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

Chapter 1. Introduction

Transportation management centers (TMCs) exist in many large population and traffic concentration areas across the country to manage and enhance the efficient operation, safety, and health of major metropolitan and regional transportation networks and corridors. TMCs perform a wide variety of transportation management functions, depending on the authority and capability vested in the centers. Table 1-1 lists the most common TMC functional areas.

Table 1-1: TMC Common Functional Areas
TMC Common Functional Areas
Management of traffic control systems and assets
Incident response and clearance functions
Emergency response functions
Monitoring and surveillance of transportation network conditions
Acquisition and communication of traffic information

The extent of the leading and supporting roles of TMCs in these functional areas varies depending on specific jurisdictional situations, incidents, or emergencies. TMCs are also sometimes referred to as traffic management centers or transportation or traffic operations centers (TOCs). While there is no standard definition for these terms, those referred to as transportation rather than traffic may have a multi-modal focus—not just a roadway focus. Those centers referred to as operations rather than management centers may have a larger role in overall transportation operations, including incident management, through a more fully integrated team with law enforcement and other emergency responders as well as other proactive response functions such as operating a safety/service patrol.

Emergency operations centers (EOCs) exist in some form in virtually every State and local jurisdiction in the country. Their primary roles include management of and response to emergencies of all kinds that threaten or result in significant impact on public health and safety, infrastructure, commerce, and/or national security. EOCs typically are communications centers and physical locations where responsible government officials, along with law enforcement, fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and infrastructure management authorities, gather to coordinate emergency response. EOCs usually define and tier coordination and leadership roles along jurisdictional lines, and full operations of these centers are “stood up” according to defined criteria for declaring emergency conditions.[1] Table 1-2 lists the most common EOC functional areas.

Table 1-2: EOC Common Functional Areas
EOC Common Functional Areas
Communications management and coordination
Physical facility for assembly of responsible officials and staff
Emergency response decision-making and management of response functions
Monitoring and surveillance of emergency situation and response activity

According to the Fusion Center Guidelines, a fusion center (FC) is a collaborative effort of two or more agencies that provide resources, expertise, and information to the center with the goal of maximizing their ability to detect, prevent, investigate, and respond to criminal and terrorist activity. Some forms of FCs address specific laws such as driver licensing, banking crime, or specific critical infrastructure elements. At the same time, some FCs also exist to synthesize information and focus on a much wider set of public safety and national security challenges (such as terrorism, major criminal activities, public health risks, major economic risks, critical infrastructure protection, and major natural hazards). Table 1-3 lists the most common FC functional areas.

Table 1-3: FC Common Functional Areas
FC Common Functional Areas
Aggregation and synthesis of safety and security-related information
Assessment and reporting of safety and security threats
Monitoring and surveillance of critical infrastructure conditions

The three types of centers distinctly differ in their primary missions, and each center type acquires and processes information that is unique and may not be of common interest. However, significant actual and potential information exchange can benefit the centers’ assessments, decision-making, and operations.

The potential benefits of TMC, EOC, and FC center-to-center information sharing are most apparent when addressing the centers’ common uses of various types of information about regional and local transportation networks. Categories of transportation information best suited for common use or exchange are those regarding configuration, operations status, and incidents on the transportation network. This guidebook addresses sharing[2] of transportation information between centers and explores information-sharing logic, benefits, barriers, and solutions.

1.1 The Information-Sharing Situation Today

TMCs, EOCs, and FCs have established information-gathering and communications channels that tap into external sources, as well as “owned” equipment and operations systems. They interconnect with partner agencies and with deployed assets (e.g., cameras, sensors, and control systems) via landline, wireless, and Internet links. Key external communications links for TMCs and EOCs also include weather services, 911 centers, law enforcement dispatch systems (e.g., computer-aided dispatch [CAD] and similar systems), and the traffic reporting media.

Communications links for the many variations of FCs are more difficult to characterize because they are very specific to the particular criminal, safety, or hazard focus of each center. FCs employ landline, wireless, and Internet links, and, where practical, integrated data systems. Often, the data and communication connections include law-enforcement-sensitive or classified information, so equipment for relaying information is specialized.

Figure 1-1: Centers’ Links

Illustration of information exchange between centers

Figure 1-1 characterizes the centers’ respective information sources, using linkages that are representative of the various centers researched.

Each EOC maintains seats and terminals dedicated for any local or regional agency that might be engaged in particular emergencies (e.g., police, fire, public works, transit, and intelligence agencies; EMS; TMCs; departments of transportation; and bridge, tunnel, and toll road authorities) and represents a functional area (e.g., transportation and mass care). Principal agencies involved in the specific FC missions jointly staff the FCs.

The trend in and importance of information sharing is on the rise today, as more resources have been invested in sophisticated intelligent transportation systems (ITS) and surveillance technologies, as major terrorist and natural emergencies have overstressed real-time communications, and as increasingly congested roadways lead to incidents that impede traffic flows and threaten lives and property. These incidents have clearly shown the high public costs of information gaps, preparedness deficiencies, and insufficient situational awareness by decision-makers.

While many kinds of information sharing can be logical and useful for TMC, EOC, and FC missions, achieving the sharing of information can require significant dedication and investment in the proposition. Legitimate and significant technical and policy barriers to information exchange can come into play and must be resolved. This guidebook explores the following hurdles:

  • Legal and privacy concerns related to surveillance and traveler information

  • Control and security of criminal and potentially litigious information

  • Prudent and appropriate release of information to the public domain

  • Varying levels of concern between centers over security, reliability, and sustainability of specific information flows

  • “Language” complexities, including data and message standards, geo-referencing systems, usage conventions

  • Technical barriers in linking together legacy media, hardware, and systems (e.g., digital video feeds and multiple wireless standards and frequencies)  

  • Specific policies and mandates of participating agencies—regarding ownership of resources, mission priorities, and logical and physical access restrictions.

The communication and information-sharing barriers are classic problems—both complicated and frequently addressed by policy-makers and practitioners with irony and resignation. As the challenges that TMCs, EOCs, and FCs face continue to grow more complex, policy practices are becoming more sophisticated and improved technologies are facilitating better ways to gather, process, properly synthesize, and share information.

1.2 The Potential Value of Sharing Transportation-Related Information

TMCs, EOCs, and FCs similarly gather, process, and synthesize at least three basic kinds of information to make operational decisions or reach conclusions on actions needed:

  • Operational Information (Situational) – Critical for making fast and informed operational decisions and for communicating accurate alerts and notifications on incidents, threats, and emergencies

  • Recorded Information – Basis for operational assessments, investigation, planning, and after-action reporting

  • Physical Infrastructure Information – Framework for setting and communicating priorities, determining risks, and deploying field resources.

Table 1-4 presents these common information types and potential value to centers, characterized by transportation network examples.

Table 1-4: Common Information Types Across Centers
Information Type Transportation Information Examples
Operational Traffic flows, video feeds, localized surface weather Traffic control, snow/ice tactics Assessment of emergency situation and risks Real-time threat, risk assessment
Recorded Incident logs, video records, traffic records Traffic safety assessment and planning After-action assessment Law enforcement, investigation
Physical Infrastructure Maps, physical feature data Work zone management, resource deployment Data and framework for decisions, communications Framework for threat, risk assessment

Information handled by EOCs can assist and enhance fulfillment of TMC and FC missions. Most of the information handled by EOCs during incident operations falls in the real-time category—in the form of alerts and notifications and advance indications of needs for transportation support from the transportation representatives at the EOC. Those transportation representatives at the EOC will need to maintain contact with their TMC, if not co-located, to ensure they keep the EOC up to date on traffic conditions and other such real-time situational information that can be supplied by the TMCs. Information coordinated by EOCs during and after emergency operations may also assist some FCs in their investigative and threat assessment roles.

Advanced FC information on threat assessment and critical infrastructure vulnerabilities would also assist TMCs and EOCs in planning and managing emergency preparedness, response, and recovery operations as well as inform potential future investments in transportation infrastructure.

Over the next 10 years, traffic and congestion challenges will continue to build rapidly in urban areas. Transportation managers will likely deploy more advanced traffic management and tolling technologies, and will no doubt integrate more multi-modal operations data to provide a more robust picture of the total transportation network in a region. Vehicle Infrastructure Integration (VII) or IntelliDriveSM initiatives will ultimately lead to more proactive control[3] systems for transportation movements during emergencies. This evolution will likely enable TMCs to share more comprehensive “situational awareness” information to enhance EOC and FC operations. More fully integrated EOC voice and data communications systems will enable these centers to better and more quickly leverage outside information sources.

1.3 Guidebook Content

The purpose of this guidebook is to explore the possibilities, challenges, and logical benefits for increased information sharing between TMCs, EOCs, and FCs. The intent is to interest center managers and operators in new collaborative initiatives that may not have been considered and to provide information that may assist interested practitioners and policy-makers in pursuing those new initiatives.

The remainder of the guidebook includes the following chapters:

  • Chapter 2. Missions and Characteristics – Describes the TMC, EOC, and FC characteristics, functions, and information handled
  • Chapter 3. Opportunities for Collaboration – Describes the information exchange opportunities
  • Chapter 4. Challenges and Options for Information Exchange – Describes the technical and policy challenges
  • Chapter 5. Lessons Learned and Successful Practices – Provides lessons learned in practice
  • Chapter 6. Summary – Assessing the Value of TMC/EOC/FC Information-Sharing.

[1] Many EOCs continuously staff personnel to maintain preparedness and monitor alerts and developing conditions that may lead to declared emergencies. In emergencies, designated officials assemble and manage operational decisions from or through the center.

[2] Both actual and potential.

[3] Enabled by navigation systems, roadside dedicated short-range communications (DSRC), vehicle location, and speed data.

June 2010
Publication #FHWA-HOP-09-003