In Orange County, California, locals joke that the term SigAlert stands for “Stay in garage!” Some even refer to a SigAlert as “the S word.”
That’s because a SigAlert is a message issued by the California Highway Patrol (CHP) to warn Orange County and other Southern California drivers when one or more lanes of freeway traffic will be closed for at least 30 minutes due to an “unplanned event,” such as a car crash or spilled cargo-a nuisance that is the traffic equivalent of a very bad hair day.
If you’re lucky, a SigAlert means your car will move at the pace of a golf cart or speedy snail unless you’re smart enough to take an alternate route.
The SigAlert concept began as a deal between Los Angeles radio station KMPC and the Los Angeles police department based on a suggestion by one of the radio station’s owners, Loyd C. “Sig” Sigmon, after whom the term SigAlert was named (although, for obvious reasons, some people mistakenly think the sig in SigAlert is derived from the word signal). At the time, police complained they were too busy to respond to telephone inquiries from radio station traffic reporters about freeway slow-downs, so they agreed to Sigmon’s proposal to emit a special tone on their police radios that local radio stations could pick up on short wave receivers whenever a significant traffic jam occurred. Back then, the radio stations would play an announcement recorded by the Los Angeles Police Department describing the traffic delay du jour.
These days SigAlerts are sent by the California Highway Patrol, and they can be accessed by Orange County commuters as well as the broadcast media directly from the CHP website (click here cad.chp.ca.gov). For those already on the road, SigAlert messages are also posted on electronic signs on the Orange County freeways.
Another way to get SigAlert messages is from privately owned SigAlert.com, a web-based traffic monitoring service that was recently purchased by giant media company Westwood. On the Sigalert.com website you can view maps of Orange County and elsewhere that show freeway speeds on the route you are going to take-real-time data the Sigalert.com website obtains from CalTrans, which embeds speed sensors throughout the Orange County freeway system, as well as roadways throughout Southern California.
Although much of the information on the Sigalert.com website can be accessed for free, hard-core commuters can sign up for a premium service called My Sigalert and receive personalized traffic alerts concerning their frequently traveled routes (such as their commute to and from work). Sigalert.com will send My Sigalert users an email or text message whenever a traffic incident occurs on one of their pre-saved routes, enabling them to take an alternate route or postpone their trip. Because Sigalert.com is accessible by iPhone and other wireless phone devices, no special app is needed.
Though SigAlerts have come a long way from police radio signals and shortwave receivers, one thing has not changed in Southern California since the idea of Sigalerts was first hatched in the 1950s by Loyd C. “Sig” Sigmon of KMPC -traffic. Ironically, the father of Sigalert moved back to Oklahoma during the last decade of his life, where he no longer had to worry about getting trapped in a Southern California-style traffic jam.