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

April 2017


Program Evolution

Service patrol programs evolve over time due to many factors including organizational changes, network expansion, funding, agency and community needs, and a host of other reasons. New technologies such as emerging the connected vehicle initiative will influence the capabilities and processes of Safety Service Patrol (SSP) programs promising safer and more efficient operations. In order to keep the service patrol programs intact through these evolutionary times, it is important to stay informed of the trends that lead to these changes. Institutionally, it is important to keep the elected officials, decision-makers, stakeholders, and the public aware of the current program, its benefits, and pending or future changes that may positively influence program operations.


Service patrol programs can evolve through organizational changes by bringing new visions and goals to the incident management program. These changes can occur at the very top of an organization down to the management of the day-to-day operations. These changes may involve the number of service patrols, the level of service, or the hours of operation.

SSP operations have been organized in several different ways, depending on agency missions and responsibilities as well as related laws and legislation. Some organizational examples have included but are not limited to the following:

  • Operation by State departments of transportation (DOT) or road operator (e.g., toll agency) with coordination as needed with police and other first responders in the event of accidents or major emergencies. In some cases, police may be involved in dispatching patrols even as they are manned by the State DOT or road operator.
  • Operation by a standalone entity as a cooperative effort with a State DOT or road operator and police, e.g., the California County Service Authorities for Freeway Emergencies, which, depending on the county, may be a metropolitan transportation authority, Caltrans district, or association of governments.
  • Contracted operations through the State DOT or road operator, where region-specific or statewide contracts are provided for dispatch, operation and maintenance of SSP services. The services may include operation of State-owned equipment or may require the contractor to supply the required vehicles and ancillary equipment.

While agency-owned services and equipment for SSP have been highly effective, some agencies have considered the outsourcing of SSP services as part of an overall move toward reducing the size of government and staff. The outsourcing of SSP may have benefits to the public sector by reducing the agency labor overhead costs, although in cases where the SSP was previously agency-owned and operated, there may be continued or perhaps interim use of existing State assets such as vehicles, buildings, or dispatch systems.

With new SSP systems, the contracting of all services including dispatchers, vehicle operators, vehicles, vehicle tracking systems, ancillary equipment and operation/maintenance facilities potentially allows the private sector to assume the specific operational risks. They may provide facilities in a cost-effective fashion, including use of private facilities and land rather than being limited to State facilities. The focus of the State DOT and road operator should be on providing a clear set of functional and physical requirements and performance measures. These would be combined with financial incentives and/or penalties to meet specific performance measures such as response time, reduction in secondary incidents, and time to provide service.

As with all SSP activities, coordination between SSP and traffic management center (TMC) operators continues to be a paramount function, regardless of who is operating the SSP activities. Likewise, coordination and cooperation with law enforcement and other first responders should remain a clear function within SSPs, whether agency-owned or contracted as a service, requiring that such responsibilities be clearly stated within contract documents. As with any change there are always risks involved in how the operations will perform. One key item to consider if moving from public agency-owned and operated patrols to contracted services is the liability aspects of performing the duties as required in reopening roadways as safely and quickly as possible. As mentioned in Section 2.1.2 Contracted Service Patrols, in order to maintain the quick clearance functions of the patrols, there must be some sort of liability indemnification as the contractor is performing those duties as directed by or as an agent of the State.

It is important to measure the performance improvements resulting from the organizational changes and communicating the results to management and stakeholders. Capturing and documenting data and performance measures at the program outset provides a baseline from which to measure and evaluate program performance changes. Any modifications to the program should be identified and tracked with before and after results. Performance metrics illustrate the benefits of a service patrol program and justify future program evolution decisions.

Network Expansion

Another way that service patrol programs can be established or expanded is through the expansion of the roadway network. Some programs, such as one in New Hampshire, began during the construction phase of their roadways and continued after the project was complete. Public/private partnerships, formed to expand the capacity of roadways, have started their own service patrol programs to assist in delivering more reliable travel along those facilities. An example of the public/private partnership expansions can be seen with the emergence of facilities which have been expanded to include High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes where it is very important to the operating entity to keep the lanes open and flowing to the greatest extent possible. Any issues which constrict travel on these toll lanes cost the operators substantial amounts of money. One example of a HOT patrol can be found in Northern Virginia where express toll lanes have been added inside the right of way of I-495 and I-95. The private operator has added service patrols to this facility which operates independent of the Virginia Department of Transportation (VDOT) patrols in providing motorists assistance.

Technology Evolution and Connected Vehicles

Service patrols are typically known for the low technology approach of pushing or pulling obstacles from the travel lanes of roadways, providing motorist assistance, and protecting other responders and victims at incident scenes by providing traffic control and setting up safe work areas, not for high technology devices. There is promise that future service patrol operations will be able to operate more efficiently as a result of new and emerging technologies being introduced. These technologies will offer operational improvements that can further strengthen the exchange of information between the TMC/TOC and the patrols in an automated atmosphere. These technology advances should increase the safety of responders and motorists. One of the largest technology advances is rapidly approaching with the connected vehicle technologies.

The Connected Vehicle (CV) program is a set of research activities centered on a vehicle or a mobile device that is equipped with communications and data processing, allowing the equipped platforms to be aware of their location and status, and to communicate with each other and with the surrounding infrastructure. This enables Cooperative Intelligent Transportation Systems (C-ITS) or, as commonly known in the United States, "connected vehicle".

From the infrastructure perspective, agencies own the rights of way and deploy and control their own devices to manage the flow of traffic, passengers, and freight. In the CV environment, agencies will have access to data about their network that was generated by in-vehicle devices and collected through various communications channels. The data collected will provide a more refined picture of the traffic network in that the data is not collected from fixed locations along the roadway but from vehicles traveling every inch of the roadway and reporting data every tenth of a second.

Vehicle-to-Vehicle (V2V) and Vehicle-to-Infrastructure (V2I) communications will use high-speed wireless capabilities that will mix dedicated short-range communications with evolving generations of high-speed wide area wireless communications. Ultimately, the vehicles, the infrastructure, the TMC Operations and First Responders will have more visibility into the real-time activities of the entire transportation network.

CV technology will make possible the use of the SSP vehicle as a data source for traffic operations as well as a source of incident scene information and incident management. CV-compliant service patrol vehicles will be able to inform other vehicles of incidents and events they are addressing and supply real-time information and guidance through or around an incident scene, greatly improving the safety of the responders as well as the motorists approaching the scene. The CV-equipped service patrols will autonomously send information to the TMC to aid in the management of the incident. Examples of the data that the SSP vehicle could report back to the TMC or send to other approaching vehicles includes position, traffic conditions, video, roadway conditions such as rain, snow, and pavement temperature, and other conditions collected as part of in-vehicle sensors and systems.

Connected vehicles will be able to alert TMC and SSP when they are disabled and advise the location of the vehicle, whether or not it is blocking a travel lane, along with the issue that the vehicle is experiencing. This will reduce response time, increase motorist safety, and enable the SSP vehicle to maneuver into position when approaching the location with more reliable information about the anticipated scene.

CV will allow for other first responders to know about the service patrol's whereabouts, and the actions the operator has already taken at the scene. Other first responders will be able to share their data, allowing for full transparency across the incident response team in real-time. Rapid data sharing is afforded and the information is shared in real-time without interrupting/distracting the driver. The SSP driver will be able to see where all of the other response vehicles are set up at the scene of an incident allowing for instructions to be relayed to the incoming personnel about response vehicle positioning at the scene or to proceed to a designated staging area.

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