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

Field Operations Guide for Safety/Service Patrols


Incident Management Structure

Responders use the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a common framework for effective resolution of incidents large and small, including traffic incidents.

National Incident Management System (NIMS)

NIMS was created by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) under Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 5. NIMS provides the framework for organizations to work together to prepare for, protect against, respond to, and recover from the entire spectrum of all-hazard events.

NIMS incorporates best practices currently in use by incident managers at all levels. It is the national standard for incident management across the various jurisdictions nationwide. Responders using the same standardized operational structures share a common focus and are able to place full emphasis on incident management.

In addition, national preparedness and readiness in responding to and recovering from an incident is enhanced because all of the Nation's emergency teams and authorities are using a common language and set of processes.

Incident Command System (ICS)

The ICS is one component of the larger NIMS framework.

ICS is the systematic tool for the command, control, and coordination of an emergency response. ICS allows agencies to work together using common terminology and operating procedures for controlling personnel, facilities, equipment, and communications at an incident scene.3

NIMS establishes ICS as a standard incident management organization with five functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration.

The principle of unified command has been universally incorporated into NIMS to ensure further coordination, especially during incidents involving multiple jurisdictions or agencies.

This unified command not only coordinates the efforts of many jurisdictions, but also provides for and assures joint decisions on objectives, strategies, plans, priorities, and public communications.

In major incidents, S/SP operators will be assigned to the Operations Section Chief, who often times is also the Incident Commander. The Operations Section Chief is responsible for implementing the Incident Action Plan (IAP) and manages all tactical activities. These activities include S/SP functions such as recovery, traffic control, vehicle spill cleanup, and other related operational functions.

Diagram depicts the Traffic Incident Management Incident Command System for Safety Patrols.Diagram depicts the Traffic Incident Management Incident Command System for Safety Patrols. At the top of the hierarchy is the Incident Commander. The Public Information Officer, Safety Officer, and Liaison Officer report directly to the Incident Commander as second tier personnel. Third tier personnel, who also report directly to the Incident Commander, include the Operations Section Chief, the Planning Section Chief, the Logistics Section Chief, and the Finance/Admin Section Chief. Service Patrol Operators report to the Operations Section Chief.
Figure 20. ICS Organizational Chart.

Traffic Incident Classification

Traffic incidents are classified in one of the following three categories as defined in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD):

  • Major – expected duration greater than 2 hours.
  • Intermediate – expected duration between 30 minutes and 2 hours.
  • Minor – expected duration of less than 30 minutes.

Major traffic incidents are typically traffic incidents involving hazardous materials, fatal traffic crashes involving numerous vehicles, and other natural or man-made disasters. These traffic incidents typically involve closing all or part of a roadway facility for a period exceeding 2 hours.

Examples of major incidents include:

  • Chain reaction crashes.
  • Crashes that require a significant medical response, a coroner response, and/or a crash reconstruction response (e.g., fatality crashes).
  • Incidents that involve advanced, prolonged environmental clean-up, such as hazardous materials incidents.
  • Overturned tractor trailers.
  • Complex commercial vehicle incidents with large debris fields or cargo fires.
  • Structural damage.
  • Wild fires near the roadway.
  • Malevolent acts.

Intermediate traffic incidents typically affect travel lanes for 30 minutes to 2 hours and usually require traffic control at the scene to divert road users past the blockage. Full roadway closures may be necessary for short periods during traffic incident clearance to allow incident responders to accomplish their tasks.

Examples of intermediate traffic incidents include:

  • Major roadway debris.
  • Overturned cars, RVs, or small trailers.
  • Multi-vehicle crashes.
  • Commercial carrier crashes.

Minor traffic incidents are typically disabled vehicles and minor crashes that result in no lane closure or lane closures of less than 30 minutes. On-scene responders may include a combination of S/SP, law enforcement, fire, EMS, and towing companies.

Examples of minor traffic incidents include:

  • Disabled vehicles in a travel lane or on the shoulder.
  • Minor crashes that can be moved or relocated to the shoulder.
  • Minor roadway debris.

Vehicle Identification Guide

Accurate communications between on-scene responders, dispatch, and towing and recovery operators describing an incident and the vehicles involved helps with the quick and efficient clearing of the incident scene.

Use the guide below to describe to dispatch the type of vehicle that is disabled and the nature of the problem to enable the wrecker company to determine what type of tow/recovery vehicle that should respond.4

Part one of a three-part graphic depicting a law enforcement vehicle identification guide used to identify vehicles and for towing.
Part two of a three-part graphic depicting a law enforcement vehicle identification guide used to identify vehicles and for towing.
Part three of a three-part graphic depicting a law enforcement vehicle identification guide used to identify vehicles and for towing.

Figure 21. Law Enforcement Vehicle Identification Guide.

Multilingual Assistance

Should you encounter a situation in which the person needing assistance speaks another language, you can use the following pages to help communicate with the motorist.

Each sheet's questions and answers match those on the English sheet.

  • Determine which language the motorist speaks.
  • Show the motorist the correct language page and ask them to indicate the problem being experienced.
  • Compare their response to the list in English.



Dear Fellow Driver:

It appears that you are having difficulty with your automobile and although I do not speak (Spanish) (Italian) (French) (German) (Portuguese) or (Creole) I would like to offer my assistance. Please check the appropriate sentence below, so I will know how I may assist you.

_____ (1) I am out of gas

_____ (2) I have a flat tire and I do not have a spare

_____ (3) My engine stopped and I do not know the cause

_____ (4) I need a tow truck

_____ (5) I need police assistance

_____ (6) I need an ambulance

_____ (7) I am not having any difficulty


SPANISH (Español)

Estimado(a) conductor(a):

Me parece que tiene problema con su carro, pero yo no hablo español. Por favor señale lo que necesite para poder ayudarle.

_____ (1) Se me acabo el combustible

_____ (2) Se me poncho la llanta, y no tengo repuesto

_____ (3) Se paro el motor de mi carro y no se que tiene

_____ (4) Necesito un camion del remolque

_____ (5) Necesito ayuda de la policía

_____ (6) Necesito una ambulancia

_____ (7) No tengo ninguna dificultad


FRENCH (Français)

Cher camarade de route,

Vous semblez avoir des d difficultés avec votre voiture. Bien que je ne parle pas français, j'aurais bien voulu vous aider. Veuillez-vous atterrer l'attention sur la liste ci-dessous et identifier l'article que vous convient.

_____ (1) Je n'ai plus d'essence.

_____ (2) J'ai un pneu plat et je n'ai pas des pièces de rechange.

_____ (3) Mon moteur est arrête et j'ignore pourquoi.

_____ (4) J'ai besoin d'un camion de remorquage

_____ (5) J'ai besoin de l'aide de police

_____ (6) J'ai besoin d'une ambulance

_____ (7) Je n'ai pas des difficulté


GERMAN (Deutsch)

Hallo autofahrer

Es erscheint, dass Sie Schwierigkeit mit Ihrem Automobil haben, und, obwohl ich Deutsch nicht spreche, das ich meiner Hilfe anbieten möchte. Prüfen Sie bitte den passenden Satz unten, deshalb werde ich wissen, wie ich Ihnen helfen kann.

_____ (1) Ich bin aus Gas

_____ (2) Ich habe einen flachen Reifen und ich habe keinen Ersatzteil

_____ (3) Meine Maschine hat aufgehalten und ich weiss die Ursache nicht

_____ (4) Ich brauche einen Abschleppen Lastwagen

_____ (5) Ich muss Hilfe reglementieren

_____ (6) Ich brauche einen Krankenwagen

_____ (7) Ich bin ohne irgendeine Schwierigkeit


ITALIAN (Italiano)

Caro Autista:

Sembra che stiate avendo difficoltà con la vostra automobile. Non parlo italiano ma vorrei offrire la mia assistenza. Controlli prego la frase adatta qui sotto, in modo da saprò posso aiutarlo.

_____ (1) Sono da benzina

_____ (2) Ho una gomma piana e non ho parti di recambio

_____ (3) Il mio motore bloccato ed io non conoscono la causa

_____ (4) Ho bisogno di un camion di rimorchio

_____ (5) Ho bisogno dell'assistenza della polizia

_____ (6) Ho bisogno di un'ambulanza

_____ (7) Sono senza alcuna difficoltà



Chè Chofè

Ou gen problem avek machine-la? Malgré mwen pa palé kréyol, mwen ta renmen édé-ou. Sou plé, gadé lis amba-a é chwazi ki problem ou genyen.

_____ (1) Mwen pa gen gaz

_____ (2) Karochou machin-n la plat é mwen pa gen déréchanj

_____ (3) Motè machin-n la kampé é mwen pa konnen pou ki sa

_____ (4) Mwen bezwen yon gwo kamyon pou alé-m

_____ (5) Mwen bezwen èd polis

_____ (6) Mwen bezwen yon anbilans

_____ (7) Mwen pa gen anken-n problem


PORTUGUESE (Portuguese)

Caro Motorista:

Parece que você está tendo a dificuldade com seu automóvel. Eu não falo o português mas gostaria de ajudá-lo. Por favor, leia as sentenças abaixo e indique qual é a mais propria para o seu caso, para que eu possa saber como ajudá-lo.

_____ (1) Eu estou sem gasolina

_____ (2) Meu pneu está furado e eu não tenho sobressalentes

_____ (3) Meu motor parou e eu não sei porque

_____ (4) Eu preciso de um caminhão do reboque

_____ (5) Eu preciso de ajuda da policia

_____ (6) Eu preciso de uma ambulância

_____ (7) Eu não preciso de ajuda

Coverage Map

Sample Coverage Map
Figure 22. Sample Coverage Map

Important Contacts

Table 2. Important Contacts
Contact Type Name / Title Phone /Email/ Cell
Safety Patrol Supervisor No Value No Value
Safety Patrol Manager No Value No Value
Dispatch No Value No Value
TMC / TOC No Value No Value
Fire Rescue No Value No Value
State Police No Value No Value
Local Police / Sheriff No Value No Value
Maintenance No Value No Value
Public Works / DOT No Value No Value
Traffic No Value No Value
Public Works / DOT No Value No Value
Towing and Recovery No Value No Value
HazMat Notification No Value No Value
Animal Control No Value No Value
Emergency Management No Value No Value
Public Safety Answering Point Emergency call center No Value

Terms and Acronyms

AED Automated External Defibrillator
AIS Accident Investigation Site
AVL Automated Vehicle Location
CCTV Closed Circuit Television
CMS Changeable Message Sign
CPR Cardiopulmonary Resuscitation
DHS Department of Homeland Security
DMS Dynamic Message Sign
DOT Department of Transportation
EMS Emergency Medical Services
ERG Emergency Response Guidebook
FFSP Full Function Service Patrol
FHWA Federal Highway Administration
FOG Field Operators Guide
HSPD Homeland Security Presidential Directive
ICS Incident Command System
ITS Intelligent Transportation Systems
LZ Helicopter Landing Zone
MP Mile post
MSDS Material Safety Data Sheet
MUTCD Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices
NIMS National Incident Management System
PA Public Address loudspeaker
PSAP Public Safety Answering Point
TIM Traffic Incident Management
TMC Traffic (or Transportation) Management Center
TIMA Traffic Incident Management Area
TOC Traffic (or Transportation) Operations Center
TRAA Towing and Recovery Association of America
TTC Temporary Traffic Control
UC Unified Command

3 Federal Highway Administration, Simplified Guide to the Incident Command System for Transportation Professionals, FHWA-HOP-06-004 (Washington DC: February 2006).

4 Guide content reproduced with permission of Towing and Recovery Association of America (Copyright 2009© TRAA). Graphics and artwork reproduced with permission of Tow Times magazine. (Alexandria, VA).