Using Highways During Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice

Routes to Effective Evacuation Planning Primer Series

Produced in collaboration with the Intelligent Transportation Systems Joint Program Office (ITS JPO)


Activated—Direction is provided to personnel to report to their assigned location to support an evacuation.

Advanced Traveler Information Systems (ATIS)—ATIS provide traffic information and travel recommendations and guidance to drivers to help them make better travel decisions.

After-Action Report (AAR)—A report consisting of a summary of lessons learned from an incident. The AAR should include recommendations for improvements, and it is important for decision makers and agency personnel to consider and implement those recommendations quickly.

Agency Representative—An individual designated by an assisting agency for the purpose of making authoritative decisions on matters affecting the agency’s participation at the incident.

Alerted—Notice is provided to personnel of their need to report to their assigned location to support an evacuation.

Contraflow—Contraflow or lane reversal is utilized during mass evacuations on major limited or controlled access highways to reduce the duration of an evacuation by opening up all lanes in one direction.

Emergency Event—An incident or occurrence that requires an immediate response to bring the situation under control and restore normality, and which can threaten the health or safety of those involved, responders, and people in the surrounding area.

Emergency Operations Center (EOC)—The EOC is an established location/facility in which local and State staff and officials can receive information pertaining to an incident and from which they can provide direction, coordination, and support to emergency operations. This is where the decision makers and support agencies should report to manage an evacuation.

Emergency Support Function (ESF) Annexes—Found in the NRP, the ESFs detail the missions, policies, structures, and responsibilities of Federal agencies for coordinating resource and programmatic support to States, tribes, and other Federal agencies or other jurisdictions and entities during Incidents of National Significance. The introduction to the ESF annexes summarizes the functions of ESF coordinators and primary and support agencies.

Evacuation—The process by which people are moved away from a place where there is immediate or anticipated danger to a place of safety, offered appropriate temporary welfare facilities, and enabled to return to their normal accommodation and activities when the threat to safety has passed, or to make suitable alternative arrangements.

Evacuation Liaison Team (ELT)—The ELT is comprised of members from the FHWA, FEMA, and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The ELT serves as the focal point for coordination and communication among States during an evacuation. The ELT is activated for Category 3 or higher hurricanes that may necessitate multi-State evacuations. When activated, ELT activities are coordinated from the FEMA Regional Operations Center in Atlanta, GA.

Evacuation Operations Team (EOT)—The EOT comprises personnel from a variety of disciplines including but not limited to TIM teams, public safety officers (police, fire, rescue, emergency medical services), road maintenance workers, debris clearance personnel, utility representatives, and transportation and transit planners to plan and manage the evacuation.

First Responder—This is the first responding unit to arrive at an incident scene. This term has traditionally been used to describe public safety emergency responders who have duties related to preservation of life and property. As transportation agencies become more actively involved in traffic incident response and take active roles in Incident Command (as partners in Unified Command), they are becoming accepted as first responders for traffic incidents. For example, motorist assistance teams may be first on the scene of an incident and many are trained to provide traffic control to stabilize the scene and provide emergency first aid. Some service patrols are also permitted limited use of emergency lights and sirens to get to an incident.

Geographic Information System (GIS)—GIS is a system for creating, storing, analyzing, and managing spatial data and associated attributes. It is a computer system capable of integrating, storing, editing, analyzing, sharing, and displaying geographically referenced information.

Highway Advisory Radio (HAR)—HAR is used to broadcast information to motorists in a localized area and provide more information than can often be communicated with a VMS.

Incident Command System (ICS)—This is a systematic tool used for the command, control, and coordination of emergency response. ICS allows agencies to work together using common terminology and operating procedures to control personnel, facilities, equipment, and communications at a single incident scene. It facilitates a consistent response to any incident by employing a common organizational structure that can be expanded and contracted in a logical manner based on the level of required response.

Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS)—ITS encompass a broad range of wireless and wire-line communications-based information and electronics technologies. One of the ways that transportation officials are responding to the need for information is through the application of ITS technologies.

In-Vehicle Systems—These systems can provide a wide array of information to a motorist via a video display inside the vehicle. Subscribers to these services can receive routine traveler information as well as emergency information.

Liaison Officer—This is a command staff position consisting of a single person who acts as the on-scene contact point for representatives of assisting agencies assigned to the incident. A liaison officer may designate one or more assistants from either the same or another assisting agency or jurisdiction.

Mandatory Evacuation—This is a situation where authorities put maximum emphasis on encouraging evacuation and limiting ingress to potentially impacted areas. These events also occur when evacuation transportation plans go into effect.

Mutual-Aid Agreement—This is a written agreement between agencies and/or jurisdictions to assist one another on request by furnishing personnel, equipment, and/or expertise in a specified manner.

National Incident Management System (NIMS)—This is a system mandated by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 that provides a consistent nationwide approach for governments, the private sector, and non-governmental organizations, to work effectively and efficiently together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity.

National Response Plan (NRP)—This is an all-discipline, all-hazards plan for the management of domestic incidents. Using the template established by the NIMS, the NRP provides the structure and mechanisms to coordinate and integrate incident management activities and emergency support functions across Federal, State, local, and tribal government entities; the private sector; and non-governmental organizations.

National Warning System (NAWAS)—The NAWAS is a national, interconnected telephone system that can be used to warn areas of impending emergencies.

Preparedness—This is the range of deliberate, critical tasks and activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the operational capability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents.

Recommended Evacuation—This is an evacuation issued when an event has a high probability of causing a threat to people living in at-risk areas. Decisions of whether or not to leave are left to individuals and some special transportation arrangements are made.

Resource—Resources include personnel or equipment assigned to perform a specific tactical operation at an incident. Resources can be organized into task forces or strike teams.

Shadow Evacuation—These evacuations involve people who are not in the danger area but choose to evacuate, thereby increasing the time needed to evacuate an area.

Shelter—This is a location where people evacuated from a disaster area can go to receive appropriate care until they can return to the evacuated area or be otherwise accommodated.

Staging Area—This is a location established to enable positioning of and accounting for resources not immediately assigned. A staging area may include temporary feeding, fueling, and sanitation services as necessary.

Standard Operating Procedure (SOP)—This is a complete reference document detailing the procedures for performing a single function.

Traffic Data Recording System—This system is widely used by State DOTs for planning purposes to monitor and assess statewide traffic volume and speed characteristics. While the design of individual systems vary, they typically use a remote sensing system (i.e., pavement loops) and a basic traffic data recorder.

Traffic Management Center (TMC) or Traffic Operations Center (TOC)—The TMC or TOC is the hub of a transportation management system, where information about the transportation network is collected and combined with other operational and control data to manage the transportation network and produce traveler information.  It is the focal point for communicating transportation-related information to the media and the motoring public, and a place where agencies can coordinate their responses to transportation situations and conditions. The TMC links various elements of ITS such as VMS, closed circuit video equipment, and roadside count stations enabling decision makers to identify and react to an incident in a timely manner based on real time data.

Traffic Management Plan—This is a plan established to clearly direct and control the flow of traffic that has been interrupted with minimal disturbance to normal flow. The plan determines the placement of barricades, warning lights, or signs for the duration of the highway incident impeding normal traffic flow.

Unified Command (UC)—This is one of two methods of performing the command function that employs multiple ranking personnel. UC is used when an incident affects multiple political or legal jurisdictions and/or involves several responding agencies with contrasting functional responsibilities and missions.

Voluntary Evacuation—This type of evacuation is targeted toward people most vulnerable to the threat, including offshore workers, persons on coastal islands and other flood prone areas, and other special populations having particularly long lead-time evacuation requirements. This also includes people in harm’s way from other events. No special traffic control or transportation measures are usually taken during voluntary evacuations, and people may remain if they so choose.