Emergency Transportation Operations

Section 1. Introduction and Background

Incidents continue to be a major source of congestion on freeways. Because of the significance of incidents on traffic operations, law enforcement, emergency service providers, and transportation agencies are banning together in many metropolitan areas in the United States to practice "incident management." Incident management is defined as the "systematic, planned, and coordinated use of human, institutional, mechanical, and technical resources to reduce the duration and impact of incidents, and improve the safety of motorist, crash victims, and incident responders." [1]

The level of incident management varies considerably from location to location. Many locations in the United States use motorist assistance patrols or service patrols that roam the freeways looking for incidents and providing necessary assistance to clear stalled or disabled vehicles off the roadway. Other locations have built a complex traffic control system that uses video surveillance cameras and automatic incident detection systems to monitor the status of the freeway and detect potential problem situations. Regardless of the size and complexity of the incident management system in operations, decision-makers and operators want to know how well the goals and objectives of their incident management systems are currently being met.

Performance monitoring (or measurement) is the "use of statistical evidence to determine progress toward specific defined organizational objectives." [2] Through performance measurement, transportation agencies and emergency response providers can accomplish the following:

  • Set goals and objectives defining how well their incident detection and response capabilities should be in their communities;
  • Detect problems with their incident management procedures in their area and identify corrective measures for addressing these problems,
  • Manage, describe, and improve the incident response in their area, and
  • Document the accomplishments, benefits, and effectiveness of their response process.

In many locations throughout the United States, different agencies with different primary missions are responsible for different elements of the incident response process. For example, the mission of a transportation agency is to restore the normal flow of traffic on the freeway as quickly as possible while the primary mission of emergency service providers is prevention of further loss of life and property. During an incident event, different agencies with normally separate (and sometime competing) missions converge. Before improvements in the response can be discussed and identified, the different agencies have to understand each other's perspective.


The goal of this task order is to begin the process of understanding the perspective of the different response agencies. The specific objectives of the task order are as follows:

  • To provide a better understanding of how agencies measure their performance in organized traffic incident management; and
  • To identify the difference, if any, in the definitions of relevant measures of performance in incident management (such as detection time, response time, clearance time, etc.).


The scope of this task order was limited to the preparation, execution, and reporting of the results of a survey of transportation, law enforcement, fire, and EMS/rescue agencies as well as the preparation, execution, and reporting of the results of the pertinent literature on the measures used by agencies to gauge the performance of their incident management systems. The scope of this project did not include any field studies to collect any performance measures from actual incident management systems. The researchers relied upon the results of the survey and the literature review to form their conclusions and recommendations.


A two-pronged approach was used to examine the issues of incident management performance measures. The first prong was to review the available transportation and emergency services literature related to measuring the performance of incident management systems in the United States. Both traditional transportation databases as well as non-traditional databases were searched looking for pertinent literature. Most of the literature related to emergency services was identified, however, through Internet searches.

As the second prong to the approach, TTI conducted a survey of representatives from traffic, law enforcement, and emergency service providers with active incident management program. The survey team asked a series of prepared questions in telephone interviews. The questions represented the basic level of information that was to be collected from each area. The same general questions were asked of both transportation agency and emergency service provider representatives.

Organization of Report

The remainder of this report is divided into three sections. Section 2 presents the results of a search of transportation and emergency provider literature, specifically focused on traffic incident management. Section 3 presents the results of a survey of practitioners that deal with incident management on a daily basis. Section 4 contains recommendations and suggested future research dealing with performance measures for incident management.

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