Emergency Transportation Operations

4. TIM Program Support – Communications and Information Exchange

4.1 Introduction

This chapter summarizes operational, tactical, and institutional support to effective communication and information exchange, and reviews common challenges, as well as successfully implemented approaches. This chapter also presents an overview of related policies and provides information on where readers can learn more.

The operational domain of Traffic Incident Management (TIM) spans a broad range of incident types (as discussed in chapter 1 of the Handbook), ranging from simple roadside debris incidents to major natural or manmade emergencies that affect our Nation's roadways. Further, TIM involves more than just incident clearance; it involves managing the traffic affected by the incident that may affect just one facility or the overall transportation system or network. As incidents increase in complexity and scale, so do the number and types of responders involved who must communicate effectively to manage the incident, while minimizing further risk to responder and driver safety.

While large-scale and
catastrophic incidents
are rare, it is clear that
even seemingly small
improvements in
efficiency or effectiveness
that are mastered in
traditional incidents
can translate into
dramatic life-saving
strategies when
implemented in
catastrophic events.

State and local transportation and public safety agencies manage the vast majority of traffic incidents at the local level. Larger-scale incidents may involve agencies from multiple jurisdictions; and incidents of national significance, managed in accordance with the National Incident Management System (NIMS), involve a host of Federal, local, and State response agencies. The responsibilities of the multiple jurisdictions and agencies involved have the potential to overlap. Agencies must manage resources effectively, including technology, to maximize the effectiveness and safety of incident management efforts.

Effective interoperable interagency communications and information exchange[127] are vital to TIM. The different and responding agencies need access to important pieces of information that other agencies know or collect to better manage and improve on-scene operations. The term "interoperable" refers to "the ability of two or more systems or components to exchange information and to use the information that has been exchanged."[128] It is not enough for TIM response partner agencies to be able to send and receive data or information; they must develop common terminology, definitions, and usage to facilitate understanding.

Lessons learned from incidents of all sizes occurring in all areas within the United States point to the critical importance of effective communications, information exchange, and shared use of supporting technologies for an effective TIM program. TIM responders in California identified as joint strategies the development of interoperable communication systems; establishment of interagency protocols and agreements; joint training and debriefs; and standard terminology for improving overall TIM.[129]

According to Captain Henry deVries, a national TIM leader from the New York State Police, "Clearing incidents safely and quickly depends on developing coordinated multi-agency operations that are supported by integrated communications."[130]

Sponsored by the Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission, the multi-jurisdictional I-295/I-76/NJ 42 Incident Management Task Force notes that integrated communications support "will improve the safety of responding agency personnel, reduce the chance of an associated traffic accident, and minimize the amount of apparatus and number of personnel responding onto the highway."[131]

4.2 Background

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) NIMS describes four levels of incident-related communications: strategic, tactical, support, and public address. Communications occur across all of these levels in TIM response as described here:

  • Strategic Communications: These communications include those practices and protocols established by a TIM Team and measured by responder comprehension and actions while managing an incident. Strategic communications also includes gathering and consolidating multiple pieces of data used to evaluate and improve operations.
  • Tactical Communications: From the TIM perspective, tactical communications occur between a public safety answering point (PSAP) and a Traffic Management Center (TMC), and between responders on scene during an incident.
  • Support Communications: These communications include the actions required for activation of non-traditional resources to support tactical operations.[132]
  • Public Address Communications: These communications include traveler information, emergency alerts and warnings, and communications among response agencies and the media (via on-site press briefings, television and radio broadcasts, local news and transportation and/or law enforcement agency Web sites, etc.).

Figure 10 illustrates all agencies that potentially may be involved in responding to an incident and the types of information the various agencies need to perform their incident response activities.[133] Without multi-agency communications and information-exchange capabilities, these agencies collect data and information and operate based on their own information. This narrow view limits the effectiveness both of the agencies individually, as well as the overall TIM response.

For mass casualty incidents, additional national-level organizations, such as through DHS' Homeland Security Advisory System (HSA),[134] various U.S. Military resources, FEMA, and the U.S. Secret Service,[135] also may be employed as needed to supplement the organizations defined in the NTIMC's Prompt, Reliable Traffic Information Systems brochure.

Drawing of an emergency incident and the agencies involved
Figure 10. Information Flows in Emergency Response.

The Need for Communications and Information Exchange in TIM

In reviewing each responder's information needs, it is clear that much of the data collected by a particular agency also benefits other responding agencies. For example, each agency shown in Figure 10 requires information about hazardous materials (Hazmat). While the use of the data may be different—e.g., transportation focuses on cleanup and traffic management and law enforcement focuses on the potential public safety threat—obtaining this information on a real-time basis from the first responder can significantly improve TIM.

Figure 10 also illustrates the information needs of various responders, and how intelligent transportation systems (ITS) support incident management. For example, calls for emergency incident response made to a PSAP responsible for 9-1-1 calls (the notification box) are routed to fire, and public safety agencies. Integrating a TMC with the PSAP (or the PSAP's computer-aided dispatch [CAD] system) could enable transportation agencies to more efficiently initiate support operations such as traffic management, traffic diversion, and provide real-time traveler information. If a TMC were able to share a video feed from a closed-circuit television (CCTV) system with other responders, those responders could tailor their own incident response activities to identify Hazmat spills, the presence and seriousness of injuries, or to determine whether extrication is needed. For incidents that occur on a road system not covered by ITS, integrating a TMC with a responding law enforcement CAD system could provide the TMC with dispatch notification and an incident log whenever a public safety responder is dispatched to an incident. These examples demonstrate the complex nature and diversity of communications used to support TIM. These examples also illustrate the overlapping information each responding agency needs to perform its role on scene.

Today, most jurisdictions have invested in the development of emergency call centers (PSAPs), which receive 911 calls. These call centers are staffed by highly trained professional dispatch personnel, who use the latest technology to identify the caller and dispatch the closest emergency services to the scene. TMCs provide critical support communications to agencies involved with TIM and the traveling public. These entities act as important multi-agency coordination hubs in TIM, and often host the systems that maintain the data archives for incidents.

The growing integration of ITS into roadway infrastructure and operations centers; the continued expansion of regional approaches to transportation operations; and the increased appreciation of the role of TIM and emergency transportation operations in homeland security are helping to improve multi-jurisdictional TIM information and data exchange. To activate multi-disciplinary response resources, the exchange of information between agencies must be accurate and timely. Co-location of personnel from different agencies facilitates real-time communication at an operational level for more coordinated and efficient decision-making and resource allocation.

The most efficient way to accomplish real-time, accurate information exchange is to develop interoperable systems that can electronically exchange data. Real-time communication and information exchange requires institutional, technical, and operational coordination among agencies, operational support centers, and systems.

Multi-Agency Communication and Information Exchange in TIM

Effective communication among responder agencies is essential, even for minor incidents. When considering a scenario in which a motor vehicle is blocking a travel lane on a major highway, the following activities may occur:

The PSAP receives a cellular 911 call reporting a disabled vehicle. The local law enforcement and transportation agencies have a shared functional responsibility to maintain safety and mobility of the highway by ensuring quick response to any lane-blocking incident.

The law enforcement agency and the PSAP are informed that the nearest police cruiser is miles away and involved in a motor vehicle stop based on data transmitted from an Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) device that automatically tracks the vehicle's location and transmits this information back to the PSAP and law enforcement agency.

The PSAP and the local TMC share a common mutual aid/frequency channel. Based on a predetermined protocol, the PSAP uses this common channel to notify the TMC. Using its own radio system, the TMC dispatches a service patrol capable of immediate response. The TMC uses its CCTV to locate the disabled vehicle, and guide the service patrol to the disabled vehicle's exact location. The service patrol vehicle is able to clear the incident before it disrupts the flow of normal traffic.

Because the TMC shares video with the PSAP in real time, law enforcement personnel are kept apprised of the incident's status from the point of notification stages through to its final clearance.

During this incident, the Department of Transportation (DOT) provided the emergency response, while at the same time saving the police agency valuable resources.

4.3 Support to TIM Communications and Information Exchange

4.3.1 Operational Support

This section presents an overview of operational centers that support communications and information exchange among responders to facilitate effective TIM:

  • PSAPs: The PSAP often serves as the point of origin for TIM-related information exchange and communication since it receives and processes 911 calls and other requests for assistance, and serves as the main dispatch center for law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services. CAD is the PSAP's primary information system and most common means used to manage and dispatch multiple response vehicles from the PSAP. When a PSAP operator/dispatcher receives a call for service, the information is entered into the CAD system.

    A typical CAD system includes other functions in addition to receiving emergency call information and dispatching emergency responders. The CAD system also tracks the locations of the closet available units, the locations of other units, the status of previously dispatched units, and the disposition of a call for service. Emergency units equipped with mobile data terminals may be dispatched or otherwise communicate using message units rather than voice, a practice referred to as "silent communication". Silent communication is often needed when voice channels are inappropriate for the sensitive nature of the information to be exchanged or when the radio channels become overcrowded during major incidents with multiple responders. The CAD may have interoperability with other PSAPs or TMCs. An agency can archive the data from its CAD system and maintain the information in agency records.

    A growing number of jurisdictions are integrating PSAP CAD systems into TMC operations to facilitate the real-time exchange of incident data. Examples of successful CAD-TMC integration include:
    Photo of a Traffic Management Center, showing workers looking at multiple large-screen monitors
    • Traffic Management Center (TMC): Designed to monitor traffic conditions and manage traffic management resources in a specific metropolitan or regional area. TMCs are staffed by representatives from the transportation agency, law enforcement, and other emergency service agencies, whose personnel share space and which sometimes have interoperable systems in the center. The TMC is the heart of an effective TIM program, and for mature TIM programs, is the single point of contact among responder agencies for highway incidents. These centers use the transportation tools of facility surveillance and traffic monitoring. Using a TMC as the primary point of contact for all responder agencies confirms the concept that TIM also is about managing traffic affected by the incident that may impact not just one facility, but the overall transportation system or network.

      Many jurisdictions staff TMCs on a 24 hour/7 day per week basis. A TMC uses ITS to monitor and manage real-time traffic conditions. Ideally, the TMC also receives and integrates data from the PSAP's CAD system and TMC systems to enable faster and more efficient incident detection, verification, and response.

      TMC operators can take steps to reduce congestion, dispatch resources, and make appropriate actions based on intelligence-driven decision-making data. Traffic engineers use automated traffic control signals and other devices to control traffic into, or divert traffic away from, congested areas. Instant access to decision-making data enables traffic engineers to respond to solve traffic problems quickly. TMC staff use a combination of ITS (CCTV, fiber optic cables, loop detectors) to advise motorists (through changeable or variable/dynamic message signs [VMS/DMS], highway advisory radio [HAR], the Internet, and other forms of traveler information) of current traffic conditions and alternate routes.
    • AZTech™ in Phoenix, Arizona: Awarded "Best of ITS" in 2005 for integration of ITS and center-to-center communications in its TMC, this regional, multi-agency coalition has co-located law enforcement, transportation, and fire services, along with extensive ITS, into its TMC. TMC operators have access to law enforcement, fire, and PSAP dispatch, and can control DMS, 511, and Internet-based traveler information from their desktops. They have real-time access to non-sensitive law enforcement CAD data (AZTech blocks sensitive data, and because of privacy concerns and given the volume of data, the center has not yet implemented automated data exchange between systems). Operators are able to support TIM response through extensive CCTV coverage and via direct voice and data access to responders.
    • Florida DOT (FDOT) CAD-TMC integration: Florida is deploying CAD-TMC integration statewide. FDOT District 4 has deployed an Interagency Video Event Data Distribution System (iVEDDS) that enables member agencies to view incident data in real time. Software captures data for use in analyzing incident performance metrics. Details such as agency arrival and departure times, location, and traffic conditions are available, as are images and video from all District 4 CCTV cameras. TMCs in the region are establishing center-to-center connections for interconnectivity to the various TMCs. The District uses this information to facilitate communications between TMCs and update the statewide 511 Automated Traveler Information System (ATIS) system, which all the TMCs manage directly (no separate 511 provider). Staff can use iVEDDS via desktop or mobile devices. TMC staff verifies all information before posting it onto iVEDDS.
    • Real-time data sharing in New York City, New York (NY): Operated by the New York Department of Transportation (NYDOT), the New York City's Integrated Incident Management System (IIMS) enables incident response personnel to transmit data about an incident to other responders and dispatchers on a real-time basis. When an incident is entered into IIMS, the system uses a Global Positioning System (GPS) to identify the incident's exact location. Using a digital camera, response personnel can take and transmit pictures of an incident. The system creates an incident log, including timestamps on incident duration, and enables responders to exchange data about the incident. Deployed in each New York City borough, IIMS is used by New York State and New York City transportation, law enforcement, and emergency response personnel. IIMS data exchange capabilities have helped to reduce incident response time by enabling responders to verify incidents and identify what response assets they need.

4.3.2 Technical Support

ITS Support

TIM professionals use many communications and information exchange technologies to support incident detection and verification and to coordinate overall incident response. In the past, incident detection and verification largely occurred via CCTV observation, service patrols and/or call boxes. With the proliferation of personal cellular phones and in-vehicle communications systems, incident detection has become more efficient, with motorists reporting incidents. TMC staffs increasingly use technologies such as CCTV to monitor and guide more efficient incident response and traffic operations (by providing responders with information based on visual monitoring of the incident scene, surrounding traffic conditions and possible diversion routes).

Many States have invested in ITS deployment in roadways to monitor traffic conditions. ITS technologies may include roadway and traffic data collection devices, such as weather and traffic detectors, as well as DMS, ramp metering, and adaptive signal control devices, which help regulate traffic.

The TMC is the focal point for receipt, analysis, and synthesis of all roadside-generated data. TMC operators support incident detection, verification, and responder coordination. TMC operators monitor data from ITS sensors and video images from CCTV. The FHWA publication, Best Practices in Traffic Incident Management, highlights examples of tools and ITS designed to manage the transportation system and that have application for incident management:[136]

Following is a list of tools and ITS designed to manage the transportation system with the following application devices for incident management:

  • CCTV: When shared with public safety agencies, this device provides multiple agencies with a common operating picture of an incident scene. CCTV can monitor normal traffic conditions, verify the existence of an incident, and provide a view of progress toward clearance of the incident.
  • Traffic Detectors: These devices monitor the flow and volume of traffic, and when combined with CCTV, identify anomalies in traffic flow.
  • Ramp Meters: These devises are used to increase freeway volumes, trip reliability, and freeway speeds, while decreasing travel time and the number of crashes. The TMC can use data from lane and ramp metering to control flow into an incident scene and to facilitate a more rapid response of an emergency vehicle to an incident scene.
  • Lane Control Signals: These applications can alert motorists of an incident in a specific travel lane or in a lane within a tunnel. Lane control signals provide motorists with advance warnings about impending lane closures, and are particularly valuable where physical separations exist at the entrance to a tunnel.
  • Traffic Modeling Tools: These applications can assist motorists in selecting a choice of alternative routes. When combined with signal timing technology, these tools can help determine the most efficient use of these particular traffic modeling tools. Traffic modeling tools can predict or determine important timelines in an incident. By knowing how many vehicles can pass a given point at a specific time with specific traffic volumes, models can determine queue lengths when one or more lanes are blocked. The modeling tools can help decision-makers evaluate implications and tradeoffs associated with various operational decisions, such as completely closing a highway to provide responders with time and space to clear an incident versus simply reducing traffic throughput by diverting a portion of this traffic to alternative routes.
  • Adaptive Signal Controls: These programmable devices can respond to and reduce traffic congestion, either on the primary route or on detour routes during incidents.
  • Variable or Dynamic Message Signs (VMS/DMS): These devices are used to alert motorists about incidents, direct them to alternative routes, or provide estimated travel time past an incident.

ATIS are another type of ITS technology that provides highway and transit users with the right information at the right time to assist in travel decisions. ATIS involves the collection, consolidation, analysis, and dissemination of decision-making information to the public. As the capabilities of technology and communication expand, the capabilities of ATIS also expand.

Many jurisdictions are developing traveler information capabilities to provide information gathered by the TMC to the traveling public. Public Information Officers/Officials (PIOs) provide communications directly to the news media with regard to the nature and extent of an incident. TMC operators provide information to reroute and divert the traveling public to minimize incident-related delay and to help prevent secondary crashes. The TMCs freely share traveler information with media outlets that package and deliver information to the traveling public by radio, television, and the Internet. Traveler information system tools include the following:

  • Internet-Based Traveler Information: Travelers rely upon the transportation information provided by government agencies, media and other private sector firms. Transportation agencies are most often the initial supplier of information to commercial information service providers. Information service providers can send information directly to communication devices or to a designated State, regional, county, city, or other local Web site. When public transportation is available in any area, it is important to include a link to the transit Web site to provide conditions and mode travel schedules.
  • 511 Traffic/Traveler Information Number: FHWA obtained approval from the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to dedicate the 511 phone number to traveler information. 511 is implemented at the State level, and offers travelers the option of touchtone and/or voice-activated prompts to obtain information on travel conditions for specific routes or route segments, as well as for special events. This single nationwide number allows travelers to decide on routes of travel; select means of travel; or make the basic choice of whether to begin or delay travel.
  • HAR: Information provided by HAR offers an effective, if limited, means to alert travelers of incidents in a general area, whether planned or unplanned. HAR must be combined with messaging systems to direct travelers to tune to the HAR frequency for information.
  • DMS: Fixed DMS (also known as Variable, Changeable, Electronic) message signs are often located on highly traveled roadways to provide updated traveler information. Portable DMS can be used in incident management and highway construction applications. Whether fixed or portable, DMS can provide information regarding expected travel time to certain locations, incident status, and alternate routing.

Tactical Communications Support

"Tactical communications" refer to those communications relayed between a PSAP and a TMC, and between on-scene incident responders during an incident. Prompt, reliable, and interoperable tools can enable personnel from all agencies to share important information regarding roadway incidents or special events. These technologies combine multiple data strings from multiple agencies and convert this information into a single-source information system. The following list defines some technologies that facilitate tactical communications and response between incident responders:

  • Radio. The most effective means of multi-agency communications is the transition to a single common "voice-over" radio system. Agencies can have their own internal communications groups that allow them to communicate when there is no need for multi-agency response. The radios can be configured to allow cross-communication when the need for interoperability exists. Cross-installation of radios among different responders from different disciplines is another solution. This approach may be realistic in smaller jurisdictions, but it may become problematic for larger areas where the available space within a response vehicle provides limited room for multiple radios. Responder radios can support a gateway interface call that allows a transmission from one radio to be broadcast on the frequency of another radio, where one frequency is used to rebroadcast interagency messages. Alternatively, responders can establish a single frequency for all responders at a scene. A limitation of this approach is that the single frequency can quickly become over-crowded at major scenes with multiple responders.
  • Mobile Data Terminals. Another way to communicate is through mobile data terminals mounted in response vehicles. This form of silent communication allows a single agency to communicate additional or lengthy information to any responder without interfering with voice communications on a shared channel. This type of communication also allows responders to share sensitive information on a prioritized basis.
  • Personal Communication Devices. These communications devices, such as Personal Digital Assistants (PDAs), cell phones, and camera phones, are common among TIM responders. Responders exchange numbers prior to an incident and use them during an incident for communication. However, the National Task Force on Interoperability discourages reliance on personal communication devices because, by doing so, responders are required to share frequencies with the private sector. These frequencies can become overcrowded or be unavailable for numerous reasons. This is especially true as the nature of the incident escalates. Also, personnel in command must be able to reach multiple responders at the same time—an ability that is not always available with a cell phone. Another consideration is that dialing and waiting for a cell phone connection is not feasible or acceptable during an incident. However, camera phones are simple devices that can be used to transmit exact information on an incident scene, and can be useful in identifying vehicle size and type parameters that must be considered for vehicle removal.

Following are additional tools that facilitate tactical incident response:

  • Automatic Crash Notification (ACN) and Advanced Automatic Crash Notification (AACN): These vehicle-equipped tools alert a telematics provider when a vehicle is involved in a collision or an airbag is deployed. As the more sophisticated model, AACN is capable of predicting the severity of the crash and injuries, thereby enabling operators to more quickly dispatch the appropriate incident and emergency responders. As the initial notifications are sent to private service providers, technology must be developed to coordinate with and alert public service providers in real time.
  • E911 and Next-Generation (NG) 911: These key response tools identify the immediate and exact location of an emergency call.
  • AVL: This tool allows a dispatch center to locate the vehicle closest to an incident scene for immediate dispatch.
  • Traffic Signal Preemption: By using a vehicle-mounted preemption emitter device, this system allows emergency vehicles to disrupt normal signal cycle operations and proceed through an intersection with quick access to a green signal light, and maintain a red signal light for cross-traffic vehicles. Traffic signal preemption provides emergency vehicles with immediate right-of-way, prevents cross-traffic, reduces response times, and enhances overall traffic safety.
  • Work Zone Intrusion Devices: These devices provide deployed detectors that establish an "invisible fence" to protect the incident scene and responders from potential stuck-by events. When the "fence" is broken by an intruding vehicle, an audible siren alerts responders of the intrusion, providing (limited) reaction and evasion time.
  • Emergency Vehicle-Mounted Lighting: The use of emergency vehicle lighting, such as high-intensity rotating, flashing, oscillating, or strobe lights, is essential, especially in the initial stages of a traffic incident. Emergency vehicle lighting enhances driver and pedestrian awareness regarding the incident scene, thereby increasing the level of the safety of emergency responders and victims, as well as oncoming vehicles approaching the incident. It should be noted that emergency vehicle lighting provides warning and awareness only, and yields no effective traffic control.
  • Retroreflective Vehicle Markings: In 2009, fire apparatus and emergency vehicles became subject to new guidelines with respect to reflective striping as stipulated in National Fire Protection Agency (NFPA) 1901: Standard for Automotive Fire Apparatus, 2009 Edition. The new standard calls for striping on the front, sides, and rear of all fire and emergency apparatus, thereby increasing awareness and visibility to road users.
  • Police Investigative Tools: The use of "total station" and "photogrammetric" tools combine to aid crash investigators by improving the accuracy of the crash investigation, while greatly reducing investigation time. The total station is an electronic/optical surveying instrument with built-in capabilities to measure slope distances, angles, vertical height differences and other physical properties. Photogrammetry is a technique using remote sensing technology to make precise measurements from photographs to determine physical dimensions involved in crash investigations.

Media Communications

Delivering accurate and effective media communications are important functions that transportation agencies must develop and maintain to provide current roadway information that is valuable to travelers. When a highway incident escalates to the point where evacuation is necessary, such as in the case of a major hazardous materials spill, responders enact and implement protocols established by jurisdictional emergency management groups. At any incident scene, both major and minor, one agency representative should be pre-selected to provide information to a central point of contact (POC). This policy serves three purposes:

  • First, this policy provides the media with a pre-determined POC from which to receive accurate and timely information to disseminate to the public.
  • Second, this policy allows responders and their agencies to continue with the task at hand, uninterrupted by repeated requests for information from multiple sources.
  • Third, this policy assures that the information is well-developed, accurate, and consistent.

An agency's Public Information Office and designated PIO can develop and distribute a Media Guide to assist in providing guidance on how to handle public communications. A Media Guide details policies and procedures for handling media access to an incident; establishes guidelines on timing and message content provided to the public; and supplies guidance on how media relations are managed during an emergency. Even when a State agency has established formal working agreements with the media agencies, a Media Guide can help clarify the "ground rules" that govern how the working relationship is conducted. This ensures that the media agencies are able to receive the information needed to provide travelers with information on an incident or event without compromising incident response activities and responder safety. Following are two Media Guide examples, with one prepared by a State, and the other from an airport facility:

  1. The Oregon State Police Media Guide, available online: http://www.oregon.gov/OSP/NEWSRL/docs/webmediaguide.pdf?ga=t.
  2. Lambert-St. Louis Airport Media Guide, available online: http://www.flystl.com/flystl/media-newsroom/media-guide/.

4.3.3 Institutional Support for Communications and Information Exchange

Technical integration of key information systems is a critical element of interoperability, but it is not a stand-alone issue. Interoperability is not just about technology; it is about changing the culture of a State or region in how it gathers and communicates information that is accessible to multiple public and private sector entities, law enforcement, transportation, and safety organizations. Institutional support for interoperability involves strategic planning and operational changes among all participating entities for it to be successful. Achieving interoperability requires a multi-faceted, multi-dimensional approach, as well as a governance structure documented in memorandums of understanding (MOUs); sustained funding; and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP).

Governance Structure

The first step to achieving real-time communication and information exchange is development of a strong governance structure, an essential element to ensuring that a multi-jurisdictional and multi-disciplinary team maintains a shared vision. Guidance and involvement of high-level representation from each agency provides the experience and focused vision that helps an interoperability committee maintain focus. The governance group members must remain fully involved in the decision-making process because they are responsible for identifying sources of initial and continued funding.

A governance structure can take several forms. For example, the governance structure may consist of subject matter experts (SMEs) in the areas of technology, operations, and program management from each agency. In this instance, it is common for SMEs to speak for statewide agencies. However, if the State elects to take a regional approach, there is a need to establish interoperable committees from each region, consisting of SMEs that make decisions for that region. In other areas, the Governor (or other designated county or municipal elected official) appoints a governance or advisory committee that chooses its own SMEs, who then work within a committee structure and report to the governance committee. In still other locations, a pre-existing agency achieves the interoperability needs of the jurisdiction or region.


Grant funds are often useful in jump-starting multi-agency efforts to achieve interoperability, but significant reliance on grants for funding interoperability programs cannot sustain a program for an extended period. Therefore, any initial achievements made through grant funding must be sustained using agency funds. Participating agencies should develop an MOU, encourage additional agencies to participate, and seek legislative support on interoperability issues to sustain its funding resources.

Standard Operating Procedures

It also is imperative that SOPs be established for effective communication. An SOP should cover procedures to maintain and upgrade equipment; provide requirements for training and certification; guide the process for acquiring new technology; ensure that all responding agencies have signed the SOP document; and provide an oversight committee to enforce the requirements of the SOP. An effective SOP details the issues related to technology reserves (radio caches), survivability, and redundancy.

Strategic Planning

As with any operational or technical investment, agencies want to ensure they generate a measurable return on investment in communications and information exchange. Being able to demonstrate return on investment makes it easier for agencies to secure ongoing or increased funding support for interoperable systems that support effective TIM communications. A results-oriented strategic plan is a critical component of effective communication and information exchange.

An effective strategic plan defines goals and objectives; provides strategies to achieve those objectives; defines performance measures to evaluate the effectiveness of the strategies to achieve or support accomplishing the defined goals and objectives; and assigns roles and responsibilities. Following are some examples of established State strategic plans:

  • The Strategic Plan for Highway Incident Management in Tennessee, August 2003, available online: http://www.tdot.state.tn.us/incident/CompleteIMPlan.pdf. The plan is a joint effort by governmental and private organizations with responsibilities for highway incident management and public safety. The Plan establishes the framework for a systematic, statewide, multi-agency effort to improve the management of highway incidents.
  • Florida Traffic Incident Management Program Strategic Plan, February 2006, available online: http://www.dot.state.fl.us/trafficoperations/Traf_Incident/pdf/TIM%20Strategic%20Plan%20Final.pdf. This Plan is developed to identity programs and actions to sustain the commitment to–and expand–the TIM Program in Florida to meet travel needs. Emphasizing the need for multi-agency communications, the Plan notes that "while managing traffic incidents is the primary focus of Florida's TIM Program, the same coordination and communication lessons are essential to successfully managing large-scale emergencies."
  • State of Delaware Transportation Incident and Event Management Plan, August 2004, available online: https://deldot.gov/information/projects/tmt/pdfs/TIEMP.pdf. The Plan defines the communication, response, resource, and responsibility procedures and guidelines of the county Transportation Management Teams (TMT) across the State for response to any event or incident that impacts the transportation system.

4.4 Challenges and Solutions to Real-Time Communications and Information Exchange

As TIM teams across the country seek to improve or achieve real-time, multi-agency communication and information exchange, they can expect to encounter challenges. Many State and local TIM programs have overcome these challenges, and offer lessons learned for others. This section cites some of the challenges, along with solutions and examples of State or local TIM teams that have experienced success overcoming those challenges, as reported through both the TIM Program Level Performance Measurement Focus State Initiative and the TIM Self-Assessment respondents.[137]

  • Challenge: Proprietary systems that are not integrated (different terminology or data dictionary). Typically, most agencies purchase communication systems to serve their internal communication needs. Frequently, the systems are proprietary and not readily integrate with other agencies' communication systems.
Solution Success Stories
  • Identify the shared data needs and reach agreement on a shared data dictionary as the first step toward facilitating data sharing between, or integration of, incompatible systems. Once key data fields are identified and mapped, apply the technical patches necessary to extract and import or export the data.
  • Alter CAD import mechanism with vendor or design solution.
  • Have law enforcement provide DOT with CAD systems.
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Washington
  • Challenge: Concerns about sharing sensitive data. Law enforcement agencies are prohibited from sharing sensitive information contained in CAD systems (i.e., criminal information). Some agencies are reluctant to share electronic data with TMCs out of concern that sensitive information may be inadvertently accessed following data exchange.
Solution Success Stories
  • Because DOTs and TMCs generally do not need the sensitive information for TIM purposes, create agreements to export non-sensitive data.
  • Implement effective actions to filter out sensitive data to improve TIM communications without compromising security.
  • New York
  • Connecticut
  • Washington
  • Challenge: Incompatible standards, systems, networks, and frequencies. Systems incompatibility is one of the major issues with large-scale, multi-agency emergency response. Radios and data systems lose contact outside of jurisdictional ranges, cell phone networks may be inconsistent, and agencies may operate on different frequencies.[138]
Solution Success Stories
  • Achieve multi-agency agreement on data standards (such as the IEEE 1512, "Common Incident Management Message Sets for Use by Emergency Management Centers," Association of Public Safety Communications Officials (APCO) 25 (project to develop standards for CAD to CAD information exchanges).
  • Consider that it may not be necessary to achieve agreement for the entire system. Often, shared standards apply to only part of the system needed to achieve the operational objectives. Ideally, this is accomplished prior to procurement of any major system.
  • Alter frequencies, if possible, to support expanded range.
  • Florida
  • Maryland (Coordinated Highways Action Response Team [CHART])[139]
  • New York
  • Utah
  • Challenge: Multiple and inconsistent entries for the same data fields. Data entry can vary among agencies and among personnel within the same agencies. Entering dates and times in inconsistent formats can create a significant barrier to otherwise straightforward data exchange. When multiple agencies independently collect the same information (such as incident start time), data conflicts are created when agencies exchange data.
Solution Success Stories
  • Minimize human interface by using automated data entry where possible, i.e. automated CAD interfaces, GPS, and time-stamped data entry.
  • Establish clear data entry guidelines and procedures, including single point data entry, where possible, when manual data entry is required.
  • Implement a structured, user-friendly interface (pull down menus, etc.) to promote consistent data entry.
  • Agree on the owners of specific pieces of information, which can help streamline these issues. Ownership may be conditional in some cases. For example, the owner of incident start time may be the agency first notified of the incident. This agency may vary, but the agreement between stakeholders may be when time stamps differ, the earliest time is considered to be authoritative.
  • Florida
  • New York
  • Washington
  • Wisconsin
  • Challenge: Cost-sharing between agencies of shared systems. Key systems, such as CAD systems, may be owned by law enforcement agencies that do not have the budget to pay for expensive integration initiatives.
Solution Success Stories
  • In some cases, have DOTs help fund the law enforcement CAD system or integration costs, in exchange for data sharing agreements regarding data collected by the CAD system.
  • Where possible, collaborate to develop a cost-sharing policy during ITS architecture design, which can help eliminate this barrier.
  • Wisconsin
  • North Carolina
  • Arizona
  • Utah

4.5 Supporting Policy and Guidance

To activate multi-disciplinary response resources, the exchange of information between agencies must be accurate and timely. The most efficient way to accomplish real-time accurate information exchange is to automate this exchange. Numerous national organizations have issued policy statements or developed guidance to support communication and information exchange.

4.5.1 National Policy

At the national level, Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act: A Legacy for Users (SAFETEA-LU), the NIMS, and the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition's (NTIMC) National Unified Goal (NUG) emphasizes the importance of effective interagency and multi-jurisdictional communication among TIM responders, as highlighted here:

  • SAFETEA-LU: Section 1201 of the SAFETEA-LU requires the Secretary of Transportation (Secretary) to establish a Real-Time System Management Information Program that provides, in all States, the capability to monitor, in real-time, the traffic and travel conditions of the major highways of the United States, and to share that data with State and local governments and with the traveling public. This proposed rule would establish minimum parameters and requirements for States to make available and share traffic and travel condition information via real-time information programs. The FHWA includes the reporting of all traffic incidents that block roadway or lane travel as an element that must be reported. This rule reflects the intent of other Federal legislation that agencies that respond to highway incidents must be capable of instantaneous communication and data exchange in order to mitigate, in an expedient manner, all highway incidents.
  • NUG: "Prompt, Reliable Incident Communications" represents one of the NUG objectives. The last 6 of the 18 NUG strategies directly relate to the principle of effective communications,[140] in particular:
    • Strategy 13. Multidisciplinary Communications Practices and Procedures.
    • Strategy 14. Prompt, Reliable Responder Notification.
    • Strategy 15. Interoperable Voice and Data Networks.
    • Strategy 16. Broadband Emergency Communications Systems.
    • Strategy 17. Prompt, Reliable Traveler Information Systems.
    • Strategy 18. Partnerships with News Media and Information Providers.
  • NIMS: One of the five components of the NIMS focuses on communication and information management. First created in March 2004 and updated in December 2008, the NIMS is a comprehensive national approach to emergency management designed to improve the effectiveness of emergency management and response personnel across the spectrum of potential incidents and hazard scenarios. Applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines, NIMS provides a unifying framework for incident management. The NIMS states that "Emergency management and incident response activities rely on communications and information systems that provide a common operating picture to all command and coordination sites."[141]

    The NIMS defines a common operating picture as an overview of an incident created by collating and gathering information—such as traffic, weather, actual damage, and resource availability—of any type (voice, data, etc.) from agencies/organizations to support decision making.

    The NIMS explains that a common operating picture is

    …established and maintained by gathering, collating, synthesizing, and disseminating incident information to all appropriate parties. Achieving a common operating picture allows on-scene and off-scene personnel to have the same information about the incident, including the availability and location of resources and the status of assistance requests.[142]

Additional National-Level Resources and Guidance

In addition to these national policies, several related national or Federal initiatives underscore the importance of communications, and suggest that this area remains one of the most dynamic and evolving aspects of TIM. The following list of resources is available on the Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) Web site.[143] LLIS is a national database of lessons learned, best practices, and innovative ideas for the emergency response and homeland security communities sponsored by the DHS Federal Emergency Management Agency. Focusing on information sharing, the system seeks to improve preparedness nationwide by allowing local, State, and Federal homeland security officials and response professionals to tap into a wealth of front-line expertise on the most effective planning, training, equipping, and operational practices for preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from incidents.

  • National Emergency Communications Plan: The purpose of the National Emergency Communications Plan is to promote the ability of emergency response providers and relevant government officials to continue to communicate in the event of natural disasters, acts of terrorism, and other manmade disasters, and to ensure, accelerate, and attain interoperable emergency communications nationwide.
  • Interoperability Continuum: SAFECOM is the Federal (DHS) umbrella program designed to foster interoperability among the Nation's public safety practitioners so that they can communicate across disciplines and jurisdictions during an emergency.[144]
  • Operational Guide for the Interoperability Continuum: This SAFECOM document provides guidance in each area of the interoperability continuum, including leadership and planning; governance; SOPs; technology; training and exercises; and interoperable communications usage.
  • National Response Framework: Emergency Support Function (ESF) No. 2—Communications Annex: ESF No. 2, Communications, supports the restoration of public communications infrastructure, facilitates the recovery of systems and applications from cyber attacks, and coordinates Federal communications support to response efforts during incidents requiring a coordinated Federal response.
  • National Interoperability Field Operations Guide (NIFOG) Version 1.2: The NIFOG is a collection of technical reference material for radio technicians responsible for radios used in disaster response applications. The NIFOG includes information from the National Interoperability Frequency Guide (NIFG), the instructions for use of the NIFG, and other reference material.
  • Guide for Short-Term Interoperability: The Oregon State Interoperability Executive Council developed this Guide to assist non-technical, everyday public safety personnel in achieving simple, short-term interoperability solutions. The intent of the solutions is to enhance day-to-day operations and that afford preparation for major multi-jurisdictional events.
  • Technical Guide for Communications Interoperability: A Guide for Interagency Communications Projects: This document provides background on the subject of communications interoperability, and presents tools to carry out technology initiatives that make this interoperability possible. The Guide also provides strategies, best practices, and recommendations for public safety radio projects.

4.5.2 National Association Support and Policy

TIM stakeholders also broadly affirm the importance of information exchange. Following are examples of policy and guidance promulgated by national stakeholder associations:

  • The International Association of Chiefs of Police (IACP). At the 112th Annual Conference of IACP held on September 27, 2005 in Miami, Florida, the IACP passed a resolution calling for Information Technology Standards. The IACP made a specific appeal:

    …that Federal funding agencies should prioritize funding for the purpose of promoting, developing, maintaining, and expanding information technology standards within the criminal justice domain and beyond to all public safety domains (fire, EMS, and transportation).
    Previously, the IACP, Highway Safety Committee, in the document titled, Traffic Safety Strategies for Law Enforcement: A Planning Guide for Law Enforcement Executives, Administrators and Managers (August 2003),[145] recognized the need for an effective TIM program (Strategy No. 16); sharing of resources (Strategy No. 13); and the use of ITS to manage incidents (Strategy No. 26). The planning guides provide many other strategies in addition to interoperability and resource sharing that are applicable to TIM.
  • The International Association of Fire Chiefs. This organization passed a similar resolution on November 6, 2006, regarding support of new broadband spectrum and to create "a fully interoperable, advanced nationwide public safety communication system, capable of linking each and every local, tribal, State, and federal emergency responder…."[146]

    Strategies for States to Achieve Public Safety Wireless Interoperability, was released by the National Governors Association (NGA) Center for Best Practices on November 19, 2006. This document identifies barriers to interoperability and suggests strategies to achieve interoperability. One strategy is to support funding for public safety agencies that work to achieve interoperability and reject agency budgets that do not include interoperable solutions. The document further emphasizes

    …the urgent need for public safety departments and other agencies, including police, firefighters, transportation operators, and public health officials, to communicate reliably and effectively with each other when called upon in a crisis.[147]
  • Why Can't We Talk: Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap to Save Lives—A Guide for Public Officials (February 2003). The DHS, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, National Task Force on Interoperability published the referenced document to help define interoperability as

    …the ability of public safety service and support providers—law enforcement, firefighters, EMS, emergency management, the public utilities, transportation, and others—to communicate with staff from other responding agencies, to exchange voice and/or data communications on demand and in real time.[148]
    The National Task Force membership includes public safety, public communications, State legislators, governors, mayors, and city officials.
  • Traffic Incident Management Systems (April 2008). The United States Fire Administration published the Traffic Incident Management Systems, its final list of recommendations, which includes (No. 13), which states:

    Develop a formal TIM information sharing method between public safety and transportation agencies. Factors involved in developing an effective information-sharing program are institutional, technical, and operational. Implement cooperative partnerships and frameworks based on formal agreements or regional plans to guide day-to-day activities and working relationships. Consider using compatible information systems to establish effective interagency information exchange whenever practical.[149]

4.5.3 State and Local Policies

Numerous examples of State and local policies and procedures affirm the importance of multi-agency communication among agencies and with the public and the importance of technology and data sharing from a TIM context. Most States have interoperability policies, due to DHS requirements for interoperable systems in emergency response. Several areas of the country indicate that interoperability issues remain the purview of the Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI). The USAI recognizes that major metropolitan areas of the country have issues, vulnerabilities, and threats unique to large cities. Through Federal grant funding from the DHS, the UASI mission is to reduce area vulnerability, prevent terrorism, and prepare regions for an all-hazards environment. The tri-State UASI region of Southwest Ohio, Southeast Indiana, and Northern Kentucky (SOSINK) identifies highway incidents as a major threat and concern. The Advanced Regional Traffic Interactive Management and Information System (ARTIMIS) provides incident services using the common tool of a TMC, while the incident management tools of data and voice communication standards are established by SOSINK. A similar model is followed in Charlotte, North Carolina, where the TMC coordinates incident management and response, and the Charlotte UASI drives the communication and mutual aid agreements.

Many State and local agencies have gone beyond these agreements to develop specific policies that support joint TIM operations and information sharing. Following are three examples of joint State and local agency agreements:

  • The Washington State Patrol and Washington Department of Transportation's Joint Operations Policy, available online: http://www.watimcoalition.org. In 2002, the Washington State Patrol (WSP) and the Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) developed A Joint Operations Policy Statement[150] (JOPS) to govern all aspects of incident management. JOPS establishes policies and procedures for operational areas of mutual concern and involvement with both the WSP and WSDOT. These policies and procedures included data sharing and coordinated public communications with the media and for traveler information for incident traffic management. JOPS also clearly defines the roles and responsibilities of each agency for incident response teams; hazardous materials handling; service patrols and motorist assistance vans; and tow truck handling. The JOPS also establishes specific performance targets for clearing incidents and the process for performance is measurement. JOPS is updated on a regularly by the State and is an excellent example of how a State established communications practices and procedures to coordinate the roles and responsibilities of on-scene, multi-disciplinary responder personnel.
  • Delaware Valley Regional Planning Commission (DVRPC) Incident Management Task Force Policies, available online: http://www.dvrpc.org/Operations/IncidentManagement.htm. DVRPC, in coordination with Pennsylvania and New Jersey DOT (PennDOT and NJDOT, respectively) and Pennsylvania and New Jersey State Police (PSP and NJSP, respectively), established multi-jurisdictional Incident Management Task Forces (IMTF) for multiple areas along the East Coast. These task forces publish guidance for their members. One example is the I-295/I-76/NJ 42 Incident Management Task Force Policy and Procedures Manual, available online: http://www.i95coalition.net/i95/Portals/0/Public_Files/uploaded/Incident-toolkit/documents/Plan/Plan_TIM_NJ.pdf.
  • Florida's Open Roads Policy, available online: http://smartsunguide.com/pdf/Open%20Roads%20Policy.pdf. This document provides a powerful foundation for interoperable communication and information exchange between core TIM response agencies—law enforcement and transportation. These agencies share information through Florida's SunGuide system,[151] which allows the TIM teams to respond more efficiently and effectively to incidents, and provides real-time information to travelers through 511, DMS, and on-line traffic information.

4.6 Want to Know More?

For additional resources and information, please view the items listed in the following resource guide.

Want to Know More?



127. For the purposes of this document, "communications" refers to the technological means and "information exchange" to processes for sharing information.

128. Institute for Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Standard Computer Dictionary: A Compilation of IEEE Standard Computer Glossaries, New York, NY: 1990, available online: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Interoperability#cite_note-0, April 2009.

129. The California Highway Incident Management Summit, held April 3-4, 2007, available online: http://www.dot.ca.gov/hq/traffops/summit.html.

130. Helman, David. "Clearing incidents safely and quickly requires an effective traffic incident management program 24 hours a day, 7 days a week," Public Roads, November/December 2004, available online: http://www.allbusiness.com/management/336098-1.html.

131. I-295/I-76/NJ 42 Incident Management Task Force Policy and Procedures Manual, January 2005.

132. These non-traditional resources may include NIMS implementation guidance and compliance guidance for stakeholders, available online: https://www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/ImplementationGuidanceStakeholders.shtm#item1; NIMS implementation for nongovernmental organizations as supplied via a FEMA fact sheet, available online: https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/ngo_fs.pdf; and through a FEMA fact sheet on NIMS compliance requirements for local Emergency Planning Committees, available online: https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/lepc_comp_fs.pdf.

133. The diagram is included in the Prompt, Reliable Traffic Information Systems brochure, p. 7, published by the NTIMC, available online: http://www.transportation.org/sites/ntimc/docs/Incident%20Communications11-16-06-v3.pdf.

134. DHS Homeland Security Advisory System Web site, available online: https://www.dhs.gov/files/programs/Copy_of_press_release_0046.shtm.

135. United States Secret Service Web site, available online: http://www.secretservice.gov/protection.shtml.

136. Best Practices in Traffic Incident Management, FHWA, June 2009.

137. See FHWA's Emergency Transportation Operations Web site to learn how these States structured their TIM programs to overcome challenges, available online: https://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/eto_tim_pse/index.htm.

138. In response to the problem of incompatible data standards among responding agencies, the USDOT and the DOJ, Bureau of Justice Assistance, established the ITS and Public Safety (ITS/PS) Information Exchange Project. The project's goal is to establish a standards-based approach to critical information exchange among transportation and public safety agencies during planned and unplanned incidents. The Integrated Justice Information Systems (IJIS) Institute published the study's results in March 2007. The project committee identified 22 potential incident management information exchanges, and selected 12 for XML modeling in the project. The report contains findings and recommendations for further research.

See also the National Information Exchange Model (NIEM). NIEM was launched on February 28, 2005 to support the Homeland Security Act of 2002 to exchange data on terrorist information, through a partnership agreement between the DOJ and the DHS. NIEM does not attempt to standardize all databases; it does, however, identify the required cross-discipline activities needed to share information for numerous purposes. Every agency and jurisdiction is required to have a homeland security contact that can provide additional information on NIEM.

139. The mission of the Maryland multi-jurisdictional CHART program is to improve real-time operations of Maryland's highway system through teamwork and technology, available online: http://www.chart.state.md.us/.

140. Launched in 2004, the NTIMC promotes the safe and efficient management of traffic incidents (see http://timcoalition.org/?siteid=41). Members include representatives from the Emergency Medical Services (EMS), Fire, Law Enforcement, Public Safety Communications, Towing and Recovery, and Transportation communities. The NTIMC promotes multidisciplinary, multi-jurisdictional TIM programs to achieve objectives of enhanced responder safety; safe, quick traffic incident clearance; and more prompt, reliable, interoperable communications. Information available online: http://cms.transportation.org/?siteid=41&pageid=590.

141. NIMS, DHS, 2008. Component 2: Communications and Information Management, p. 23. The NIMS was originally published on March 1, 2004, and revised in 2008 to reflect contributions from stakeholders and lessons learned during recent incidents.

142. NIMS, DHS, 2008.

143. LLIS Web site, available online: https://www.llis.dhs.gov/index.do.

144. SAFECOM is a communications program of the Department of Homeland Security. SAFECOM provides research, development, testing and evaluation, guidance, tools, and templates on interoperable communications-related issues to Federal, State, tribal, and local emergency response agencies. More information available online: https://www.safecomprogram.gov/SAFECOM/.

145. Traffic Safety Strategies for Law Enforcement: A Planning Guide for Law Enforcement Executives, Administrators and Managers (August 2003), IACP, available online: http://www.theiacp.org/tabid/299/Default.aspx?id=1040&v=1.

146. IAFC Web site, available online: http://www.iafc.org/.

147. NGA Center for Best Practices, available online: http://www.nga.org/portal/site/nga/menuitem.9123e83a1f6786440ddcbeeb501010a0/?vgnextoid=4434303cb0b32010VgnVCM1000001a01010aRCRD.

148. Why Can't We Talk: Working Together to Bridge the Communications Gap to Save Lives—A Guide for Public Officials (February 2003), published by the DHS, Office for Interoperability and Compatibility, National Task Force, available online: http://www.nij.gov/pubs-sum/204348.htm.

149. Traffic Incident Management Systems, USFA.

150. A Joint Operations Policy Statement, prepared and agreed to by the WSP and WSDOT, February 13, 2002, available online: http://tmcpfs.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/cfprojects/uploaded_files/washington%20joint%20operations%20policy.doc.

151. Florida's SunGuide system, available online: http://www.sunguide.org/.

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