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

Role of Transportation Management Centers in Emergency Operations Guidebook

1.0 Introduction and Overview

Transportation Management Centers (TMC) monitor roadway conditions, provide support to motorists and field personnel responding to roadway incidents, and actively manage traffic flow. This central role in traffic operations provides an excellent opportunity to enhance the effectiveness of emergency response. New technologies and strategies are enabling transportation and emergency management agencies to work together so they can rapidly respond to emergency events, utilize limited resources in a cost-effective way, and improve safety for the traveling public.

Picture of a transportation management center control room with a computer console in the foreground and a video wall in the background.
Source: Cambridge Systematics, Inc.

The purpose of this guidebook from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) is to increase communication, collaboration, and cooperation among these agencies so they can effectively respond to a variety of situations from a localized traffic incident to major regional events such as hurricane evacuations. The key is to remove the technical and institutional barriers that prevent TMCs from fully supporting emergency operations.

The guidebook addresses those barriers and provides noteworthy practices on how TMCs and emergency operations can achieve a mutual understanding on the responsibilities, resources, and operational procedures that result in a beneficial relationship for all parties. Throughout the publication are photos showing actual emergency events and the role played by the TMC.

Areas Covered in the Guidebook

  • Phases of emergency response planning.
  • Where TMCs and emergency operations personnel can work together.
  • Description of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS).
  • Role of TMCs during and after an emergency.
  • How to maintain cooperation between transportation and emergency management agencies.
  • Recommendations for additional activity.

1.1 The Role of Emergency Operations in the TMC

TMC roles in supporting emergency response can include direct supervision of Freeway (safety) service patrols (Freeway Service Patrols are now referred to as Safety Service Patrols by FHWA’s Traffic Incident and Emergency Management team. In this document both terms are included.) in local incidents, surveillance of traffic, reporting on traffic conditions during major incidents or planned special events, and deployment of maintenance trucks and other resources. Some emergency response agencies share space with the TMCs or have public safety personnel at the center. Others provide space when needed during emergencies.

A number of TMCs also are upgrading their central software systems to improve the automated linkages with law enforcement and emergency operations agencies. Others offer staff and information resources. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation (DOT) started a Helper Program (WisHELP) which has at least one DOT employee on-call 24 hours, 7 days to support the emergency management agency. The WisHELPERS represent Statewide Bureaus (structures, traffic, maintenance) that are headquartered near the State Emergency Operations Center. There is also support for the WisHELPERS through the emergency traffic operations positions of the Statewide Bureau Duty Officer. This has led to closer ties between transportation and emergency management agencies.

1.1.1 How TMCs and Emergency Operations Centers Cooperate

An Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is a control facility where emergency operations are directed and coordinated. In an EOC the local and state staff and officials receive information relating to an incident. It also is where decision-makers and support agencies supervise the coordination of response activities to a large incident/emergency such as an evacuation. The main functions of an EOC include providing direction, coordination, and support to emergency operations; carrying out disaster management functions at a strategic level in an emergency; and ensuring the continuity of operation of a company, political subdivision, or other organization. The EOC also collects, gathers, and analyzes data; makes decisions that protect life and property; maintains continuity of the organization, and disseminates those decisions to all concerned agencies and individuals.

Greater emphasis on homeland security and budget constraints make joint use of resources more important and TMC resources can be helpful during emergencies. A number of events have led to greater cooperation between transportation and emergency operations personnel, including the following:

TMC Emergency Support Activities

  • Plan for anticipated events (hurricanes, winter storms, etc.).
  • Detect, verify, and monitor roadway conditions.
  • Assess transportation system damage and capacity.
  • Identify and manage public safety lifeline routes.
  • Develop and implement traffic control strategies to support emergency response and evacuation.
  • Manage detours and evacuation routes.
  • Dispatch maintenance and support vehicles.
  • Coordinate with local transportation agencies.
  • Develop event-specific operational strategies to address response phases.
  • Provide public information/traveler alerts.
  • Stabilize traffic demand in the affected area.
  • Postevent debriefings.
  • The geographic expansion of the surveillance and detection components of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) systems allows TMCs to cover both urban areas and rural “hotspots.” New data sources such as privately provided “probe” data allow monitoring of speeds on evacuation and detour routes.
  • New traffic management software and supporting communications technologies allow sharing of data and video between transportation, law enforcement, and emergency response agencies.
  • Improvements in the coverage and quality of weather information are available to TMC personnel through expansion of the Road Weather Information Systems (RWIS), and a consolidation of weather information from the National Weather Service and private forecasting services through the Clarus initiative.
  • TMC historical archived datasets are available for use by emergency personnel in monitoring, planning, and implementing emergency routes and activities.

Picture of traffic on a roadway in thick fog.
Photo courtesy of the FHWA Road Weather Management Program.

The implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) has also resulted in closer relationships between TMC and Emergency Response personnel as evidenced by improvements in the following:

  • An understanding of responsibilities through training of transportation personnel in emergency situations;
  • Communications infrastructure and faster more extensive information sharing;
  • Response times and effectiveness during actual events due to joint training and table top exercises; and
  • Opportunities to review performance, identify gaps, and develop lessons learned.

1.2 The Role of TMCs in Emergency Operations Checklist

The TMC can use the following checklist to evaluate their current status in support of emergency operations. The TMC conducts the following support activities in conjunction with the EOC (check all that apply):

❑ Plans for anticipated events (hurricanes, winter storms, etc.).

❑ Detects, verifies, and monitors roadway conditions.

❑ Assesses transportation system damage and capacity.

❑ Identifies and manages public safety lifeline routes.

❑ Conducts traffic control strategies to support emergency response and evacuation.

❑ Manages detours and evacuation routes.

❑ Dispatches maintenance and support vehicles.

❑ Coordinates with local transportation agencies.

❑ Develops event-specific operational strategies to address response phases.

❑ Provides warnings and public information/traveler alert requirements.

❑ Stabilizes traffic demand in the affected area.

❑ Conducts postevent debriefings.

❑ Monitors speeds on evacuation and detour routes.

❑ Shares data and video with transportation, law enforcement, and emergency response agencies.

❑ Obtains and shares weather information from the Road Weather Information System (RWIS) and Clarus.

❑ Provides historical archived data to emergency personnel for monitoring, planning, and implementing emergency routes and activities.

❑ Participates in joint training.