Emergency Transportation Operations
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Procedures for Major Incidents

Major incidents present the greatest challenge to even the most organized TIM program. They can involve hours-long road closures, hazardous materials spills, extreme weather conditions, and multi-vehicle pile-ups.

Levels/Severity of Incident

Some areas have found it helpful to responding agencies to classify incidents according to criteria defining three or four levels of severity. A Level 1 incident might be a disabled vehicle or a non-blocking incident, while a Level 4 incident might be a fatal crash or a major hazmat incident. Each level defines different levels of severity to responding agencies even before they reach the site. The levels might also define different traffic management procedures or imply different lengths of expected incident duration, traffic impact, and resources needed. The purpose for defining "levels" is to more easily classify the magnitude of an incident in terms that all responding parties can identify and understand.

The new Chapter 6I – Control of Traffic Trough Traffic Incident Management Areas of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices identifies minor, intermediate, and major traffic incidents based on expected time of duration and traffic control procedures for these levels. The levels of severity may be similarly based or may be based on some measure of complexity at the incident scene such as nature of the incident, number of responding agencies, or a combination of number of lanes closed and expected duration of their closure.

Major Incident Response Teams

One effective way to mitigate the effects of a major incident is to have a designated Major Incident Response Team. Made up of senior-level agency members from all concerned agencies, this team is available on a 24/7 basis to respond to a major incident. The members of the team should be high enough in rank or position to lead their agencies forces on-scene and command that additional resources from their agencies be brought to the scene without obtaining approval from higher-ranking officials in their agency. There is also an advantage in having the same people involved in command at an incident scene. Over time, these people develop a trust and respect for each other's abilities, judgment, and knowledge.

Resource Lists

Another important way to mitigate the effects of a major incident and to speed up clearance is to have a pre-identified contact list of persons and equipment resources (including special equipment) for incident clearance and hazardous materials response. Many agencies have lists of resources available to them that might be compiled into a more comprehensive list available to all. Emergency Management agencies typically compile such lists.

Pre-Staged Equipment

To further expedite clearance, equipment can be pre-staged for timely access. Equipment should be catalogued, its location known to responders, and means of bringing it to the scene arranged (e.g., standard trailer hooks on various types of responding vehicles from different agencies). Traffic control equipment (signs, cones, flares, arrow boards, portable dynamic message signs, etc.) can also be staged in strategic locations so that can be quickly accessed and brought to the incident.

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