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

Chapter 6. Summary – Assessing the Value of TMC/EOC/FC Information-Sharing

TMCs face on a daily basis the demands of making fast operational decisions that affect the efficiency and safety of the transportation network. The need for these decisions is paced by traffic, events, incidents, and emergencies that—with a few exceptions—cannot be anticipated in terms of exact timing and location. To maximize the quality and timeliness of the operational decisions needed, TMCs need the best possible real-time (or near-real time) situational information, communications, and detailed knowledge of the transportation network configuration. Most TMCs have significant investments in gathering and synthesizing situational information on the operational and physical aspects of the transportation network.

In many ways, EOCs and FCs have even greater decision-making challenges to address, because the right decisions have to be made quickly before, during, and after major incidents and emergencies occur—with significant potential impacts on public safety; multiple infrastructures; the economy; and often, national security. Although the centers may have some early warning on the risks of specific major incidents, events, and emergencies, the extent, location, and specific impacts on the public and infrastructure can usually not be fully assessed until the event, incident, or emergency is in process.

Although TMC managers and State DOTs understand that transportation network information is only a part of the information that EOCs and FCs synthesize, most believe that they monitor the best-available up-to-the minute situational awareness information regarding operations on the network. It is also apparent that the broader decisions and situational assessments made by EOCs and FCs have value to TMC operations before, during, and after incidents and emergencies affecting the TMC jurisdictions.

Chapter 3 of this guidebook identifies several potential kinds of data exchanges and communications that may be of value to at least two of the three center types, with discussions of the potential uses of these exchanges. The focus of this guidebook (and Chapter 3) is on transportation-related information that is used, or may be used, in achieving the missions of some or many TMCs, EOCs, and FCs. Practitioners of all three center types may review these exchange opportunities and assess the value gained through addressing and overcoming the issues and constraints involved in establishing means to implement some or many of the exchanges outlined.

What kinds of values/benefits should be considered? Some suggested considerations include:

  • Savings in the costs of rapidly assembling situational information and keeping it current when needed, versus savings in leveraging current network data maintained by TMCs. Quickly obtaining situational knowledge is an expensive and unreliable process if the means have not been developed to quickly tap, share, and corroborate existing information.

  • The value of diverting staff from collecting and “scrubbing” data to the real functions of the center—assessing situations and making sound operational and risk judgments.

  • Reduced “decision-risk” through supplemented or corroborative situational information. The potential costs of poor or untimely emergency or threat management decisions based on limited or unreliable facts could be very high in terms of hazards to the public, security, or economic and political fallout.

  • The value of better common information held and utilized by TMCs, EOCs, and FCs. A greater number of agencies involved in a major incident raises the likelihood that not all agencies are acting on the same basic information, increasing the opportunity for conflicting or less-than-ideal incident management. Normal communication facilities may be down or disrupted, and redundant information channels may be needed.

  • The value of routine, pre-arranged information exchange before and during an incident. Telephone and Internet access could be disrupted, and normal points of contact for information may not be reached or established at the right times. Messages may not be received and relayed properly, or agencies needing information may not get it through ad hoc channels.

  • The value of improved utilization of ITS assets and other data-gathering assets already deployed in the region.

  • Potential savings on deployment of new ITS and other data-gathering assets for common use.

  • The value of improved inter-center communications and better interpretation of available data through common use and experience with the formats and protocols used by the “source” agencies.

What are the key issues and questions that should be explored by centers in evaluating information exchange opportunities? An initial checklist includes:

  • What is available in this data that we do not already have?

  • If it is nearly the same, can we save by sharing the cost of information acquisition once, rather than twice?

  • Are there opportunities for sharing?

  • Will information granularity or detail be improved by this exchange?

  • What investment in time or equipment do we need to take advantage of the information?

  • Can our policies on IT systems, data privacy, security, and firewalls accommodate this exchange, or can reasonable adjustments be made for compatibility?

  • Do we need to adjust or manipulate the information to fit with our formats, conventions, or protocols for it to useful (e.g., location referencing)?

  • Do we have sufficient communications and data management resources to make it work?

  • Can we work around hours/days-of operation differences to communicate the information when needed?

  • Are there other opportunities for cost savings to offset potential costs?

  • Can we envision a case where better information, better corroboration, or more timely data would have improved our service or products? How do we value this?

The center-to-center dialogue on information, beginning with suggested opportunities in Chapter 3 and the initial checklist questions above, can lead to an objective assessment of information-specific and center-specific information exchange opportunities. The intent is for each center to consider the issues in terms of its own mission, jurisdiction, management challenges, and existing operating environment.

June 2010
Publication #FHWA-HOP-09-003