainy period. So Lively and GDOT have had to work to ensure a third mistake doesn’t happen. “We, as an agency, met with them and stressed the importance of maintaining the travel way on I-285 and not ponding water,” Lively explained. He said GDOT’s own inspection team has surveyed the area to make sure it fits their standards. » RELATED: Gridlock Guy: DUI death rates and the easy options to get home safely The other way GDOT can enforce this is to levy certain penalties or consequences spelled out in the contract. Whether those mean fines or not, Lively would not specify, because he said each situation has different factors. He did say that NPC has laid out a plan on how they would prevent that kind of flooding again. Because the flood took up such a large space on such a critical and busy highway, GDOT sent its own crews to un-stop the drains. That job would normally fall under NPC’s scope, but Dunwoody commuters could not afford to wait longer for that smaller firm to alleviate the blockage. GDOT also puts people on the ground in potential trouble spots when they suspect bad weather, so they can assess the area and deploy crews and fixes more expediently. On a smaller level, the flooding closure of Chamblee Dunwoody Road in Chamblee has been a fly in that city’s recent traffic ointment. That low-lying stretch of road has been submerged in water at least three different times since Monday, December 23. Each instance normally lasts multiple days. Again, the same problem occurring multiple times in a short period raises questions. “In the first two weeks of this year, we’ve had about four-and-a-half inches of rain,” Chamblee Public Information Officer Tisa Moore told the AJC. “The intensity of that amount of rain in such a short amount of time, along with the rainfall the prior week, caused the problems on Chamblee Dunwoody Road.” Chamblee PD has had to put up barricades on this popular cut-through between American Industrial Way and New Peachtree Road, because of the inches-deep water collected under the Peachtree Road, MARTA, and railroad overpasses. » RELATED: Remembering WSB’s Pete Combs and the I-85 plane landing “We are pumping the water out so staff can safely get into the drain and place cameras there that will assess the situation,” Moore said. But Moore also said they need a drier weather period to keep the drains clear for repair. Chamblee oversees the traffic in the area, but DeKalb County maintains the sewer system. So much like GDOT’s relationship with NPC, Chamblee has to work in concert with the county to properly fix the problem. And all parties involved in both boondoggles are hoping for a stretch of dry, preferably sunny, days to dry the puddles and take the stress off of the panting drainage systems, work crews, authorities, and motorists. Doug Turnbull, the PM drive Skycopter anchor for Triple Team Traffic on 95.5 WSB, is the Gridlock Guy. He also writes a traffic blog and hosts a podcast with Smilin’ Mark McKay on wsbradio.com. Contact him at Doug.Turnbull@cmg.com. 

News

  • A group of protesters ignored a stay-at-home order so they could gather in front of a North Carolina women’s clinic. The city of Charlotte received complaints Saturday morning about people possibly not following Mecklenburg County’s stay-at-home order. There was a protest at a preferred women’s health center in the Grier Heights neighborhood. “They’re putting our first responders at risk if they have to show up,” Charlotte Mayor Pro Tem Julie Eiselt said. “I just think it’s unconscionable. You can agree or disagree with reproductive health care, but it doesn’t matter. It’s legal. It’s deemed an essential business.”
  • Residents of several communities have come up with a fun way to keep kids entertained while school is out. Cities and towns such as Boston, Walpole, Haverhill, Leominster and others have organized “bear hunts,” where residents place teddy bears in their windows so kids can drive or walk around spotting the bears. “As we take our daily walks, we look at everybody’s windows to see if we can find a teddy bear,” said Candida Shepard, a mother. Shepard’s 4-year-old twins, Payton and Ayden, have taken up the fun activity in their Hyde Park neighborhood as more neighbors join in on the fun. “We saw the teddies in the window,” said Payton. The “bear hunts” are inspired by a children’s book, and residents can add their streets to a map on social media that parents use to trace the route they will take their kids on walks or drives, looking - at a safe distance - for the bears displayed in the windows. “It’s something nice to chime in about rather than something dismal, which is going on right now,” said Mary Francis, who put a teddy bear in her window. The Shepard twins’ grandmother placed teddy bears in her window, enjoying the cheer they bring to the youngest neighbors who have been home from school and stuck in the house. “People are actually walking by with a big smile on their face,” said Francis. Kids and adults alike are entertained and uplifted by the sight of the bears in the windows, a heartwarming illustration of how communities are doing everything they can to take care of each other. As volunteers step up to produce masks and donate supplies to medical workers, initiatives like the bear hunt aim to help keep people’s mental health strong. Something as simple as a teddy bear on a windowsill can be the light in someone’s day. As the twins write encouraging messages for others to stay hopeful during a scary time with their mom, a health care worker, they’re also thinking of their family in Italy. The country has been hit the hardest by the virus, where the outbreak has been the most rampant. “Stay safe from the ‘Canola’ virus,” Ayden wrote. If you want to participate, just search in your local community’s Facebook group to find a bear hunt near you.
  • With more states imposing “safer at home” and quarantine orders because of the coronavirus, families and friends are searching for ways to stay connected. Sure, the telephone works, but more people are using video apps for face-to-face contact. It’s a good way for older citizens to connect with grandchildren without worrying about coming in contact. While hugs may be precious, people are becoming more aware of staying isolated. There are plenty of ways to connect. Here is a look at 12 video-chatting applications: Zoom: This app appears to be geared toward business, but families can use Zoom too. Users initiating a meeting are taken to a virtual room that looks like a table in a conference room. Personal groups of up to 100 people can meet online for free. Business options include packages for sale that allow up to 1,000 participants. Facebook Live: Viewers can connect in real-time from their cellphones, computers and even through their television set. FaceTime: This app, though the Apple store, allows users to make video and audio calls to groups of up to 32 people. FaceTime is available on Apple products including iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch. Facebook Messenger: Similar to FaceTime, Messenger allows free video calling around the world for individuals or groups of up to six. It can be used on cellphones, tablets and computers. Skype: This app has been around for a while. Skype can accommodate groups of up to 50 people worldwide, It can be used on computers, mobile devices, XBox One and even smartwatches. WhatsApp: More than 2 billion users take advantage of the WhatsApp. The mobile app works on Android and iOS platforms, making it a good choice for people with friends owning diverse types of devices. The free app allows groups of up to four users per session. Tango: You know the old phrase. It takes two to Tango, and this app restricts video contact to two people. This free app is good but only two! The free app is good for video calling one other person at a time. You can also make voice calls, send messages and play games using Tango. Google Hangouts: This app is free in its basic form. Google Hangouts allows up to 10 participants at a time. You can even video chat through your Gmail accounts. Instagram: Up to six people can video chat at once via Instagram. Houseparty: This video chat app is owned by Epic Games, which developed Fortnite. Houseparty allows people to play video games or test trivia skills through its interface. It is available through Android, iOS, MacOs and Chrome. Snapchat: With Chat 2.0, Snapchat users can use a full, featured video chat service. Snapchat is free to use, but can chew up a lot of data time. It is recommended to connect to a wireless network before making your call. Viber: The Viber app is good for international calls and one-on-one video calls. Calls between Viber users are free, but a fee will apply for calling people without the app.
  • More than a fifth of Detroit's police force is quarantined; two officers have died from coronavirus and at least 39 have tested positive, including the chief of police. For the 2,200-person department, that has meant officers working doubles and swapping between units to fill patrols. And everyone has their temperature checked before they start work. An increasing number of police departments around the country are watching their ranks get sick as the number of coronavirus cases explodes across the U.S. The growing tally raises questions about how laws can and should be enforced during the pandemic, and about how departments will hold up as the virus spreads among those whose work puts them at increased risk of infection.  »Sign up for our new coronavirus newsletter “I don’t think it’s too far to say that officers are scared out there,” said Sgt. Manny Ramirez, president of Fort Worth Police Officers Association. Nearly 690 officers and civilian employees at police departments and sheriff’s offices around the country have tested positive for COVID-19, according to an Associated Press survey this week of over 40 law enforcement agencies, mostly in major cities. The number of those in isolation as they await test results is far higher in many places. Anticipating shortages, police academies are accelerating coursework to provide reinforcements. Masks, gloves and huge volumes of hand sanitizer have been distributed. Roll call and staff meetings are happening outside, over the phone or online. Precinct offices, squad cars and equipment get deep cleaned in keeping with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance. Yet, many are worried it's not enough. This week, groups representing American police and fire chiefs, sheriffs, mayors and county leaders asked President Donald Trump in a letter to use the Korean War-era Defense Production Act to ensure they have enough protective gear. “We’re in war footing against an invisible enemy and we are on the verge of running out' of protective supplies, said Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo, president of the Major Cities Chiefs Association. “We’ve got hospitals calling police departments, police departments calling each other, and it’s time to nationalize in terms of our response.” Police are accustomed to meeting staffing crunches by canceling vacations and leave, putting officers on 12-hour on, 12-hour off schedules and, when necessary, by shifting detectives and other specialized personnel to patrol. And officers are used to risk. It's part of the job. But at a time when Americans are being advised to stay six feet from each other to combat an insidious virus that can live on surfaces for days, the perils and anxieties are new. This crisis is unlike any American police forces have dealt with before, said former Boston Police Commissioner Ed Davis. “We're in unprecedented territory here,” said Davis, who led the police department when the Boston Marathon bombing happened in 2013. Streets are less crowded as people hunker in their homes. But police must prepare for the possibility of civil unrest among people who become anxious or unhappy about government orders or hospitals that get overrun with patients, he said. In New York, which has rapidly become the American epicenter of the pandemic, more than 500 NYPD personnel have come down with COVID-19, including 442 officers, and the department's head of counter-terrorism was hospitalized with symptoms. Two NYPD employees have died. On a single day this week, Friday, 4,111 uniformed officers called in sick, more than 10% of the force and more than three times the daily average. Leadership at America’s largest police department maintains that it’s continuing enforcement as usual. But they’ve also said that if the disease continues to affect manpower the NYPD could switch patrol hours, or pull officers from specialized units and other parts of the city to fill gaps -- steps also taken after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death. But the U.S. is now leading the world in the number of confirmed cases; more than 100,000. Over 1,700 people have died in the country. And doctors say cases are nowhere near peaking. Chuck Wexler, executive director of the Police Executive Research Forum, based in Washington, D.C., said police can't just go out of business. “They need to have ways so that if one person goes down, who’s going to back that person up, so departments are having to be innovative,” he said. In big cities and remote areas alike, officers are being told to issue tickets or summons rather than making arrests for minor crimes. More crime reports are being taken by phone or online. These steps to limit exposure come as police must beef up patrols in shuttered business districts and manage spikes in domestic violence. In Detroit, officials say many of those quarantined should return to duty soon. In the meantime, an assistant chief recently released from quarantine is heading up day-to-day operations while Chief James Craig is out. Many officers are also worried about whether they'll be able to draw workers compensation benefits if they get sick, since the coronavirus is not spelled out in the list of covered conditions. “No one really knows,” said Robert Jenkins, president of the Florida State Lodge of the Fraternal Order of Police union, which covers 22,000 officers. “Unfortunately, we have to be out there. We don’t have a choice.” While the pandemic has so far hit American cities hardest, rural law enforcement agencies with few staff are in some ways most vulnerable. In the tiny West Texas community of Marfa, Police Chief Estevan Marquez instructed his four officers not to pull over cars for minor traffic infractions, especially if they're passing through from areas already hit by the virus. He can't afford for anyone to get sick.
  • Tom Coburn, a former U.S. senator from Oklahoma known as a conservative political maverick, died after a battle with prostate cancer, according to The Associated Press. He was 72. Coburn retired from the Senate in 2015 after being diagnosed with cancer. He served two terms from 2005 to 2015, KOKI reported. “Oklahoma has lost a tremendous leader, and I lost a great friend today,' U.S. Sen. James Lankford said in a statement. “Dr. Coburn was an inspiration to many in our state and our nation. He was unwavering in his conservative values, but he had deep and meaningful friendships with people from all political and personal backgrounds. He was truly respected by people on both sides of the aisle.” In the Senate, Coburn was the ranking member of the Committee on Homeland Security and also served on the committees on Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs; Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions; and Intelligence. From 1995 to 2001, Coburn represented Oklahoma’s 2nd Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. A family physician, Coburn was a member of the Committee on Commerce, where he sat on the subcommittees on Health and Environment as vice-chairman, Energy & Power, and Oversight and Investigations. Coburn was also selected co-chair of the President’s Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS in 2001. Services for Coburn have not been announced, KOKI reported.
  • Florida senior citizens who live in a downtown Orlando high-rise flickered the lights of their apartments Friday in a show of support for the doctors and nurses who are trying to thwart the spread of the coronavirus. Residents of Westminster Towers flickered their apartment lights at 9 p.m. to show support for the medical professionals working at Orlando Health. “Tonight, we flashed all of our lights to show our thanks to the hero health care workers at Orlando Regional Medical Center as they work hard to treat the sick and keep us safe from COVID-19,” Westminster Towers said on Facebook. “Thank you.” The display could be seen from the hospital campus, which is near the apartment building. “Thank you (Westminster Towers) for lighting up the night and our hearts,” the hospital network said on Facebook. “We’re all in this together.”