Traffic Incident Management Partners
Traffic Incident Management is a planned and coordinated program process to detect, respond to, and remove traffic incidents and restore traffic capacity as safety and quickly as possible. This coordinated process involves a number of public and private sector partners, including:
Law enforcement agencies include State Police and Highway Patrols, County Police and County Sheriffs, Township and Municipal Police and other agencies which have officers sworn to enforce laws. On the scene of a traffic incident the duties of these officials include:
Jurisdiction of law enforcement agencies varies widely from state to state and even within a state. Typically, State Police and Highway Patrols have jurisdiction on State highways and county and municipal police have jurisdiction off the State highway system. State Police and Highway Patrols have statewide coverage and many lack sufficient resources to adequately respond to incidents on State highways in urban areas. In many locations, State law enforcement agencies receive assistance from county and local agencies and in some cases local law enforcement has jurisdiction even on State highways.
Law enforcement agencies are first responders at traffic incident scenes, providing 24-hour emergency response and operating under a paramilitary command structure. At most traffic incidents, law enforcement officers act alone and trained to make unilateral command decisions.
Fire and rescue services are provided by county and municipal fire departments, and by surrounding fire departments through mutual aid agreements. Typical roles and responsibilities at traffic incidents assumed by fire and departments include:
In most jurisdictions, the fire department is the primary emergency response agency for hazardous materials spills. Like law enforcement agencies, fire and rescue departments also operate as first responders under a well-defined command structure providing 24-hour emergency response. Unlike law enforcement, who operate individually for most duties, fire departments operate under a highly organized team structure with the close supervision of a commanding officer. Fire departments and emergency medical service providers (EMS) also act at the direction of one decision maker, and may not respond individually to requests from other response agencies unless their command officer directs them to do so.
In most large urban areas, fulltime professional personnel staff fire and rescue departments. In many suburban and in most rural areas, volunteers primarily provide fire and rescue services.
The primary responsibilities of EMS are the triage, treatment, and transport of crash victims. In many areas, fire and rescue companies provide emergency medical services. In some areas, other agencies or private companies provide these services to local jurisdictions under contract. Typical roles and responsibilities assumed by EMS at traffic incidents include:
Emergency medical services have evolved as primary care givers to individuals needing medical care in emergencies. As with police, emergency medical personnel have a defined set of priorities. They focus on providing patient care, crash victim rescue, and ensuring the safety of their personnel.
Transportation agencies are typically responsible for the overall planning and implementation of traffic incident management programs. Typically, these agencies are also involved in the development, implementation, and operation of traffic operations centers (TOC), as well as the management of service patrols. Typical operational responsibilities assumed by transportation agencies and their service patrols include:
Transportation agencies are secondary responders. That is, they are typically called to the incident scene by first responders, usually law enforcement. Transportation agencies are rarely connected directly to public safety emergency communications and dispatch systems.
Public safety communications services are the 911 call takers and dispatchers. In larger urban areas, call taking and dispatching duties may be separated. Call takers route emergency calls to appropriate dispatch. In some areas, all public safety emergency calls (police, fire and rescue, and emergency medical) are handled in one joint center with call takers sending calls to appropriate agency dispatch depending on the nature of the call. In smaller urban areas and in many rural areas, call-takers may also dispatch public safety response. Most larger urban areas have E911 capabilities so that call takers can obtain the location of landline 911 calls. Many rural areas do not yet have E911. Most calls on highway emergencies come from cellular telephones that are currently not able to provide location information for 911 calls.
State and local governments have agencies whose duties are to plan for and coordinate multi-agency response to large-scale emergencies such as natural and man-made disasters. They have specific responsibilities under both federal and state law. Even very large highway incidents rarely activate emergency response plans unless they necessitate evacuation due to a spill or presence of hazardous materials. Emergency management agencies maintain lists of the location of many public and private sector resources that might be needed in a major emergency. These lists and contacts for activating resources are valuable tools in planning multi-agency response to major highway incidents.
Towing and recovery service providers are responsible for the safe and efficient removal of wrecked or disabled vehicles, and debris from the incident scene. Their typical responsibilities include:
Towing and recovery companies are secondary responders operating under a towing arrangement usually maintained by a law enforcement agency. Towing and recovery arrangements generally fall under one of two major types – rotation or contract. In rotation towing, a police department will maintain a list of pre-qualified companies and will rotate the call of those companies. In many locations, rotation lists are classified by specific company capabilities so that a company with only automobile towing equipment doesn't get called to a truck incident. Rotation lists may also be maintained by location zones so that companies closer to the incident scene will get called. In contract towing, companies are contracted to provide specific services on call. The contracts are often awarded through a bidding process and qualification requirements to bid may be more rigid than requirements for placement on a rotation list. Contracts may also be awarded on a zone basis to help enable response by the closest qualified company.
Towing and recovery companies that respond to highway incidents are indispensable components of all incident management programs. Even programs that include service patrols with relocation capability depend heavily on towing and recovery service providers. Challenges facing this industry are unique because they are not public agencies. As such, they must remain profitable to retain a skilled work force, purchase and maintain expensive and complex equipment, and to stay in business.
Hazardous materials contractors operate in a number of regions in the United States. They are hired by emergency or transportation authorities to clean up and dispose of toxic or hazardous materials. Most common (and small quantity) engine fluid spills (oil, diesel fuel, gasoline, anti-freeze, etc.) can be contained and cleaned up without calling hazardous materials contractors.
Traffic information service providers are primarily private sector companies that gather and disseminate traffic condition information. These private providers are the primary source of information for commercial radio traffic information broadcasts, the most common source of traffic information for motorists. These companies also package specific information on a route or time of day basis to paying clients who subscribe for the information. In recent years, many Internet sites have been created to provide road condition and traffic information. A mixture of public sector agencies and private information service providers maintains these sites.
In 2000, the federal Communications Commission approved 511 as a national traffic information telephone number. Activity is underway in some locations to provide traffic information through a 511 number. For more information on 511, please go to the FHWA Operations Real Time Traveler Information web site.