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Freeway Management and Operations Handbook

Chapter 12 – Freeway Management During Emergencies and Evacuations
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12.1 Introduction

Disaster planning, prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery fall into the category of emergency management. FEMA defines an emergency as any unplanned event that can cause deaths or significant injuries to employees, customers or the public; or that can shut down businesses, disrupt operations, cause potential environmental damage, or threaten a facility's financial standing. Emergency management is the process of preparing for, mitigating, responding to, and recovering from an emergency (1, 2).

Natural disasters and terrorist attacks are generally sudden and unexpected. Even those emergencies that can be anticipated and predicted (e.g., hurricanes, snow / ice storms) have relatively short advance-response times amounting to, at best, a few days; and even then, great uncertainty can exist as to the exact location, timing, and storm strength until just before the emergency occurs. The most effective strategy is to plan in advance, to prevent and mitigate wherever possible, and to respond when necessary with flexibility, coordination, and speed. This type of strategy requires management coordination, compatible communication systems, and real time information feedback to decision-makers that permits immediate changes in strategy when required. This approach also requires mechanisms for disseminating information to the general public that provide the most up-to-date guidance on the best transportation options for avoiding bottlenecks in the transportation system.

The transportation network – particularly freeways – plays a major role during emergency management, including expediting evacuations from the affected area, and the return following the emergency. In some cases, emergency management also involves the restoration of transportation services. Freeway practitioners must be fully cognizant of the role they can, and must play, and the concomitant responsibilities during emergencies, such as:

  • Hurricanes: A hurricane is a tropical weather system with winds that have reached a sustained speed of 74 mph or more. Recent trends have increased the vulnerability of the US to hurricanes. The combination of growing population and development in coastal zones, rising ocean levels, coastal erosion, and changing climatic trends have increased the potential for loss of life and property in coastal regions of the country. While more stringent building codes have been enacted to reduce damage from winds and flooding, not all coastal populations can be protected in their homes or shelters. To counter this threat, states in the Atlantic and Gulf coast regions of the US have plans to evacuate people from vulnerable areas in advance of threatening storms. The two most recent large-scale evacuations – Hurricanes Georges in 1998 and Floyd in 1999 – resulted in some of the largest traffic jams ever recorded, revealing the fact that emergency response agencies may not have been as prepared for such scenarios as previously assumed. In the aftermath of these events, transportation agencies at the federal, state, and local levels have begun to take a more active role in the planning, management, and operation of hurricane evacuations.
  • Floods: Most communities in the United States can experience some kind of flooding after spring rains, heavy thunderstorms, or winter snow thaws. Floods can be slow, or fast rising, but generally develop over a period of days; the exceptions being "flash floods" (which result from intense storms dropping large amounts of rain within a brief period, and can occur with little or no warning), and dam failures (which can suddenly let loose a gigantic quantity of water). Inland flooding has been the cause of more than half the deaths arising from hurricanes in the last three decades. In fact, nearly 9 of every 10 presidential disaster declarations result from natural phenomena in which flooding is a major component (2). People who are at risk of being flooded out of their homes need to be evacuated. Flooding can also disrupt the roadway network (e.g., cars can be easily swept away in just 2 feet of moving water), requiring region-wide diversions and dissemination of traveler information.
  • Earthquakes: An earthquake is a sudden, rapid shaking of the earth caused by the breaking and shifting of rock beneath the earth's surface. This shaking can cause buildings and bridges / elevated roadways to collapse, and sometimes trigger landslides and avalanches, all impacting the transportation network. As an example, on January 17, 1994, at 4:30 a.m., an earthquake of a magnitude of 6.8 shook Los Angeles, California. While the actual earthquake (and its subsequent aftershocks) lasted only about 1 minute, it damaged 114,000 residential and commercial structures spread over 2,100 square miles, took 72 lives, and severely crippled four critical Southern California freeways (I-5, SR-14, I-10, and SR-118), significantly impairing the Los Angeles regional transportation system. This single event necessitated year's worth of highway work to rebuild the damaged freeways. Additionally, numerous transportation management and operational strategies and technologies implemented / expanded (e.g. service patrols, HOV, surveillance, CMS, transit service) to retain traveler mobility and keep traffic flowing as smoothly as possible during the rebuilding efforts.
  • Winter Storms: A winter storm can last several days and be accompanied by high winds, freezing rain or sleet, heavy snowfall, and extremely cold temperatures. Such adverse weather conditions dramatically affect the nation's surface transportation system. During adverse weather, reduced visibility, or slick pavement conditions, nearly 6,500 fatal crashes occur, over 450,000 injury crashes occur, and an estimated 544 million hours of time are lost annually (Note: "Analysis of Weather-Related Crashes on U.S. Highways" by Mitretek Systems (12/02)). In fact, the leading cause of death during winter storms is from automobile or other transportation accidents (2). It is therefore not surprising that a significant portion of state and local DOT maintenance budgets – particularly in northern climates– are geared towards treating roadways (e.g., plowing snow, anti-icing, applying abrasives, fog dispersal).
  • Wildland Fires: As residential areas expand into relatively untouched wildlands, people living in these communities are increasingly threatened by forest fires. Unpredictable wildfires can wipe out huge sections of landscape and endanger the lives of residents, necessitating evacuations from the threatened locations. Additionally, the smoke from these fires can significantly reduce visibility over a wide area, resulting in reduced speed limits, roadway closures, and diversions. As an example, the "Rodeo-Chediski" fire in the White Mountains of Arizona in 2002 resulted in the burning of 360,000 acres, the destruction of over 400 homes, and the evacuation of 32,000 people. It also required an army of 4,177 firefighters who needed to be transported to and around the area. Another example – a wildfire in the Bitterroot Valley of Montana in 2000 required the closure of highways and diversions. Moreover, when the roads were open, traffic had to escorted by pilot cars due to low visibility.
  • Homeland Security: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 exacted a terrible toll on the United States and fundamentally changed the way of life in America. Surface transportation was also changed, and continues to change in response to the attack. Agencies that own and operate surface transportation systems must understand the relevant lessons from the 9/11 experience and respond accordingly so that we as a nation are well prepared should we be attacked again. The transportation infrastructure itself may be the target of terrorist attacks (Note: Research by the Federal Transit Administration indicates that 58% of international terrorist attacks were on transportation targets; and of these, 92% were on surface transportation). The ability of the surface transportation network to cope with such contingencies requires additional information and operational capabilities – for example, to identify potential dangers (and then respond) before anything can happen, to detect any such catastrophic incidents, to facilitate first responder access and military deployments, and to effectively route evacuations from major metropolitan areas; all while maintaining the appropriate balance between these transportation security needs and the efficiency of the transportation network. Practitioners must ensure the operation and integrity of America's surface transportation system as part of the overall "Homeland Security" effort, even when the incident involves weapons of mass destruction (WMD).

The full capability of the transportation system must be harnessed and optimized – including freeway management and operations, and supporting ITS-based systems – to effectively move people and goods during a major emergency and / or national security event.

12.1.1 Purpose of Chapter

This chapter provides a high-level overview of procedures, institutional arrangements, and supporting documentation that are applicable to emergency management; many of which may be unfamiliar to the freeway practitioner, but nevertheless can have a major impact on the operation and management of the freeway during emergency situations. The applications of freeway management strategies and technologies in support of emergency and evacuation management are also discussed. It also addresses some of the issues that the freeway practitioner should consider with respect to protecting the freeway infrastructure itself and the supporting ITS-based systems.

Several references that provide more detailed information on emergency management practices are identified. Key websites for obtaining additional information regarding emergency management include the emergency management website maintained by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) at; the website of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) at ; and the website of AASHTO's security task force at [Link no longer active].

12.1.2 Relationship to Other Freeway Management Activities

Operating and managing the freeway network during emergencies and evacuations is just one aspect of a very large and complex issue, which can also entail the life safety of thousands of individuals, national security considerations, etc. That said, these freeway management activities use many of the same principles and strategies identified in Chapters 10 (Traffic Incident Management) and 11 (Planned Special Event Management), recognizing that the seriousness of the impacts and the number of involved / interested stakeholders is much greater. Most of the technologies and strategies identified in other chapters are also applicable to emergency and evacuation management, including lane management and contraflow operations (Chapter 8), information dissemination (Chapter 13), using the TMC as an emergency management center (Chapter 14), surveillance of evacuation and diversion routes and road weather monitoring (Chapter 15), and regional integration and sharing of information between centers (Chapter 16) including law enforcement, fire and rescue, EMS, and other emergency management officials.

12.2 Current Practices, Methods, Strategies, and Technologies

12.2.1 Overview

Transportation emergencies occur when an extraordinary event affects the transportation system and causes congestion, delay, confusion, and/or general disruption of one or more modes of transportation. The associated impacts are typically not part of day-to-day transportation operations. Moreover, these traffic impacts are usually quite severe, possibly of long duration, and / or require special motorist reactions.

The surface transportation network in general, and freeway management and operations in particular (from the perspective of this Handbook) must be an integral part of the emergency management process. As discussed in References 1 and 2, this process includes the following activities:

  • Planning – Having a solid, tested plan in place can help any organization cope and respond in the event that an emergency occurs. Planning activities include establishing a planning team, analyzing the current capabilities and potential hazards, developing an emergency plan (e.g., response procedures, resource lists) and then implementing the plan (including training and exercises).
  • Prevention – On-going activities to reduce the risk of life, property, and the environment from hazards; in essence, identifying and minimizing risks to protect the agency from disaster.
  • Preparedness – This includes the activities and systems developed prior to an emergency, which are used to support and enhance prevention, response, and recovery.
  • Response – Once an emergency occurs, the ability to respond efficiently and effectively is extremely important. These response activities address the immediate and short-term effect of the emergency.
  • Recovery – Once the dangers of the emergency have passed, the focus will shift to rebuilding and recovery, resuming "normal" operations as quickly as possible.

Freeway operations and management must be duly considered during all of these steps. Moreover, the freeway practitioner must play an active role, such as determining evacuation routes, identifying vulnerable transportation facilities, developing strategies and implementing systems to expedite both the evacuation from and access to the emergency area, and participating in the response and recovery activities. The essence of freeway operations during emergency situations is to:

  • Find out what the emergency is, and how this emergency has affected the freeway network (both the supply and demand side). For many emergency situations, it may be necessary to alter the network (e.g., one-way contra flow operations) to support evacuations from the impacted areas, as well as to divert other traffic around the affected areas / roadways. In some instances (e.g. earthquake emergency, terrorist attack), it may also be necessary to dispatch resources to assess structural damage to the roadway infrastructure itself.
  • Route increased traffic on the network, which itself may be altered or damaged. This may involve demand prediction, multi-modal coordination, and regional coordination. It will also involve providing timely information to large numbers of motorists, as well as to emergency management agencies and first responders, all of who will be using the network. It is emphasized that freeway management and operations during emergency and situations must take into consideration two specific and often simultaneous functions – the movement of people from the emergency area; and the movement of emergency and rescue personnel and equipment into the emergency zone as needed.

The handling of these issues is dependent upon several variables – whether the occurrence of the disaster can be predicted in an adequate amount of time (applicable specifically to hurricanes, floods, and wildfires, where there may be time to enact evacuation or emergency responses); whether there is infrastructure damage or destruction of the transportation infrastructure as a result of the man-made or natural disaster; and whether there are continuing security / terror threats that may impact the implementation of emergency or evacuation responses.

Another consideration is that of national security and the movement of military personnel and equipment. Because the nation's highways link U.S. military bases with rail, seaports, and airports, the National Highway System (NHS) serves as a key component in national defense mobility. In particular, the highways comprising the Strategic Highway Network (STRAHNET) support the mobilization needs of the U. S. Armed Forces. Approximately 15,000 miles of the NHS are part of the STRAHNET, linking military bases with railheads, seaports, and airports. It is an important element of defense mobilization; and freeway management activities and coordination with between DOT's and the military are important for prompt and efficient military movements.

12.2.2 Benefits

Freeway management during emergencies must be oriented, first and foremost, toward saving and preserving lives. The ability to evacuate individuals from the area directly impacted by the emergency overrules any other activity on the freeway facility; except perhaps for quick access to the affected area by emergency and rescue vehicles so that additional lives can be saved.

12.2.3 Key Considerations During Freeway Management Program Development

Freeway management and operations is just one aspect of emergency management. Accordingly, the broader context of emergency management should be duly considered when developing a freeway management program. For example (referring to the "funnel" diagram in Figure 3-1 in Chapter 3):

  • Institutional Environment / Planning Processes: One of the key themes of this Handbook is that freeway management and operations should be an integral part of the established processes within transportation agencies. Moreover, the freeway management practitioner must be cognizant of and, to the greatest extent possible (commensurate with his/her responsibilities), participate in these processes ensuring that freeway management and operations receives appropriate consideration. This is particularly true for emergency management. It is imperative that freeway managers and practitioners (and managers for other transportation modes) become involved in emergency planning and operations (e.g., serve on statewide task forces addressing emergency and terrorist incident responses; be involved in the development of state and regional emergency management and evacuation plans; review these plans, including transportation and terrorism annexes, to ensure that they are written so as to provide adequate guidance for highway responses; communicate with / provide information to emergency management agencies). Moreover, freeway practitioners must be aware of and understand the institutional structures (e.g., Incident Command System) and policies (e.g., area of a terrorist attack treated as a crime scene) that come into play during emergency situations.
  • Stakeholders: The number of stakeholders that are involved in emergency management is quite large. These many of the same stakeholders that are involved during normal operating conditions and minor incidents (e.g., other transportation agencies, police, fire, emergency service providers, news media), as well as organizations with which the freeway practitioner may not typically interact, including:
    • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), which is responsible for the consequence management aspect of any major incident
    • NOAA's National Weather Service (NWS) which is the lead agency for tracking severe weather
    • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) as the lead agency in crisis management to prevent and/or respond to a potential or actual terrorist incident
    • Other law enforcement agencies (e.g., setting up and enforcing new traffic management configurations (contra flow) and restrictions)
    • State and local emergency preparedness and coastal management organizations
    • Military commands and bases during defense mobilization
    • US Army Corps of Engineers
    • National Forest Service
    • American Red Cross
    • Visitors Bureaus (e.g., availability of hotel rooms for evacuees)
    • Public transit and rail agencies for evacuation planning (e.g., alternatives to the roadway network)
    • Public Health agencies
  • Needs and Services: This assessment should include an analysis of the potential vulnerability of the transportation infrastructure (bridges, TMC facilities) and ITS-based systems (software, traveler information dissemination methods) during emergencies, including the possibility that these facilities and systems may be a target for terrorism. (Additional information on this consideration is provided in Section 12.3.8.)
  • Concept of Operations: The Concept of Operations is crucial to provide guidance and structure for both the planning and implementation of emergency responses and regional evacuations. For example, the Regional Evacuation Con Ops for the State of Florida (3) includes the following sections: Overview, Authority, Planning Assumptions, Operations, Activities Necessary to Support the Concept of Operations, Pre-Positioning of Necessary Resources, Information Exchange, Managing Adjustment to the Regional Evacuation, Host Response Operations (e.g., traffic management, shelter operations, public information), Completion of Regional Evacuation, Re-entry into Evacuated Areas, Responsibilities, Maintenance of the Procedure. Reference 5 also identifies several items that should be included in the Concept of Operations (Table 12-2).

12.2.4 Relationship to National ITS Architectures

As indicated in Chapter 3, the National ITS Architecture provides a common structure or framework to promote compatibility and interoperability among systems, products, and services.

The "Emergency Management Subsystem", (refer to the "links and sausage diagram in Chapter 3) represents public safety and other allied agency systems that support coordinated incident management and emergency response. The subsystem includes dispatch centers operated by police, fire, and emergency medical services; centers associated with HAZMAT response and search and rescue special detachments; and security / surveillance services that improve traveler security. The Emergency Management subsystem creates, stores, and utilizes emergency response plans to facilitate coordinated response. Real-time traffic information received from the other center subsystems is used to further aide the emergency dispatcher in selecting the emergency vehicle(s) and routes that will provide the most timely response.

The National ITS Architecture defines various ITS elements and strategies in terms of market packages. For emergency management and transportation security, this includes the following (Note: Many of these are newly-created in the aftermath of 9-11, and are included in the draft Version 5.0 of the architecture):

  • Emergency Routing – Supports automated vehicle location and dynamic routing of emergency vehicles, as well as coordination with the Traffic Management Subsystem (e.g., surveillance information on road network conditions)
  • Roadway Closure Management – Closes roadways to vehicular traffic when driving conditions are unsafe and other scenarios where access to the roadway must be prohibited. It includes automatic or remotely controlled gates or barriers to control access.
  • Transportation Infrastructure Protection – Includes the monitoring of transportation infrastructure (e.g., bridges, tunnels and management centers) for potential threats using sensors and surveillance equipment and barrier and safeguard systems to preclude an incident, control access, or mitigate the impact of an incident.
  • Wide-Area Alert – Uses ITS traveler information systems to alert the public in emergency situations such as child abductions, severe weather threats, civil emergencies, and other situations that pose a threat to life and property.
  • Early Warning System – Monitors and detects potential, looming, and actual disasters including natural disasters (hurricanes, earthquakes, floods, winter storms, etc.) and technological and man-made disasters (hazardous materials), and acts of terrorism.
  • Disaster Response and Recovery – Enhances the ability of the surface transportation network to respond to and recover from disasters. It supports coordination of emergency response plans, provides enhanced access to the scene for response personnel and resources, and provides better information about the transportation system in the vicinity of the disaster.
  • Evacuation and Reentry Management – Supports evacuation of the general public from a disaster area and manages subsequent reentry to the area. It addresses evacuations for all types of disasters, including those that are well-planned and orderly (e.g., in advance of a hurricane), as well as those (e.g., terrorist attacks) that occur without warning and allow little or no time for preparation or public warning.
  • Disaster Traveler Information – Uses ITS to provide disaster-related traveler information to the general public, including evacuations and reentry information.

Other market packages that support emergency and evacuation management include the various traveler information packages, network surveillance, freeway control, regional traffic control, incident management system, reversible lane management, HAZMAT management, roadside HAZMAT security detection, road weather data collection, weather information processing / distribution, and roadway automated treatment.

12.2.5 Technologies and Strategies

Most technologies and strategies that are utilized in support of emergency and evacuation management are discussed in other chapters of the Handbook. For example:

  • Variable speed limits for reduced visibility operations, contra flow lanes for evacuations / reentry, and other lane management strategies (Chapter 8)
  • Traffic flow surveillance (Chapter 15)
  • Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS), Environmental Sensor Stations (ESS), and forecasts / predictions of areas needing treatment such as deicing and plowing (Chapter 15)
  • Traveler Information via Dynamic Message Signs and other dissemination methods (Chapter 13)
  • General incident management (Chapter 10)

Some of the unique attributes and operational issues associated with emergency and evacuation management are discussed in the next section.

One important consideration is that a significant portion of pre-planned evacuation routes (for hurricanes, fires, etc.), military deployment routes, and regional diversion routes (as a result of damaged roadway infrastructure) may go through rural areas, which are typically not instrumented with ITS technologies. Access to timely and accurate information during evacuations is critical to the evacuation process. Information about traffic flow rates and speeds, along with lane closures, weather conditions, incidents, and the availability of alternative routes is needed to effectively guide evacuees. If DOT and enforcement officials are working blind, with little quantitative knowledge of which evacuation routes are flowing well and which are in gridlock, they will be unable to redirect traffic from routes that are over capacity to nearby roads that are carrying little traffic. Consideration should therefore be given to the installation of such ITS devices – permanently or temporarily – along evacuation routes; even though normal traffic operations may not warrant their implementation. As discussed in other chapters, portable trailer mounted devices – including dynamic message signs, CCTV cameras and pan/tilt/zoom controls (including an extendible mast), and surveillance stations – are available that incorporate battery power with a solar charging system and wireless communications. These may be used for such routes. Another consideration is that these rural routes involve very sparsely populated areas with little access to power and communications. Static Signs

The main static sign used for hurricane evacuations is the evacuation route marker, which is included in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD – Reference 6). The circular sign measures 18 inches in diameter and reads "EVACUATION ROUTE" in white legend on a blue background. The legend also includes a white reflectorized arrow, which varies in direction. The MUTCD suggests the placement of evacuation route markers 150 to 300 feet in advance of and at any turn in an approved evacuation route and as straight-ahead confirmation where needed. Barriers

During emergency management, it may be necessary to closes roadways and / or their access points (e.g., on ramps for the direction opposite of contraflow operations). These barriers and gates may be temporary and installed manually (similar to that for maintenance activities); or they may be permanent gates – similar to railroad crossing arms – that are controlled remotely. Such barriers and gates are also addressed in the MUTCD.

12.2.6 Emerging Trends

Freeway management and operations in support of evacuations, and particularly Homeland security, is an evolving program area. The ITS America supplement to the National ITS Program Plan (4), focusing on Homeland security, identifies a wide range of recommended research actions, including:

  • Development and deployment of ITS-based transportation security technologies, such as sensors and analysis capabilities to automatically and immediately detect potential threats along the roadways and transportation centers.
  • Security-enhancing commercial vehicle technology for sensing and identifying hazardous materials, tracking potentially hazardous cargo, to assure that a commercial vehicle is being driven by an authorized person along an authorized route, and to safely halt vehicles which deviate from these guidelines.
  • Hardening transportation-related facilities, and providing back ups and alternatives under a range of attack / disaster scenarios. For example, TOC design will likely include considerations such as perimeter barriers, detection for intruders and weapons / explosives, chemical and biological weapon detection technologies, mylar sheeting on windows to protect against flying glass in the event of an explosion, etc. This also includes protecting the software-based information processing systems that may be vulnerable to hacking and other technology-driven interference, thereby protecting the availability, integrity, and confidentiality of data.
  • Creating a national ID card for transportation workers that would support rapid and reliable electronic identity and credentials verification.

The Program Plan also recommends that these security measures be developed and implemented in such a way that overall mobility, efficiency, and personal freedoms are not adversely affected.

12.3 Implementation and Operational Considerations

From the perspective of freeway management and operations, emergencies are very similar to planned special events (as discussed in the previous chapter) in that the impacts are wide ranging, significant planning and stakeholder coordination are necessary to mitigate these impacts, and similar strategies and technologies are often utilized. That said, there are also notable differences, such as:

  • Perhaps most significant is that, unlike planned special events, the location and time of an emergency is generally unknown until just before or after the emergency situation actually occurs. Hurricanes and winter storms are tracked, and projected landfalls / affected areas are known; but the reliable lead-time is, at best, a matter of a day or two. Earthquakes and terrorist attacks occur essentially without warning.
  • An emergency will often have a greater area of impact than a planned special event.
  • The focus for planned special events is the management of a significant uni-directional traffic flow (e.g., access to, and then from, the special event venue for participants and spectators. This is also an important consideration during emergencies (e.g., the orderly movement of residents and workers from the affected emergency area). Moreover, with emergency situations there is often a critical, simultaneous need for immediate access to the affected area by "first responders" (e.g., police, fire, security, medical) traveling in the opposite direction of the primary flow. Additionally, there is the reentry of evacuated persons following the emergency.

Nevertheless, the Special Event Handbook (summarized in the previous chapter) identifies several implementation and operational activities that are applicable to emergency and evacuation management, as discussed below.

12.3.1 Institutional Framework / Planning / Policies

The key to surviving any disaster is to be prepared and to be informed; and planning is an important part of this preparation. FEMA has developed an "Emergency Management Guide for Business & Industry" (Reference 7), which is available from the FEMA web site (Reference 2), and summarized in a presentation on the FHWA emergency management web site (Reference 1). The guide provides a step-by-step approach on how to create and maintain a comprehensive emergency management programs. The planning process is summarized in Table 12-1.

Table 12-1: Planning Process for Emergency Management
(Reference 7)

Step 1 – Establish A Planning Team

  • Form the team, obtaining input form all functional areas.
  • Establish authority
  • Issue a Mission Statement
  • Establish a schedule and budget

Step 2 – Analyze Capabilities and Hazards

  • Review internal plans and policies
  • Meet with outside groups (i.e., other stakeholders)
  • Identify applicable laws and regulations
  • Identify critical products, services and operations
  • Identify internal resources and capabilities
  • Identify external resources
  • Do an insurance review
  • Conduct a vulnerability analysis
    • Potential emergencies
    • Probability
    • Potential human impact
    • Potential property impact
    • Potential business impact
    • Resources / ability to respond

Step 3 – Develop the Plan

  • Identify challenges and prioritize activities
  • Write the plan
    • Executive Summary
    • Emergency Management Elements
    • Emergency Response Procedures
    • Supporting Documents (resource, emergency call lists)
  • Establish a training schedule
  • Coordinate with outside organizations
  • Review, conduct training and revise
  • Seek final approval
  • Distribute the plan

Step 4 – Implement the Plan

  • Integrate the plan into agency operations
  • Conduct training, drills and exercises
  • Regularly audit, evaluate and modify the plan

One of the activities identified in the Table is to develop a mission statement. This can include a list of high-level policies. For example, Caltrans has established a set of emergency response policies (Reference 8), which include:

  • Minimize the loss of life and property
  • Protect State-operated facilities and the State highway system
  • Maintain and protect up-to-date damage and operations information to public, media, local jurisdictions, the Governor, State legislators, as necessary
  • Open damaged state transportation system components as soon as possible
  • Cooperate with other key agencies at the local, State, and federal levels
  • Support the State emergency-response efforts by the California Governor's Office of Emergency Services, California Highway Patrol, and local jurisdictions
  • Conduct periodic drills and exercises in cooperation and other public agencies Emergency Operations Plans

The federal government, through FEMA, requires all states to have a comprehensive Emergency Operations Plan. These plans guide emergency operations for all types of hazards, from natural to manmade and technological. Within this "all-hazards framework" (e.g., earthquake, HAZMAT, hurricane, snow / ice, terrorism emergencies, mass gathering event) state DOTs have been designated with certain transportation-oriented responsibilities. The functions are typically set forth in the state emergency management plans and often detailed in DOT emergency operations plans. These functions can be summarized in terms of a set of transportation roles identified in Table 12-2.

Table 12-2: DOT Emergency Management Functions (Reference 5)

First Response

  • Assist with evacuation of persons from immediate peril.
  • Transport materials, personnel, and supplies in support of emergency activities. Assistance may include transporting resources from state agencies, from local governments from other parts of the state, or from private commercial companies.
  • Assist in the design and implementation of alternate transportation services, such as mass transit systems, to temporarily replace transport capacity lost to disaster damage.
  • Assess the condition of highways, bridges, tunnels and other components of the state's transportation infrastructure and:
    • Close those determined to be unsafe;
    • Post signing and barricades;
    • Notify law enforcement and emergency management personnel;
    • Protect, maintain and restore critical transportation routes and facilities;
    • Develop detour routings as appropriate.
  • Assess and report impacts to airports, ports, and marine facilities in the disaster area.
  • Conduct aerial reconnaissance and photographic missions, provided resources are available.
  • Provide hazardous materials containment response and damage assessment.
  • Coordinate roadway clearance activities and prioritize and perform emergency repairs in the disaster area. Assist local governments in related repair activities.
  • Remove and/or assist in debris removal and disposal, as appropriate, to provide emergency access to disaster areas or to assist in eliminating health and safety problems associated with debris.
  • Coordinate state agency efforts in support of utility restoration.
  • Issue permits required to repair/restore utility lines or pipes that are immediately adjacent to, or run over or under state highways.
  • Provide needed equipment and/or technical assistance in support of the restoration of critical public works.

Concept of Operations (Note: Defined in Reference 5 as "Description of operational approach from DOT perspective to managing emergency response to terrorist events")

  • Implement DOT emergency functions for the prioritization and/or allocation of state resources necessary to maintain and restore the state's transportation infrastructure.
  • Provide all available and obtainable transportation resource support including:
    • Transportation equipment, e.g., passenger and utility vans, trucks and/or trailers; aircraft, aircrews, and ground and operations personnel and communications for transportation of emergency officials;
    • Transportation facilities, e.g., vehicle repair facilities, equipment, and personnel; fleet parking and storage areas to be used for staging, parking, and storage of emergency vehicles; motor pool and vehicle service facilities and personnel for refueling and servicing emergency vehicles;
    • Vehicular traffic management and control signs and devices e.g., barriers, cones, of various types;
    • Vehicular traffic flow data and information from permanent and temporary monitoring sites.
  • Assign personnel to emergency operations center(s) to coordinate with and assist law enforcement agencies and other agencies involved in evacuation efforts.

System Surveillance and Management

  • Monitor and control transportation systems and infrastructure, and coordinate transportation activities with other agencies (local, state, and Federal).
  • Provide traffic control assistance.
  • Assist state and local government entities in determining the most viable available transportation networks to, from, and within the disaster area and regulate the use of those networks for the movement of people, equipment, supplies, records, etc.
  • Identify specific traffic management actions to maintain a smooth flow for evacuation routes and transport of emergency resources, including traffic control points, barricade plans, and potential one-way/reverse lane operations.
  • Provide any highway clearances and waivers required to expedite the transportation of high-priority materials and the evacuation of personnel during periods of declared emergencies.
  • Coordinate the closure of high-risk roadways such as bridges, tunnels, or flood prone sections of roadway.

Agency Communications

  • Provide communications resources in support of statewide operations

Public Information

  • Provide information on road closures, infrastructure damage, debris removal, and restoration activities related to highway systems and facilities.
  • Provide real-time traffic counter data and traffic reports for roads within the affected area or on roads leading into the area.
  • Assign appropriate personnel at key disaster sites to oversee operations and to provide consistent, verified public information to emergency management agencies, public information officers, and the media. When evacuation plans have been implemented, inform motorists which routes and intersections will lead to host shelters. Evacuations

While they may not be directly involved in evacuation decisions, per se; freeway practitioners should be aware of the factors and considerations that go into evacuation decision-making. The purpose of evacuation is to move threatened populations from areas where the emergency presents a risk to life and property – such as those areas that susceptible to storm surge, flooding, and wind damage during a hurricane, or burning in the event of a wildland fire. Evacuation decisions for hurricanes are based on information from computerized tracking and analysis models and discussions with the National Weather Service. Key factors include:

  • Providing enough time for people in storm surge zones and mobile homes to move before the arrival of tropical storm force winds (39 MPH).
  • Selecting an evacuation time to provide significant movement during day light hours
  • Making the decision before a peak news time when the media can warn the greatest number of people
    Similar factors are applicable to other evacuations where there is advance warning.

The ultimate decision to evacuate an area is usually left to the elected officials in charge of that jurisdictional unit, who are advised by the local Director of Emergency Management. Once an evacuation is deemed necessary, the extent and type of evacuation must be determined. The type and urgency are dependent on the characteristics of the emergency (e.g., strength / project landfall of a storm, strength and spread of a fire) and clearance times.

Hurricane evacuations are typically classified as one of three types (8):

  • Voluntary: Voluntary evacuations are targeted toward people most vulnerable to hurricane storm surge and extreme winds, including offshore workers, persons on coastal islands, and other special populations having particularly long lead-time requirements. No special traffic control or transportation measures are usually taken during voluntary evacuations and people may remain if they so choose.
  • Recommended: Recommended evacuations are issued when a storm has a high probability of causing a threat to people living in at-risk areas. Again, decisions of whether or not to leave are left to individuals and few special transportation arrangements are made.
  • Mandatory: During a mandatory evacuation, authorities put maximum emphasis on encouraging evacuation and limiting ingress to coastal areas. One of the problems of mandatory evacuations is that they are difficult to enforce. Many people resist being ordered to leave their homes and property by government officials. Moreover, some states do not allow enforcement of mandatory evacuations.

In the case of winter storms, there may not be an evacuation; but non-essential services, both public and private, may be closed prior to the arrival of the storm to minimize the amount of traffic on the roadways. (Note – The reduction in traffic not only reduces the likelihood of weather-related crashes; but also simplifies the weather maintenance activities such as plowing snow, anti-icing, applying abrasives, etc.)

The critical issue in any pre-emergency evacuation / closure is timing. The earlier the evacuation / closure order is issued, the more time residents and tourists will have to evacuate. Unfortunately, the earlier it is issued the greater the possibility the hurricane could change course before landfall or a winter storm could change its track / lose strength, rendering the evacuation / closure unnecessary or leading evacuees to more dangerous locations. Evacuations and closures that turn out to be unnecessary can also lead to a "Cry Wolf" syndrome in which some people are less likely to evacuate during future threats.

12.3.2 Stakeholder Roles & Coordination

The expanded number of emergency stakeholders is noted in section 12.2.3. Coordination with these stakeholders is essential to ensure consistency of evacuation routes and zones; traffic management, sheltering procedures, public information, etc. Formal coordination structures have been developed for emergency management as summarized below. Terminology
  • In coordinating with other stakeholders during the preparation for and response to an emergency, it is important to understand terminology specific to various types of emergencies. For example:
  • Hurricanes are classified into five categories according to wind velocity. Category 1 is the mildest, with winds from 74–95 mph. Category 5 is the strongest, with winds above 155 mph.
  • The Richter scale is a logarithmic measurement of energy released by an earthquake. Earthquakes with a magnitude of at least 4.5 are strong enough to be recorded by sensitive seismographs all over the world. The effects of earthquakes are measured by the Modified Mercalli Intensity scale, in which the intensity of a quake is evaluated according to the observed severity at specific locations. The Mercalli scale rates the intensity on a Roman numeral scale that ranges from I to XII. The Loma Prieta (northern California) earthquake in October 1989 registered 7.1 on the Richter scale and as high as XI on the Mercalli scale.
  • The Department of Homeland Security has developed a five-level threat notification Homeland Security Advisory System (HSAS) The following Threat Conditions (from Reference 9) each represent an increasing risk of terrorist attacks.
    • 1 – Low Condition (Green). This condition is declared when there is a low risk of terrorist attacks.
    • 2 – Guarded Condition (Blue). This condition is declared when there is a general risk of terrorist attacks.
    • 3 – Elevated Condition (Yellow). An Elevated Condition is declared when there is a significant risk of terrorist attacks. Associated activities include increasing surveillance of critical locations; coordinating emergency plans as appropriate with nearby jurisdictions; and implementing, as appropriate, contingency and emergency response plans.
    • 4 – High Condition (Orange). A High Condition is declared when there is a high risk of terrorist attacks. Associated activities include taking additional precautions at public events and possibly considering alternative venues or even cancellation; preparing to execute contingency procedures, such as moving to an alternate site or dispersing their workforce; and restricting threatened facility access to essential personnel only.
    • 5 – Severe Condition (Red). A Severe Condition reflects a severe risk of terrorist attacks. Protective measures include Increasing or redirecting personnel to address critical emergency needs; assigning emergency response personnel and pre-positioning and mobilizing specially trained teams or resources; monitoring, redirecting, or constraining transportation systems; and closing public and government facilities. Under most circumstances, the protective measures for a Severe Condition are not intended to be sustained for substantial periods of time.
  • One important measure of fire danger that the National Weather Service uses is the Lower Atmosphere Severity index, better known as the "Haines Index". Six is the highest rating' and was the reading for east-central Arizona the night before the aforementioned Rodeo fire. Federal Response Plan

Most disasters and emergencies are handled by State and local responders. The Federal Government is called on to provide supplemental assistance when the consequences of a disaster exceed State and local capabilities. If needed, the Federal Government can mobilize an array of resources to support State and local efforts. Various emergency teams, support personnel, specialized equipment, operating facilities, assistance programs, and access to private-sector resources constitute the overall Federal disaster operations system.

The Federal Response Plan (FRP) outlines how the Federal Government assists State and local governments when a major disaster or emergency overwhelms their ability to respond effectively to save lives; protect public health, safety, and property; and restore their communities. The FRP describes the policies, planning assumptions, concept of operations, response and recovery actions, and responsibilities of 25 Federal departments and agencies and the American Red Cross, that guide Federal operations following a Presidential declaration of a major disaster or emergency.

The FRP has proven to be an effective framework for coordinating delivery of Federal disaster assistance to State and local governments. Since it was issued in 1992, Federal agencies have demonstrated that they can work together to achieve the common goal of efficient, timely and consistent disaster response and recovery. An interim edition of the FRP (Reference 10, and available from the FEMA web site) reflects the passage of the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The FRP:

  • Sets forth fundamental policies, planning assumptions, a concept of operations, response and recovery actions, and Federal agency responsibilities;
  • Describes the array of Federal response, recovery, and mitigation resources available to augment State and local efforts to save lives; protect public health, safety, and property; and aid affected individuals and communities in rebuilding after a disaster;
  • Organizes the types of Federal response assistance that a State is most likely to need under 12 Emergency Support Functions (ESFs), each of which has a designated primary agency. ESFs include Transportation, Communications, Public Works and Engineering, Firefighting, Information and Planning, Mass Care, Resource Support, Health and Medical Services, Urban Search and Rescue, Hazardous Materials, Food, and Energy.
  • Describes the process and methodology for implementing and managing Federal recovery and mitigation programs and support/technical services;
  • Addresses linkages to other Federal emergency operations plans developed for specific incidents;
  • Provides a focus for interagency and intergovernmental emergency preparedness, planning, training, exercising, coordination, and information exchange; and
  • Serves as the foundation for the development of detailed supplemental plans and procedures to implement Federal response and recovery activities rapidly and efficiently. Incident Command System

Most incidents require the assistance of several different agencies, including fire, law enforcement, public works, emergency management agencies, etc. across one or more jurisdictions. This is particularly true for major emergencies. The efforts of these entities must be coordinated in order to achieve an efficient and effective response.

The Incident Command System (ICS) concept has been developed to govern the communications that must occur among these multiple entities. The cornerstone of ICS is a formalized management structure and procedures for controlling personnel, facilities, equipment, and communications. Initially developed as a result of wild fires in southern California in 1970, the ICS concept has been widely adopted and endorsed by numerous organizations (e.g., American Public Works Association, International Association of Chiefs of Police, National Fire Academy) as the standard to use for responding to all types of incidents and emergencies. Moreover, ICS is required by law to be used for response to HAZMAT incidents.

The ICS is made up of the following eight components, all working together to provide the basis for the ICS concept of operations:

  • Common terminology
  • Modular organization
  • Integrated communications
  • Unified command structure
  • Consolidated action plan
  • Manageable span-of-control
  • Pre-designated incident facilities
  • Comprehensive resource management

The formalized management structure on which the ICS is based is divided into five basic functions – command, planning, operations, logistics, and finance / administration – all of which are overseen by the Incident Commander, who is responsible for on-scene management and command authority.

The ICS includes a vast amount of protocols and procedures – details that are beyond the scope of this Handbook. What is important is that freeway practitioners recognize that such an ICS structure exists, and will likely be implemented during emergencies. It is also noted that the FRP uses the principles of the Incident Command System (ICS). Moreover, the Federal government is currently working on a single National Incident Management System (NIMS) that will describe a singular version of the ICS – one that is most likely different from the current version as described above. Evacuation Liaison Team

The Evacuation Liaison Team (ELT) has been established to support regional hurricane response efforts by compiling, analyzing, and disseminating traffic related information that can be used to facilitate the rapid, efficient, and safe evacuation of threatened populations. It is comprised of FEMA and US DOT (located at the FEMA Regional Operations Center), communicating with counterparts at the state level to ensure transportation-related information is shared among the affected States and the Federal government. Roles and responsibilities of the ELT include:

  • Provide federal and state emergency management officials with timely and accurate traffic / evacuation related information during multistate hurricane threats
  • Provide an overall liaison function, clearinghouse and centralized communication link between the states, regions, FEMA and others agencies and the media as appropriate
  • Receive, compile, and analyze vital information such as status of evacuations, traffic flows (volumes, speeds, travel times), problem areas, availability of shelters, emergency messages and instructions
  • Disseminate the appropriate information via website, video conferencing, teleconferences, email, facsimile
  • Assist in providing the necessary data, analysis, intelligence, etc. to facilitate evacuation, propositioning, staging, and re-entry planning, decision-making and problem solving.

The ELT may be activated under a variety of criteria, such as when a storm has the potential to become intense (category 3-5), poses a threat to multi-state areas, evacuation may be possible within 24–36 hours, or state(s) request activation. The freeway practitioner should become involved in these activities – including establishing and maintaining contact with ELT, developing and analyzing traffic projections (including traffic simulations), disseminating information, and implementing evacuation strategies.