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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

Role of Transportation Management Centers in Emergency Operations Guidebook

5.0 Postevent Activities

The TMC roles in emergency operations following emergencies and related events are the focus for this section. Also included are descriptions of postevent emergency activities, including recovery activities, after-action assessments, and improvement planning.

5.1 Recovery Actions

Large-scale events often create a need for immediate follow up to address any resulting damage and mitigate continuing threats to the public. Effective coordination and resource sharing facilitate this type of response. TMCs play a central role in coordinating traffic recovery, but their capabilities may also lend themselves to supporting and/or coordinating a large nontraffic incident recovery. To support an EOC, or first responders, there are a number of planning and preparedness actions TMCs should undertake during the recovery phase, as described in the following sections:

5.1.1 Roadway Restoration

Currently DOT often coordinate infrastructure repair independent of TMC support. However, TMC surveillance (video and traffic detection) and public information (media contacts, web sites, variable message signs, highway advisory radio) capabilities lend themselves to expansion on a temporary and rapid basis. There are two ways TMCs can support roadway restoration:

  • Surveillance Capabilities – TMCs can utilize camera networks and traffic sensor/detection systems to provide enhanced real-time, incident location-specific situational awareness. Temporary reconfiguration of these resources may be necessary.
  • Public Information Capabilities – TMCs have access to media contacts, social networks, web sites, variable message signage, and highway advisory radio. All of these can be utilized to ensure public information efforts are supporting, rather than ignoring or undermining recovery activities.

Picture of a roadway which has been broken up by a flood.
Photo courtesy of the FHWA Road Weather Management Program.

5.1.2 Infrastructure (Power, Water, and Public Facilities) Restoration

TMCs can help support restoration activities by public works departments and utilities by providing information on access routes and detours, gathering and disseminating information on road conditions, and helping avoid disruption of the system by having too much work in the same area. By serving as a coordination point for cross-utility restoration, recovery efforts can be monitored and spread over multiple areas, reducing congestion, and enhancing progress.

Picture of a piece of heavy equipment being used to fight a wildfire.
Photo courtesy of the Texas DOT.

When devastating wildfires ripped through West Texas, the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT) crews helped the Texas Forest Service and area fire departments battle the blazes that blackened about 120,000 acres, forced evacuations, and destroyed dozens of homes from the Panhandle to the southern plains. The TMC was responsible for notifying the traveling public of the unsafe conditions and assisting with managing traffic.

5.2 After-Action Assessments and Improvement Plans

After-action assessments of specific events and the development of improvement plans provide a good opportunity for TMCs and Emergency Operations agencies to build relationships and coordinate their activities outside of the pressure of the event itself. The process is essential because it identifies and documents lessons learned and then applies improvements to address them, which benefits future incidents and responses. Following are the steps and actions involved in conducting an after-action assessment and developing an improvement plan.

5.2.1 Convene and Set Up an After-Action Conference

Some of activities associated with an After-Action Conference include identifying the appropriate participants, setting up the agenda, and communicating to the attendees what is to be expected. The conference should take place within a reasonable time following the incident to ensure memories are fresh and other priorities do not arise, and include individuals involved in the incident. Some other conference considerations include the following:

  • Designate an experienced facilitator to lead the After-Action Conference and ensure discussions are focused and constructive.
  • Develop and present a beginning-to-end timeline of the event and the response to help jog memories and provide a consistent basis for discussions.
  • Allow for informal discussion and issue exploration so attendees feel comfortable and able to participate.
  • Develop a feedback form and distribute to attendees to capture additional observations or comments not covered during the conference. The form should also allow attendees to evaluate the usefulness and quality of the conference.

5.2.2 Develop the After-Action Report and Improvement Plan

TMCs should use the DHS/FEMA Homeland Security Evaluation Program, which includes a template for after-action reports, and utilize a consistent approach when identifying issues and recommendations. A preferred approach, called OAR, identifies the observation (what happened), provides an analysis of the observation (why did this happen), and recommends ways to address the observation (how to fix what happened). Each observation should include a specific improvement action along with a table or matrix summarizing recommendations and assigning responsibility for implementation. The final report should be reviewed and distributed to stakeholders and a process established to evaluate it periodically to ensure the implementation of recommendations. Following in Section 5.2.3 are the steps TMCs should use to develop the After-Action Report and Improvement Plan:

5.2.3 Determine Program Needs and Requirements

A discussion of the TMC role in the emergency or event during the postevent assessment may raise sensitive issues related to funding and jurisdictional oversight. A discussion of prior experiences can help build relationships and improve coordination for future events. Figure 5.1 shows a general picture of how after-action incidents feed back into the development of program needs and requirements.

TMCs have a role in three preparation activities, including the development of field response and procedures, deployment of technologies, and development of performance measure targets and measuring systems. The information for the EOP should focus on the several basic questions to ask after each incident, including the following (NCHRP Report 525, Vol. 16, Surface Transportation Security, A Guide to Emergency Response Planning at State Agencies, 104.):

  • Did an action, a process, a decision, or the response timing identified in the plan make the situation worse or better?
  • Were new alternate courses of action identified?
  • What aspects of the action, process, decision, or response timing make it something to keep in the plan?
  • What aspects of the action, process, decision, or response timing make it something to avoid?
  • What should be removed from the plan?
  • What specific changes to plans and procedures, personnel, organizational structures, leadership or management processes, facilities, or equipment can improve response performance?

Figure 5.1 Activities in the Preparation, Response, and Recovery Phases

A graphic showing specific activities involved in three phases of an emergency; preparation and mitigation, response, and recovery.  Activities undertaken in each phase are listed in the box.
Source: NCHRP Report 525, Vol. 6, Surface Transportation Security Guide for Emergency Transportation Operations, p. 13.

Identify Performance Measures

Performance measures are important to this process because what cannot be measured cannot be managed. FHWA and National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC) are collaborating on the creation of national metrics to help responders develop their own programmatic and incident response goals and commit to them in written agreements. Institutional issues revolve around gaining acceptance for performance measurement from both executive decision-makers and other agencies involved with TIM responsibilities. While most TMCs and emergency responders are familiar with basic transportation-oriented performance measures, appropriate measures will vary depending on the type of event.

There are two types of performance measures – those that are measured directly and those that are modeled or calculated. Following are examples of direct measures.

  • Number and type of incidents serviced by agency service patrols or privately contracted services;
  • Specific support activities conducted;
  • The time it takes to detect and verify incident;
  • Response and clearance time for the incident;
  • Cost of services – total and per incident serviced; and
  • Customer satisfaction (measured by surveys or web feedback).

Most agencies keep relatively detailed statistics on these performance measures, as illustrated by the summary of Indiana’s Hoosier Helper Program, shown in Figure 5.2.

These measures help track cost-effectiveness, and compare performance with other agencies, different regions, or private contractors. In some areas, law enforcement may compile and manage incident management data, but in general, this function is within the scope of the TMC. These reports help allocate incident management resources, improve the efficiency of operations, and justify capital and operating budgets to decision-makers and the public.

A second set of performance measures look at the system impact of incident management activities and include measures such as crash reduction, travel time saved, reduced fuel costs for the public and operating agencies, and improved air quality. There are a number of ways to identify these measures, including The Urban Mobility Report developed by the Texas Transportation Institute, which estimates the costs of these factors as they relate to congestion. FHWA also has figures on the cost of crashes and there are modeling tools such as the ITS Deployment Analysis System to estimate them. Agency traffic and planning personnel can develop these estimates and the TMC can contribute with data on incident management and traffic speed and volume. Performance measurement of major incidents and disasters is a more difficult process. Since the first priority is the safety and security of life and property, all transportation system performance must support this goal. Measures usually focus on the ability of emergency vehicles to access the scene and the efficiency of evacuations plans and procedures. Another impediment in measuring performance is the unique nature of each event which makes comparisons difficult.

Figure 5.2 Indiana DOT Freeway Service Patrol Performance Measures

A graphic that uses a bar chart to illustrate performance measures for freeway service patrols. The top chart shows number of assists by type while the second chart shows number of assists by hour. The bottom chart shows the average duration of assists by type. This example is from the Indiana Department of Transportation.
Source: Indiana DOT.

Conduct Benefit/Cost Analysis

A postevent benefit/cost analysis can help an agency determine where to invest new resources and provide a justification for funding and support of those resources. The quantitative benefits include increased survival rate of crash victims; reduced delay; improved response time; improved air quality; reduced occurrence of secondary incidents; improved safety of responders, crash victims and other motorists; and reduced recovery time. Qualitative benefits include enhanced traveler information services, increased driver warning capabilities, improved coordination and cooperation of response agencies, improved public perception of agency operations, and reduced driver frustration.

Other Considerations

Budget and funding topics may be examined and include a review of dedicated funding, ongoing funding, and guidelines for Federal/state funding sources, metropolitan planning organization partnerships, and an associated TIM strategic plan to ensure access to program resources. Some items to measure include whether TIM resources were managed effectively and efficiently; the number and type of executive outreach materials/events to ensure the effectiveness of TIM programs is adequately demonstrated to decision-makers; and whether TIM programs are considered during the prioritization of funding projects.

Postevent reviews and after-action meetings may also identify needed changes in training or operating procedures, existing MOUs, or legal agreements between agencies.

5.3 Postevent Checklist

The TMC can use the following checklist to evaluate their current status in regard to post-event activities (check all that apply):

❑ The TMC convenes an after-action conference.

❑ The TMC develops an after-action report and improvement plan that includes the following (check all that apply):

❑ Determines program needs and requirements by asking the following questions (check all that apply):

❑ Did an action, a process, a decision, or the response timing make the situation worse or better?

❑ Were new alternate courses of action identified?

❑ What aspects of the action, process, decision, or response timing make it something to keep in the plan?

❑ What aspects of the action, process, decision, or response timing make it something to avoid?

❑ What should be removed from the plan?

❑ What specific changes to plans and procedures, personnel, organizational structures, leadership, or management processes, facilities, or equipment can improve response performance?

❑ Identifies performance measures, including the following (check all that apply):

❑ Number and type of incidents serviced by agency service patrols privately contracted services.

❑ Specific support activities conducted.

❑ The time it takes to detect and verify incident.

❑ Response and clearance time for the incident.

❑ Cost of services – total and per incident serviced.

❑ Customer satisfaction.

❑ Crash reduction.

❑ Travel time saved.

❑ Reduced fuel costs for the public and operating agencies.

❑ Improved air quality.

❑ The ability of emergency vehicles to access the scene.

❑ Efficiency of evacuation plans and procedures.

❑ Conducts benefit/cost analysis on the following (check all that apply):

❑ Increased survival rate of crash victims.

❑ Reduced delay.

❑ Improved response time.

❑ Improved air quality.

❑ Reduced occurrence of secondary incidents.

❑ Improved safety of responders, crash victims and other motorists.

❑ Reduced recovery time.

❑ Enhanced traveler information services.

❑ Increased driver warning capabilities.

❑ Improved coordination and cooperation of response agencies.

❑ Improved public perception of agency operations.

❑ Reduced driver frustration.

❑ Efficiency of budget expenditures.

❑ Changes in training or operating procedures.

❑ Changes in MOUs or legal agreements between agencies.

5.4 Maintain TMC Emergency Operations

Relationships, policies, plans, and procedures must be maintained to ensure they remain relevant and effective, which is especially import in complex environments involving multiple jurisdictions and stakeholders.

For coordination elements to be up-to-date and aligned, TMCs must ensure a regular process of review and revision. During an emergency is a poor time to discover changed contact information, radio frequencies, organizational structures, and roles and responsibilities. Smooth response depends on pre-event knowledge, both internally and jointly with external response partners. Following are the steps to maintain TMC emergency operations.

5.4.1 Designate Ownership and Management of the Emergency Operations Elements

The policies, plans, and procedures developed by TMCs to address emergency preparedness and response will incorporate assumptions about and actions expected from external agencies. Where TMC efforts overlap or strengthen external actions, there is potential for utilization and ownership conflict. TMC documents and planning must clearly delineate ownership and responsibility. Cooperative meetings with external agencies should establish configurations for ownership and management of emergency operations elements.

One successful model involves TMCs and external public safety agencies maintaining responsibility for developing appropriate emergency operations elements for their own internal use, while developing joint use elements where appropriate and productive. Extensive coordination takes place along with channeling of funding and resources between the organizations to maximize mutual benefit.

5.4.2 Update Emergency Operations Program Elements on a Periodic Basis

The Emergency Preparedness Working Group should designate and adhere to a documented program review and update process. The inclusion of external agencies will make sure revisions do not cause inconsistency or misalignment with other plans or procedures maintained by these partners. The Working Group should also designate a single, central point of contact for the review and revisions, and ensure there is a record of revisions at the beginning of each program document.

At minimum, review and revision should take place on an annual basis. However, in certain cases, more frequent review and revision may be warranted. For example, After-Action Reports and Improvement Plans that result from exercises should immediately inform revisions to emergency preparedness program elements.

TMCs should develop a work plan that captures all emergency preparedness program conduct, revision, and maintenance activities and include them in a schedule.

5.5 Maintain Emergency Operations Checklist

The TMC can use the following checklist to evaluate their current status in regard to maintenance of emergency operations (relationships, policies, plans, and procedures) (check all that apply):

❑ Designates ownership and management of emergency operations elements.

❑ Updates EOP elements on a periodic basis.