New city traffic devices aren't 'Big Brother'

By Julie Fann
STAR STAFF
jfann@starhq.com

  
You may have noticed them - tiny little cameras above you resembling two round eyes that stare while your car is stopped at every traffic light on Broad Street. You may wonder if someone is watching you apply your make-up or examine your morning shave.
   Seeing a camera in such a public location can elicit paranoid responses even from the most sane of individuals. However, Elizabethton city engineer Mike Potter says they are not 'Big Brother'.
   "Those are pre-emption devices for emergency vehicles. They are all installed, but they're not operational at the moment. We're having to attach some new cabinetry," Potter said.
   According to Potter, an emitter is mounted in the inside, or on top of, the cab of each emergency vehicle, allowing the driver to change the traffic light from red to green by flipping a switch.
   "The emitter sends out a strobe light that, when it sees the eye on the device, signals the control cabinet, freezing all other directions with a red ball and giving the vehicle a green light," Potter said.
   As a result, drivers of emergency vehicles won't be forced to drive around traffic that is stopped. Instead, they will be able to change the light's color, restoring the flow of traffic and allowing them to get to their destination.
   City engineers have also installed video detection cameras at the intersection of Broad Street at Wal-Mart. Potter clarified the cameras aren't used for surveillance but for detection, monitoring the flow of traffic to change the traffic light when needed.
   "They work in replacement of in-ground loops, sensing the traffic and allowing it to move more smoothly," Potter said.
   The city will be working on the traffic pre-emption devices for the next two weeks, preparing them for operation.