Student aims to save lives of police with Systems 11-66

East Carolina University students Hanna Johns and Chris Lamb stand by their display for Systems 11-66 during the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge. Systems 11-66 is a portable traffic signal designed to keep police officers from having to direct traffic at busy intersections when the regular traffic signal is inoperable. (Photo by Ken Buday)

When a traffic light goes down, police call out a code of 11-66 on their radios.

That’s the inspiration behind an East Carolina University student’s product that she believes will save lives.

Hanna Johns, a senior industrial distribution and logistics major, displayed Systems 11-66 during the first round of the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge on Oct. 15. She was among 12 teams out of 123 that entered to advance to the second round of the business pitch competition, which is scheduled for 6-8:30 p.m. Nov. 20 in room 249 of the Main Campus Student Center.

In the simplest of terms, Systems 11-66 is a portable stoplight that can be attached to a police car or support vehicle that will keep police officers from having to direct traffic when a signal light is inoperable. Johns said the inspiration for the device came when she was at Crabtree Valley Mall in Raleigh during a severe storm that caused flooding and knocked out power.

“They had a police officer in the middle of the road right where you turn in directing traffic, and I thought he could get hit, so that’s where this idea developed from,” Johns said.

Johns and her team are working on a prototype now that she believes will be a less expensive alternative to other temporary traffic signals that can cost $300,000.

“We’re going to sell these for around $150,000,” Johns said, adding that the price could be less. “I want them to be affordable for the everyday police force.”

Johns said Systems 11-66 would be portable enough to fit in support vehicles, and when needed, could be hooked to vehicles, extended into the air and operated remotely to help protect police officers from having to stand in the middle of busy intersections to direct traffic.

“The top three things that are causes of deaths of police officers are gun violence, 9/11 related illnesses and vehicles,” Johns said. “I can’t do anything about gun violence and I can’t do anything about 9/11 related illnesses, but I can definitely mitigate vehicle deaths and allow police officers to be out of the way, which puts them at a safe distance. I’d rather have the car be hit than a police officer.”

Johns has pitched the idea of Systems 11-66 to the Greenville Police Department and others.

“They are very interested in it, and most of the eastern seaboard has been very positive in regard to this,” she said.

She has brought on fellow student Chris Lamb to help market and sell the device.

“He’s been a really big help,” Johns said. “He’s a big sales guy. He’s very good at what he does.”

In the end, whether Systems 11-66 wins the Pirate Entrepreneurship Challenge or not, Johns plans to keep moving forward with the project.

“This is something that’s going to save lives,” she said. “If I can save just one person, that’s enough for me. I would rather have this product be damaged than a human life be damaged.”

ECU, the College of Business and the Miller School of Entrepreneurship sponsor the challenge, which is now in its third year. The winner will receive more than $100,000 in cash prizes and in-kind services, making it the largest student-focused entrepreneurship competition in the University of North Carolina system, according to organizers. The challenge is scheduled to conclude in February of 2020.

– By Ken Buday, University Communications