Emergency Transportation Operations

Best Practices in Traffic Incident Management
September 2010


Traffic incident management (TIM) is a planned and coordinated program to detect and remove incidents and restore traffic capacity as safely and as quickly as possible. Over time, various tools and strategies have been developed and implemented in an effort to improve overall TIM efforts. The nature and extent of tools and strategies in use are highly variable across the Nation, reflecting different priorities, congestion effects, levels of program maturity, and investment. As a direct result, the observed or reported effectiveness of individual or combined strategies is inconsistent.

As part of a continuing effort to improve TIM in the United States, an international scan tour was conducted in April 2005 under the sponsorship of the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), the American Association of State and Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO), and the National Cooperative Highway Research Program (NCHRP). TIM experts, representing law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical services (EMS), transportation, and other perspectives, visited four European countries to assess various procedures, practices, and technologies that might improve the effectiveness of U.S. incident management. Major issues of interest included TIM planning and training, on-scene operations, technology use, and program management and administration.

From the information obtained during the scan, the team formulated several recommendations to improve the effectiveness of TIM in the United States. One such recommendation led to the development of a National Unified Goal (NUG) for Traffic Incident Management by the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC). Developed through a consensus process, the NUG consists of three major goals and 18 associated strategies related to responder safety; safe, quick incident clearance; and prompt, reliable, interoperable communications. NTIMC and its partners at the national level are working to provide tools and guidance to assist State, regional, and local TIM partners in implementing NUG strategies. A full description of the NUG, as well as supporting NTIMC initiatives, is available at the NTIMC website, accessible at http://timcoalition.org/?siteid=41. (1)

Report Purpose and Contents

Consistent with NTIMC’s efforts to assist TIM partners in implementing NUG strategies, the objectives of this investigation were to:

  • Review and assess various TIM policies, procedures, and technologies to identify current “best practices” in the United States.
  • Seek a synergistic partnership with NTIMC to support identification of U.S. best practices and accelerated implementation of these practices by State, regional, and local TIM partners.

Information to support this investigation was obtained through:

  • A review of various published and electronic information sources.
  • Input from TIM practitioners from law enforcement, fire and rescue, EMS, transportation and towing and recovery agencies in Arizona, California, Florida, Maryland, Michigan, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, and Washington.

Following this introductory material, this report describes task-specific and cross-cutting challenges commonly encountered by TIM practitioners in the performance of their duties, and novel or effective strategies for overcoming these challenges (i.e., best practices). Task-specific challenges may include obtaining accurate information from motorists, accessing the scene, and condemning a spilled load. Cross-cutting challenges may include interagency coordination and communication, technology procurement and deployment, and performance measurement. Information sought included common challenges and impediments to TIM efforts in the United States, as well as potential tools and strategies for improving TIM efforts. Information pertaining to relative effectiveness or measurable benefits tied to each tool or strategy was also of interest. Because information was gathered from TIM programs at various stages of development, the reported strategies for improving TIM range from sophisticated, high-technology strategies to simple, procedural strategies. This report concludes with an identification of those TIM tools and strategies observed to be most successful and recommendations for NTIMC’s role in supporting implementation of these practices by State, regional, and local TIM partners.

When considering the myriad of task-specific and cross-cutting tools and strategies identified in this document, note that select TIM tools and strategies must operate concurrently to fully realize operational benefits. For example, benefits resulting from the use of standardized message sets/use protocol will only be realized if dynamic message signs (DMSs) are concurrently used for traveler information. Similarly, the benefits resulting from the use of electronic loop detectors and closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras in combination outweigh the benefits of either used singularly. This investigation did not consider cost in relation to effectiveness. Low- or no-cost tools or strategies with moderate reported or observed effectiveness may prove to be better implementation options than higher-cost strategies with the same or potentially higher benefits. Consequently, additional information gathering is recommended prior to implementation.

Published and electronic information sources are listed in “References” to support additional information gathering on particular topics of interest. In addition, contact information for the TIM practitioners providing information to support this investigation is provided in appendix A to allow follow-up regarding the application of a particular tool or strategy.

For many of the individual tools and strategies, a wide range of effectiveness was observed or reported by locale, suggesting that local conditions related to the nature and extent of operation, maintenance, marketing, etc. have a significant impact on their perceived or measured success. Because of their potential to be effective under certain implementation scenarios, these additional tools and strategies, infrequently or inconsistently observed to be effective, are included in “Appendix B: Additional Task-Specific Strategies” and “Appendix C: Additional Cross-Cutting Strategies” for supplemental reference. The tools and strategies described in the main body of the report are those that are most commonly and consistently reported to be effective.

Target Audience

The target audience for this document includes the following:

  • Public agency/private industry operations personnel. Personnel responsible for effecting efficient and effective TIM on a per-incident basis will benefit from this information through specific examples of successful TIM strategies that could be adopted.
  • Public agency/private industry management or administrative personnel. Personnel will benefit from this information by identifying, implementing, and promoting successful TIM strategies to encourage future program growth.
  • State and local political officials.Officials will benefit from an abbreviated form of this information by identifying and supporting successful TIM strategies that provide significant safety- and delay-related benefits to their constituents.

September 2010