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

4.2.7 Changing Conditions

This section of the literature search addresses information found on changing conditions. It is subdivided into changing priorities and responsibility for the changing requirements.

Findings regarding changing conditions include:

  • Priorities change during evacuations from safety and protection of evacuees to providing mobility for evacuees.
  • During the 2003 blackouts, responsibilities for items such as traffic management shifted spontaneously from the police to citizens. Changing Priorities

Priorities change during evacuations from safety and protection of evacuees to providing mobility for evacuees.

9/11 Terrorist Acts: New York City and Washington, DC – During the initial terrorist attacks, the priority for transportation entities was for the safety and protection of passengers and employees. As events unfolded and time passed, the priority changed to mobility of the communities. As reported in Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: Cross-Cutting Study, “The initial guiding priority in every emergency is the protection of life. Transportation officials must begin almost immediately to implement evacuation plans and institute recovery procedures. In each of these cases, officials were charged with making decisions without full knowledge of the rapidly changing existing conditions and uncertainty of what future events might occur to change the situation. Because of this, safety and security took priority over mobility. As time passed and more information was available, officials began to restore mobility. This restoration of mobility varied with each of the events. Within days, mobility was restored to the Washington and Baltimore areas. Because of the physical damage in Los Angeles and New York, it was months before key pieces of the transportation infrastructure could be reopened to the general traveling public at normal levels.”

Adjustments During Evacuations – The literature search found information on the need for adjustments during evacuations. As reported in the State of Florida Regional Evacuation Procedure(s), “During a regional evacuation, for a wide variety of unanticipated reasons, it may become necessary to adjust or modify procedures stipulated in the hazard-specific annexes. The most readily apparent reasons for such modifications could include, but not necessarily be limited to, the following: changes in the direction or intensity of the hazard; blockage or excessive vehicle congestion on a regional evacuation route; filling of available capacity at public shelters and hotels/motels in host counties; and anticipated failure to complete the evacuation prior to hazardous conditions impacting evacuees.”

Blackouts of 2003 – During the 2003 blackouts, the initial reaction to the incident was to perceive it as an act of terrorism; however, as more information became available, the reaction to the incident changed. As reported in Learning from the 2003 Blackout, “The first question on many peoples’ minds, including speculations transmitted by the press: Was this emergency related to national security? The guiding priority in every emergency is the protection of life, but many transportation staff in the affected areas initially feared a terrorist attack. Reaction and response to a terrorist attack would be different from a non-security-related emergency, making it vital to communicate the causes of failure as quickly as possible. Once the causes of the blackout became clear, agency managers shifted their focus from security to safety and then to mobility.”

The collection of tolls is important to respective transportation entities. However, priorities shifted for the New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority during the blackout in New York City. As reported in Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: August 2003 Northeast Blackout New York City, “Tolls were suspended on toll facilities, with the exception of the New York State Thruway. Because this agency maintains emergency generator power at all of its toll facilities as a standard business practice, they were able to operate under normal conditions. While Metropolitan Transportation Authority bridges and tunnels were able to operate on backup generator power and their toll collection facilities were operational, agency management suspended the collection of tolls outbound from Manhattan.”

Southern California Wildfires: 2003 – According to the Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center, during the southern California wildfires, the initial response of officials was to act in a reactionary mode—depend on pre-existing relationships until the situation became manageable. The following four paragraphs are excerpts from the report.

“Incident leaders said they had to start out in a purely reactionary mode. Shift changes, team handoffs, and organizational development had to occur during the worst possible incident conditions. Problems between the 800 MHz and VHF communications systems exacerbated these issues because municipal and county firefighters could not talk to state and federal firefighters. Incident commanders responded that during this reactive phase, strong, centralized command and control was impossible to achieve, reporting that, given the available resources, they could not possibly accomplish all the things requiring attention.”

“Incident commanders found that it was more successful to set a limited number of critical priorities and work with what was available to accomplish them. They made sure those critical objectives were communicated to the tactical level.”

“As incidents escalated and the system became overloaded, respondents reported that pre-existing relationships based on previous interagency cooperation proved essential. There were periods when common sense and collaboration was the only effective way to respond to the escalating nature of what was occurring and cooperators had to jointly determine and execute initial strategies and tactics with other cooperators.”

“After the initial influx of resources and as the command systems overcame the initial reactionary postures and gained the initiative, they began to send out ‘wranglers’ to tie in with divisions, groups, and strike teams to verify units and numbers of people and to ensure that documentation was complete and accurate.” Responsibility for the Changing Priorities

According to Learning from the 2003 Blackout, during the blackouts, responsibilities for items such as traffic management shifted spontaneously from the police to citizens: “With police, fire, and emergency response personnel focused on freeing people trapped in stiflingly hot elevators and dealing with other life-threatening situations, traffic management took a secondary priority. In many cases, citizens stepped in to direct traffic at major intersections when police were unable to reach their assigned stations.

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