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

Chapter 5. Lessons Learned and Successful Practices

This chapter provides a compilation of lessons learned and successful practices based on case and field research. The focus of the research and findings presented is on exchange opportunities, solutions to exchange barriers, and benefits gained.

Interagency exchange of information promotes rapid, efficient, and appropriate response from all agencies. Public safety agencies benefit from obtaining closed-circuit television pictures for verification and assessment of an incident as they begin their response. This visual information helps the agencies to dispatch the appropriate response teams and to recall those teams if the incident clears up before they arrive. Public safety agencies can also benefit from information regarding traffic conditions on the response route and special information, such as blocked railroad crossings or construction that might affect the response.[55]

5.1 Lessons Learned

The Computer-Aided Dispatch (CAD) – Traffic Management Center (TMC) Field Operational Test: (FOT): State of Utah Final Report[56] provides lessons learned on the field test conducted that aimed to integrate the Utah Highway Patrol (UHP), the Utah Department of Transportation (UDOT), Salt Lake City Fire and Police Departments, the Utah Transit Authority (UTA), and the Valley Emergency Communications Center (VECC) information systems to enable the real-time exchange of incident data. The FOT documented lessons learned, which include:

  • Involve IT staff early in the project planning process. Interviewees mentioned the importance of involving agency IT staff early in the development of the integrated system. This is important so the IT organization provides technical input to the system to assure that the computing and communication environments fit within each agency and can be effectively maintained.

  • Understand the importance of close working relationships from the start. All of those interviewed by the Evaluation Team mentioned the importance of the close working relationship among the agencies involved in this FOT. The work these agencies did in preparation for and during the 2002 Winter Olympic Games strengthened the close working relationship. Although not every region can strengthen relationships among agencies by hosting the Olympic Games, agencies should consider how to build these relationships in advance of implementing an integrated system.

  • Provide dedicated staff working on integration, or staff with emphasis on integration. Interviewees mentioned that it was often difficult to spend enough time on the integrated system. Decisions and work items sometimes took longer than those involved would have preferred. Even though every agency supported the integrated system, staff had normal responsibilities with integration duties added on. It would be ideal if staff involved had a priority on the integrated system tasks.

  • Build in short development cycles to reduce staff turnover issues. Interviewees mentioned that some agencies had critical staff turnover during the implementation of the integrated system. Staff turnover can be disruptive to implementation schedules and budgets as new people have to come up to speed on the system. If the system is planned to have incremental implementations (see Section 4.2: Technical and Vulnerability Challenges), then the development cycles for each incremental implementation can be short to minimize the likelihood that staff will turnover during a given development cycle. Staff turnover between cycles is not as disruptive as turnover during a development cycle.

  • Understand the importance of considering the role of business practices in the integrated system. As discussed earlier in this document, it is important that the integrated system not require a change in the operator’s or dispatcher’s work process. However, if other aspects of an agency’s business practice would improve the integrated system, it should be considered. For example, VECC agencies were concerned about providing certain information to the integrated system. UDOT is planning to develop an MOU with the VECC agencies that will specify how the information will be used. This may allow a change in those agencies’ business practices that will lead to more information shared in the integrated system.

  • Understand the importance of coordination meetings. Interviewees mentioned the importance of ongoing, periodic coordination meetings with the partner agencies. These meetings kept communication open and emphasis on the integrated project.

  • Define what data is exchanged and when. In the Utah system, the IEEE 1512 standard was selected for incident management messages and codes. However, not all vendors supported those codes. It is important for agencies to prepare for differences in codes and determine how to handle these differences.

  • Decide what incidents will be shared among agencies and what information will be exchanged when an incident is shared. The experience in Utah is leading the participating agencies to automatically send incidents of interest and allow the receiving systems to filter those incidents to display the ones that are likely to be of most interest to the operators.

  • Understand the importance of incremental implementation. In the Utah system, agencies learned a lot in the initial implementation of the integrated system. The agencies are using that knowledge to plan improvements to the integrated system. For agencies planning an integrated system, it is recommended that they plan an initial implementation and at least one subsequent, incremental improvement. Any group of agencies is almost certain to learn how they would prefer to have the system operate. The project and related contracts should be arranged to allow the agencies to implement what they learn in the initial implementation.

  • Understand the importance of redundant communication path. As discussed in Section 4.3.6, a back-up communication pathway is important. Agencies should plan to include redundant communications in an integrated system.

  • Minimize or avoid duplicate entry. Because not all needed information is transferred from the VECC to the integrated system, the UDOT operators have to enter data in their system that was already entered by VECC dispatchers in their system. Ideally, any given piece of information would only be input once by any operator in the integrated system. This is an important concept to plan for in any integrated system.

Information sharing across agencies promotes a strong basis for collaboration and coordination in managing incidents. Much evidence in case studies on operational performance benefits is anecdotal and has not been formally quantified. For example:

  • Incident responders in San Antonio have estimated that joint training and planning activities of the TMC have resulted in a 40-percent decrease in incident clearance times.

  • The Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) has developed a quarterly reporting process to track various performance and accountability measures for routine review by the Washington State Transportation Commission and others. The report includes a section on incident response, including the total number of responses by month, the average clearance times by month, and the number of incidents that lasted more than 90 minutes.

A challenge in identifying operational performance benefits was generally a lack of baseline performance data from which to measure.

The FOT conducted by Utah also provided a summary of the benefits that may be achieved through the CAD and TMC system integration. Benefits cited in the study included:

  • Enhanced field operations associated with locating and responding to incidents. To a significant extent, Utah previously realized this benefit. UDOT and UHP had previously co-located staff at TMCs, and CAD terminals were placed in TMCs to enable data sharing. The most significant benefit realized by the project was the ability to engage in direct data exchange between legacy systems, rather than having an operator observe two or more terminals. This real-time exchange of data adds to the benefits previously obtained through interagency cooperation, represents an additional enhancement of field operations, and fills what had been a gap in the existing incident management and response program already in place in Utah.

  • Geo-location for placing incidents and marginal improvement in scene clearance. Observed benefits included the use of Geo-location in providing a mechanism to place incidents without operator intervention, and from interviews, a qualitative assessment that scene clearance time seemed to improve marginally. Better traveler information offers the public the opportunity to bypass the incident, which leads to less congestion and better response sooner (response units getting to the scene via a clear route). This logic seems sound; however, data was not available to support these conclusions.

  • Enhanced communications among responders; enhanced on-scene activities. The evaluation was not able to completely assess this benefit. The system is newly deployed and, while operational, is still undergoing refinement. This benefit would be more accurately assessed when the system has matured and has been in use for a period of several years instead of several months.

  • Enhanced efficiency in documenting the incidents. In the first 2 months of operation, the number of incidents documented by the integrated system increased by about 800 percent. The number of incidents for which the TMC maintained data increased significantly after the CAD-TMC integration. The main difference observed between the before and after data discussed above was that UDOT seemed to maintain much more complete incident records after the deployment, both in terms of the number of incidents recorded and the details recorded about each incident. It is believed that this increase is due in large part to the fact that CAD data was more readily available to TMC operators after the CAD-TMC deployment. This is supported, in part, by the large number of incidents in the after data for which Dispatch Services/9-1-1 were listed as the reporting agency.

  • Improved data quality. The electronic data collection, particularly in recording the incident start and stop times, has significantly improved overall data quality. An additional example of this is reflected in a decrease in the error rate for the coding of incidents by type.

  • Improved interagency working relationships. Utah had already achieved substantial progress in this area, and the project represented a continuation of this benefit. Utah’s success in this area is represented by the interagency discussions on the amount and type of data that should be exchanged between the systems; the interagency cooperation that enabled this data exchange established the venue for addressing this type of system refinement based on initial deployment experience.

  • Enhanced communication with the traveling public and media. This benefit would be more properly addressed at system maturity. While anecdotal evidence obtained during after-project interviews indicates that enhanced communication is occurring, assessing this metric based on several years of implementation experience will provide a more accurate measure of the benefit of enhanced communication to the traveling public and the media. From observations, efficiency in documenting incident management improved. Input for some fields was automated so the UDOT operators did not have to enter this data.

According to a June 10, 2009, article in the Salt Lake Tribune, “New System Aids Communication in Emergencies,” the system is now finishing the testing phase allowing incidents to be instantly shared electronically. “It also includes a mapping program that provides real-time displays of incident locations and resources deployed, which will improve communications and ensure efficient use of resources, officials said.”

A 2006 companion report, Computer-Aided Dispatch – Traffic Management Center Field Operational Test: Washington State Final Report, was also prepared and contains conclusions and recommendations that can be of value to other agencies considering such a system.[57]

The FHWA funded FDOT’s iFlorida project to test a number of ITS applications including TMC, 511, and CAD integration. The iFlorida Model Deployment Final Evaluation Report[58] included three lessons learned during the test including:

  • FDOT should work with the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) to ensure that practices are in place to enter key information needed by FDOT in the correct fields within the CAD system. The data needs of FHP were different from those of FDOT, so some data fields that were key to FDOT but not key to FHP were not always entered consistently. One example was the road name, which was sometimes entered in the FHP CAD system as part of the free text description rather than in the road name field. FHP cooperated closely with FDOT by encouraging its dispatchers to follow more stringent data entry requirements with respect to these fields.

  • Transferring data from the FHP CAD system required translation of some coded values from FHP’s values to those recognized by FDOT. An example was the incident type. Because FHP sometimes revised the list of acceptable values for incident types and their meanings, FHP instituted procedures to ensure that the tables used to translate FHP incident type values to FDOT values would be updated whenever such changes occurred.

  • Event-driven messaging is subject to errors related to dropped messages. A system that uses event-driven messaging should include methods for identifying and recovering from dropped messages.

[55] Transportation Research Board, NCHRP Report 20, Sharing Information between Public Safety and Transportation Agencies for Traffic Incident Management, 2004.

[56] U.S. Department of Transportation, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Computer-Aided Dispatch – Traffic Management Center Field Operational Test: State of Utah Final Report, U.S. DOT ITS Program Assessment Support Contract, July 2006.

[57] U.S. Department of Transportation, Intelligent Transportation Systems, Computer-Aided Dispatch – Traffic Management Center. Field Operational Test: Washington State Final Report, 2006, accessed 2010.

[58] U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, iFlorida Model Deployment Final Evaluation Report, 2009, accessed 2010.

June 2010
Publication #FHWA-HOP-09-003