Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

1.2 Lessons Learned

Lessons can be learned from the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the 2003 blackouts, the I-95 tanker explosion, hurricanes, and other incidents. The literature search found that there are common themes in the lessons learned by the various entities. Table 1-2 summarizes these common themes.

Table 1-2. Common Lessons Learned Among Various Entities

Common Themes

Lessons Learned

Advanced Preparations and Planning

  • Do not ignore low-technology solutions
  • Review and learn from past events
  • Establish mutual-aid agreements
  • Plan for all types of emergencies
  • Review emergency plans after an event
  • Develop procedures to guide actions to be taken early in an emergency

Advanced Technology

  • Realize advanced technologies play an important role in communications and decision making
  • Use ITS technology but also a mix of older technology
  • Be prepared for limited use of ITS technology
  • Consider ITS functionality that could be particularly useful during an emergency
  • Use ITS technologies to provide information and assist in decision making
  • Utilize portable ITS equipment in responding to incidents
  • Realize communication systems can complement ITS technology
  • Keep traffic management centers open during the incident; use alternative power if necessary
  • Establish reliable backup power to maintain normal ITS functions

Command and Control

  • Delegate decision making down
  • Maintain close ties with law enforcement entities
  • Make use of an incident command system
  • Use incident management teams
  • Have incident management teams work with infrastructure and utility personnel
  • Establish pre-selected incident command post locations


  • Be prepared to communicate using various methods, such as fax, handouts, maps, cell phones, satellite phones, cable television, face-to-face, email, Internet/Web, and ham radio operators
  • Communicate with a unified voice
  • Understand communication may be difficult during an incident
  • Develop a joint information center
  • Be prepared to activate the emergency alert system early
  • Have compatible radio systems
  • Expect loss of power and communications
  • Have both internal and external communication mechanisms
  • Inform all participants
  • Realize a multimedia approach may be necessary
  • Ensure information is accurate and consistent


  • Practice cooperation during normal times
  • Practice interagency cooperation


  • Coordinate the response with others
  • Maintain relationships (pre-existing relationships among agencies and personnel are key to emergency management success)
  • Utilize the resources of all participants
  • Involve law enforcement and non-traditional agencies
  • Conduct a collaborative post-incident review
  • Establish internal coordination as well as external

Emergency Plans

  • Develop emergency plans
  • Test the emergency plan


  • Develop evacuation routes and remember evacuations can cross state lines
  • Modify evacuation routes as needed
  • Allow for individual initiative
  • Identify evacuation routes
  • Maintain emergency services access to the disaster area and evacuation routes
  • Include evacuation of dispatch centers
  • Use available tools to aid in the decision to evacuate
  • Communicate with people who do not evacuate
  • Ensure reentry of evacuees
  • Realize priorities may conflict
  • Realize priorities will change over time


  • Be ready to throw out the procedures if they do not work in an evacuation
  • Delegate responsibility down to the appropriate level in the organization
  • Empower employees
  • Expect chaos
  • Know where you are going and how to get there
  • Use volunteers in a support role
  • Overcome the need to take action without planning
  • Prepare for emergencies in advance to make day-of-event decisions earlier
  • Set priorities as quickly as possible
  • Reduce impacts of work zones
  • Develop clear procedures for evacuations

Redundancy and Resiliency of Systems

  • Build redundancy into institutions and physical systems including personnel, communications, utilities, and control centers
  • Pre-position supplies and equipment (if the supplies and equipment can be identified)
  • Adopt a mindset of resiliency
  • Have redundant system of trained agency personnel
  • Remember the transit system can provide redundancy
  • Conduct inventory of backup resources
  • Establish backup power
  • Have alternative emergency operations centers
  • Use multiple communications technologies


  • Conduct training exercises
  • Practice with other entities
  • Adapt response plans to the incident
  • Train first, second, and third string staff for emergencies
  • Review and update crisis plans with training


February 7, 2006
Publication #FHWA–HOP-08-015