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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Field Operations Guide for Safety/Service Patrols

The Basics


Traffic Incident Management (TIM) is the detection, response, and clearance of traffic incidents to restore the capacity of the roadway quickly and safely.1 The National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC) has defined a three-part National Unified Goal (NUG) for TIM:

  • Responder safety.
  • Safe, quick clearance.
  • Prompt, reliable, interoperable communications.2

TIM programs require coordination among various stakeholders, including, but not limited to, departments of transportation, law enforcement, fire-rescue, emergency management services, towing and recovery, and safety/service patrols. Each of these disciplines has provided guidance to the NTIMC on the elements of a successful TIM program through their respective organizations. The NTIMC has consolidated these principles and is putting them to action through various programs throughout the country.

The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) recognizes Safety/Service Patrol (S/SP) programs as one of the most effective TIM strategies available. Successful S/SP programs help meet the NUG and improve TIM in cities across America.

Many states have fully accepted the concept of S/SP and realize that these programs are far more than just a convenience for motorists who run out of gas or have a flat tire. Some agencies believe the program is so important that they have obtained private sponsorship to help fund their S/SP operations.

As part of the effort to encourage major metropolitan safety/service patrols to transition to Full Function Safety/Service Patrols (FFS/SP) and to establish consistency among these programs, the FHWA has published the Full Function Safety/Service Patrol Handbook, developed training standards, and prepared the Field Operations Guide and for Safety/Service Patrols.

This Field Operations Guide (FOG) is designed to help S/SP operators and supervisors perform the many functions and activities of an S/SP program.

The FOG is designed to augment, not replace, the necessary initial training required for S/SP operators. The intent of the FOG is to reinforce procedures and provide reminders for various incident scenarios.

Working as incident management and incident prevention responders, S/SP operators encounter a wide variety of situations that require diverse response activities and guidelines. This guide can help operators and supervisors perform efficiently and effectively by providing tools and guidance for successful S/SP operations.

Basic FFS/SP Program Functions

Traditionally, Safety/Service Patrol programs have offered only motorist assistance, which is in itself an important service to the public that frees police and other emergency response personnel to perform the activities associated with their primary missions.

Over time, safety/service patrol programs have matured from basic motorist assistance into more fully functional programs, taking on a new and equally important role in incident management. As a result, Full Function Service Patrols (FFS/SP) have become a new generation of first responders, providing valuable public safety and protection services. In this new role, safety/service patrol programs help keep incident scenes safe, clear incidents more quickly, and assist other emergency responders at incident scenes.

Each responder to an incident scene has unique duties. The FFS/SP's primary contributions to the incident response team are scene safety and traffic control. The FFS/SP operator also clears minor incidents without assistance where possible, eliminating the hazard and reducing the need for response by other agencies.

An FFS/SP's mission is an extension of the transportation agency's mission to maintain the safe and efficient flow of traffic on the roadways. Agencies devote large budgets and resources, including the operation of FFS/SP programs, to accomplish this mission. FFS/SPs maintain traffic flow and safety by promptly detecting incidents or disruptions to traffic, minimizing incident duration, clearing obstructions, improving scene safety, and preventing secondary incidents.

The basic functions of an FFS/SP include a multitude of responsibilities. It is recognized that while each program is unique, a true S/SP includes the functions covered in this guide. The following is a list of the essential objectives of an FFS/SP program, defined in priority order:

  1. Scene Safety
  2. Traffic incident clearance
  3. Traffic control and scene management
  4. Incident detection and verification
  5. Motorist assistance and debris removal
  6. Traveler information

The Safety/Service Patrol Handbook further describes the FFS/SP basic functions:

  • Provide typical services, including:
    • Minor repairs and motorist assistance.
    • Debris removal.
    • Fuel.
    • First aid.
    • Vehicle relocation out of travel lanes.
  • Reduce traffic congestion, improve travel time reliability, and improve safety on freeway and arterial systems.
  • Provide emergency temporary traffic control (TTC) at incident scenes.
  • Provide incident response services, clearance resources, and free motorist assistance services 24-hours-per-day, 7-days-per-week.
  • Provide operators that are highly skilled and specially trained in the following:
    • NIMS/ICS.
    • Traffic control.
    • First aid and CPR.
    • Hazardous materials awareness and recognition.
    • Light duty towing and recovery.
  • Utilize FFS/SP vehicles designed and equipped to fully relocate a stalled or abandoned automobile or light truck from a highway to a safe location.
  • Provide situation status updates to Traffic Management Centers (TMC) / Traffic Operations Centers (TOC) or dispatch and traffic news personnel.
  • Participate in incident debriefs or after-action reviews.

FFS/SP Operator Overview and Functions

FFS/SP supervisors and operators are the traffic control specialist members of the response team at a traffic incident. Emergency responders who work closely with S/SP personnel recognize them as a vital resource to be relied upon during incidents of every type and scale.

As incident responders—often the first on the scene—FFS/SP operators play an important role not only as responders but also as representatives of their agencies to the public and other responders. FFS/SP personnel must always show professionalism, using their skills and training to best serve those they are assisting. Motorists using the roadway system want to know they have an advocate who is focused on their safety and on reducing their frustration with congestion caused by incidents. S/SP professionals must serve as that advocate. It is vital that FFS/SP personnel be courteous and maintain the highest standards of integrity-even when working with uncooperative motorists or other responders who may not fully realize the expertise and resources that S/SP provides-while representing the agency.

Some other responders may not yet understand the FFS/SP role; they may assume that the FFS/SP operator is trying to override their authority or is only concerned with quick clearance rather than safe quick clearance. While maintaining professionalism, S/SP personnel should explain their role to such responders, but never undermine the authority of the scene commander.

Because safety of the motorist and the responder is paramount, FFS/SP professionals should always serve as safety officers and consider safety first in all decisions made while assisting motorists or responding to an incident. In any instance in which the FFS/SP operator believes a motorist or other responder is taking an unsafe course of action and is unable to resolve the problem, the operator should advise the on-site incident supervisor or incident commander. If the problem persists, the onsite FFS/SP official should report the concern to their supervisor of record and dispatcher.

The true performance measure of an individual FFS/SP operator is how effective and efficient they are in locating and safely clearing disruptions to restore traffic flow. An effective FFS/SP operator:

  • Detects incidents by continuously scanning both directions of travel while patrolling.
  • Assists motorists with relocating their vehicles out of hazardous locations.
  • Sets up temporary traffic controls and improves scene safety.
  • Communicates incident details and traffic conditions to dispatch, the TMC, or the TOC.
  • Establishes and maintains a close working relationship with the onsite incident commander or safety officer, law enforcement, fire and rescue personnel, and other TIM responders in a multi-agency response.
  • Establishes and maintains close communication with dispatch and/or the TMC or TOC staff.
  • Works with fire-rescue and other responders to maintain as many open lanes as practicable.
  • Clears and reopens travel lanes as the situation permits.
  • Shortens the duration of incidents and prevents secondary crashes.

How to Use this Guide

Intended Audience and Use

Although the Federal Highway Administration encourages all Safety/Service Patrols to attain Full-Function status, as described in the Full-Function Safety/Service Patrol Handbook, we expect that S/SPs at all levels of development should be able to use this Field Operations Guide.

This guide was developed for use by S/SP operators and supervisors. S/SP personnel should carry the guide in their safety/service patrol vehicle to use as a quick reference while performing patrol tasks.

They should refer to this guide on a regular basis as a refresher on steps and tasks associated with managing incidents-particularly for those situations not encountered every day.

This guide is not designed to stand alone; programs should use it in conjunction with training to help condense the learning process. The Field Operations Guide should accompany agency formal Standard Operating Guidelines or Procedures incorporated with a solid training program.

Using the FOG in the Field

This guide is organized into five logical sections:

  • Section 1 – The Basics
  • Section 2 – Operator Information
  • Section 3 – Emergency Temporary Traffic Control
  • Section 4 – Incident Actions
  • Section 5 – Reference

Users should review the guide thoroughly to become familiar with the contents and layout. Also, individual program information such as department-specific procedures, contact lists, and policies may be added to these basic guidelines and best practices. It may also be useful to tag or mark information used frequently in the field.

This guide will help S/SP professionals take the necessary steps and follow safety guidelines to manage an incident. Knowledge of the contents may increase confidence during high-stress situations. By having this guide available, S/SP professionals may be better prepared to take the appropriate action to quickly and safely manage any incident encountered.

As an example of how this guide may be used, a first-on-the-scene S/SP operator at a truck crash may use the step-by-step bulleted guidance in the Incident Actions section to bring order to the scene and to make sure all important factors are considered. Additional guidance may assist the S/SP operator in determining the next steps to take in clearing the travel lanes and maintaining safety for victims, responders, and approaching motorists. As the reader becomes more familiar with the guidance in this document, they may perform in a more consistent and effective manner.

Why Use the FOG

The primary benefit of the Field Operations Guide is that it provides easily accessible on-the-job guidance to S/SP operators. However, it has other benefits as well.

The guide can be help both to improve safety for responders and motorists and to reduce liability for operators and agencies. Having the guide readily at hand gives operators a quick reference to annotated safety protocols and procedures. This, in turn, increases safety for operators, other responders, and roadway users, while avoiding unnecessary equipment damage.

In addition to aiding operators in the field, this guide helps promote professionalism for the S/SP program. Personnel maintain a consistent level of service through standardized guidelines and procedures. The guide may help S/SP professionals avoid undesired performance by helping eliminate vital mistakes or ineffective actions. The step-by-step procedures outlined in the guide lend themselves easily to employee performance management and peer review of the program.

Finally, this guide helps operators and program administrators gauge their policies and procedures against benchmarks that are consistent with state-of-the-industry best practices. Providing consistent and practical service based on national best practices ultimately raises the bar for S/SP programs around the country.

1 United States Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration, Traffic Incident Management Program. (Accessed December 10, 2008)

2 National Traffic Incident Management Coalition, National Unified Goal for Traffic Incident Management: Working Together for Improved Safety, Clearance, and Communications.

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