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21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies

April 2017


Not all Safety Service Patrol (SSP) programs are alike, and not all agencies or regions where these patrols are deployed have the same needs. The research conducted for this project found that even though the service patrol programs had different characteristics, they all had basically the same goals. The goals are to provide a service that adds a layer of safety for the motoring public while improving mobility along their roadway networks by mitigating lane-blocking incidents in a safe and timely manner. The agencies that operate the service patrols are very proud of their programs and are very enthusiastic to share what they have done. Many programs share some of the same issues when it comes to operating their programs.

Best Practices

There were several suggestions for best practices that were identified from various agencies which could benefit other programs. Agencies that feel their programs may benefit from these best practices may find that further study of these best practices is warranted in light of their specific needs. The practices can improve the safety of the patrollers and other responders, increase the efficiencies realized in the operations of the service patrols, and improve inter-agency coordination and cooperation.

Integration of Safety Service Patrol Location Data for Traffic Incident Management

When first responders do not notify the traffic management center (TMC) in a timely fashion when there is a lane blocking event on the roadway network, SSP dispatching may be delayed. Timely notification of the TMC of a lane blocking event can get the SSP patrollers or other transportation assets to the incident scene to quickly assist and possibly shorten the clearance time of an incident or provide a safer environment for the other response agencies to perform their duties. The integration of cleansed Computer Aided Dispatch (CAD) information provided directly from the 911 call centers or Public Safety Answering Point (PSAP) into the Advanced Traffic Management System (ATMS) platform can expedite traffic responses due to more rapidly-received incident information. This practice supports the automated transfer of information which acts as a notification to the TMC of an incident event taking place. Such an approach relieves a possibly overburdened 911 call center or PSAP dispatcher from having to make the notifications by phone at a time when they are extremely busy dealing with the event itself. This technology is currently used in operations centers such as the West Virginia Division of Highways Operations Center where the CAD data is integrated into their ATMS.

Traffic Signal Control

There are SSP programs, such as the SSP program at the Washington State Department of Transportation, in which patrollers have the capability to re-time or manually control traffic signals extending the green time to accommodate traffic flow which has been diverted from a freeway or facility to another route. This minimizes delays associated with the diversion.

Automatic Vehicle Location Applications

Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL) applications, such as implemented on Georgia's Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) vehicles, involve Operations Centers and service patrols using AVL technology which assists the TMC with an understanding of the location of service patrol resources. The SSP location data is used to manage and dispatch the service patrol resources closest to an incident. This practice reduces response times, facilitates reduced clearance time, and reduces other factors associated with incident-related delays such as responder safety and secondary incidents.

Traffic Incident Management Teams

The implementation and regular meetings of multi-agency Traffic Incident Management Teams are very important to efficient incident response. These teams have proven to be instrumental in building coordination, relationships and trust between the agencies which respond together at the scenes of roadway incidents. They are mechanisms for multi-agency training and information sharing. Examples of Traffic Incident Management (TIM) team implementations exist in many locations across the country such as the Georgia Traffic Incident Management Enhancement (TIME) and the Indiana Traffic Incident Management Effort (IN-TIME) groups.


Debriefs, "After" Actions, and Critiques following an incident are considered a best practice. Regions such as the Milwaukee area have a well-established Traffic Incident Management debrief. When incident debriefs occur on a regular basis following major incidents, any issues which may arise at an incident scene can be discussed and addressed. This supports the continual improvement of incident response by all agencies involved. Debriefs should focus on actions and approaches that went well as well as lessons learned. Improvement suggestions identified during debriefs should be documented, assigned and tracked. This is another area where the Traffic Incident Management teams can be of assistance.

Multi-Agency Training and Exercises

Multi-Agency training and exercises are another way to build relationships and awareness of each responding agency's functions and capabilities. The Strategic Highway Research Program 2 (SHRP2) TIM National Traffic Incident Management Training course is available for any agency to receive. Training with towing companies can also prove beneficial for responders to learn what capabilities tow companies possess and what they need to do their job effectively and efficiently to reopen lanes at an incident scene. Exercises are another way for responders to meet away from live traffic to evaluate what they have learned from their training and reinforce the roles and goals of each agency. Exercises show agencies how they can work together in harmony to realize safety and efficiency in accomplishing their missions.

Specialized Incident Response Vehicles

Some agencies have specialized vehicles which are specifically designed to provide assistance during major freeway incidents. These trucks have additional equipment and supplies to provide a higher level of maintenance of traffic and capabilities than a typical SSP and are only deployed during major incidents. The Florida Road Ranger program has implemented this concept with their Severe Incident Response Vehicles (SIRV).

Lessons Learned

The study team inquired of several SSP operators what they would do differently if they were starting a new program or enhancing their current program and what advice they would give to other agencies. There were many responses that were similar, illustrating that many programs face the same challenges or obstacles during the day-to-day operations of the service patrol programs. These lessons learned are important to pass along to other agencies that are operating patrols. Every program is unique in nature and some practices may not be applicable to all programs. A listing of comments received presented below. Some of the comments are similar and were not combined to illustrate where some of the most common comments are focused.

Patrol Routes

  • Establish patrol routes based on need and continually review and revise these routes to realize efficiencies and ensure areas with the highest need are patrolled. This is very important when there are limited patrol resources available.
  • Establish patrol routes and constantly review the routes and revise as conditions or data warrant.
  • In hindsight, they would have started with a broader area of coverage for the patrols.

Program Marketing

  • Develop and implement better marketing of the patrol program and the capabilities they possess to the legislature and decision-makers, other responder agencies such as law enforcement and fire, as well as the public. Constant marketing will help to improve the awareness of the program and help with funding. When possible, try and have the awareness of the program reflected in other response agency's academy classes.
  • Continual marketing of the program to all responder disciplines and their associated academy classes, and the public.

Performance Measures

  • Begin developing the performance matrices and capturing the data at the start of the program or as close to the start as possible to measure improvements and background for cost benefit development which can be used for justification of expansion.
  • Keep striving to improve response times to incidents.


  • Look for innovative funding sources such as roadwork projects, grants, and other sources to supplement current budgets.


  • Training is paramount for the patrollers. A good training program coupled with the appropriate Standard Operation Procedures or guidelines will help keep the patrollers at a high level of competence while performing their duties. Cross training between patrollers and the TMC personnel is recommended to help them learn what each of their responsibilities are for their job requirements. Cross training builds relationships and trust, and raises the awareness of what exactly each party has to do at the expected level. Inter-agency training and exercises are a great way to build relationships, trust, and an understanding of each agency's missions and how they can work together to achieve the common goal of responder safety and safe quick clearance. The SHRP2 National Traffic Incident Management Training course is a good training to implement.
  • Provide training to the patrollers on techniques to improve response times.
  • Provide more formalized training for the Patrollers.
  • Safety would be most important. A good training program would be vital. TIM training for all first responders.
  • Create a formal and thorough training program and ensure all of the patrollers are trained early.


  • Patrol vehicles can accumulate high mileage very quickly, and the wear and tear on these vehicles can be extensive, especially if they are used for removing wrecked and disabled vehicles or debris from the travel portion of the roadway.
  • Lower the life cycle replacement for vehicles to every two to three years.
  • Budget for and replace SSP vehicles every three years or sooner if conditions warrant.
  • Work to establish, with their Department of General Services, budgeting for and replacing their vehicles every three years as they are wearing the vehicles out faster than they are replacing them.
  • Have backup vehicles as part of the fleet that can be used when vehicles are down due to maintenance, crashes, or for other issues. Taking a route out of service due to a truck not being available is noticed very quickly by the motoring public.
  • Design and specify vehicles based on the terrain of the area they will be serving.
  • Would like to have had more trucks starting out with the program.
  • Install push bumpers on all vehicles.


  • Include additional technology deployed on the patrol vehicles, such as on-board cameras, mobile data terminals with mapping and routing capabilities, and AVL to help the TMC dispatch the closest unit.
  • Install more technology in the patrol vehicles such as AVL, mapping and routing software, cameras, and other tools to help the patrols perform their jobs more efficiently.
  • Introduce AVL to assist the TMC in dispatching the closest patrol.
  • Include technology such as closed circuit television (CCTV) cameras mounted on the vehicles along with AVL units for keeping track of the patrols.


  • Improve their quick clearance practices.
  • Adhere to Quick Clearance policies they have in place allowing them to move stuff out of the roadway with no liability as long as they are not grossly negligent.


  • Increase the patrol numbers in the metropolitan areas.
  • The incident management field is constantly evolving, so it is imperative to stay up-to-date with all the latest best practices and technologies.


In summary, some of the key factors to remember when implementing or enhancing a service patrol operation include:

  • Determine the level of service that the patrol will need to provide to meet the agency's expectations on a spectrum of a motorist assist patrol to a full function or mid-level patrol capable of providing traffic control and quick clearance as well as motorist assistance. Motorist assist patrols do serve a purpose, but may not be able to deliver the expected benefits which can be realized from higher level service patrols.
  • Identify staffing of the patrols. The preferred staffing would be agency personnel, however, contracted services may be a more viable option given agency staffing or funding constraints. The key issues with contracted services is the liability associated with moving obstructions out of the roadway. In cases where the contractor is required to carry their own liability insurance and perform quick clearance duties there are some concerns, but when the contractors are covered under the State's liability and perform the duties as an agent of the State, they can perform at a much higher level when clearing the travel lanes of obstructions.
  • Hours of operation for the patrols should, at a minimum, cover the morning and evening weekday peak hours as well as time prior to each of these periods. Ideally, the patrols should operate weekdays at least 16 hours per day to cover prior to, between, and following the peak hours of travel so as to clear up any incidents prior to peak hours. This approach can have significant effects on the transportation system by clearing an incident prior to the peak hours. Each region has different needs and demands but the metropolitan areas should strive to achieve 24 hours per day/7 days per week patrols. Patrols operating 24 hours per day/7 days per week patrols have a greater awareness of what is taking place on the roadway network as well as having an agency response on duty when services are needed, negating having to call-in a maintenance crew on overtime to respond.

    Missouri Department of Transportation addressed the issue of after-hours response by supplementing their patrols when they are not on duty with an after-hours Emergency Response unit which is staffed seven days per week, with availability on holidays. These operators address major vehicle accidents, obstructions and clean-ups on the interstates and highways. Unlike Day Shift Emergency Responders, these units do not patrol specific coverage areas and they can be called on as needed anywhere as they operate within metropolitan Kansas City as well as the rural surrounding areas. They assist law enforcement, fire departments and other emergency agencies in clearing accident sites, emergency roadway and debris clearing, pothole patching and many other functions to maintain the safety of the roadway during the off peak hours.

  • Develop a set of standard criteria that proposed patrol routes need to meet in order to be considered as a patrol route. This supports the use of the existing or proposed fleet efficiently. There are examples of what agencies, such as the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT), have done in the way of creating formulas to prioritize these routes but the contributing factors should include the volume of traffic and the accident rates. Pilot program implementations can evaluate the need and benefits which can be realized by selecting certain routes. Patrol routes should be reviewed periodically to ensure they remain viable candidates.
  • The type of SSP vehicle to be deployed should take into consideration the patrol characteristics, services and functions to be performed. These factors will determine how the vehicle should be equipped and the tools and equipment the vehicle will be carrying. It is important to identify the type of vehicle, the chassis, the drivetrain, and everything that will be on or in the vehicle along with the approximate weight of each item. This will determine the design of the vehicle that is capable of performing with the weight load it will carry. The proper maintenance of the vehicle will result in a longer service life with less non-routine maintenance issues.
  • The operations of the service patrols complement the mission of the TMC/TOCs. The service patrols act as the eyes and ears for the operations center. In order for an agency to have a successful TIM program, there have to be strong communication linkages between the TMC and the patrollers. There needs to be a clear understanding of each participant's role and what each needs from the other to support reaching their goals as safely and efficiently as possible. In order to develop a strong relationship between the operations center and the service patrol, there should be cross training between the two parties with practical exercises conducted regularly to enforce the training.
  • Service patrols need to have a clear set of standard operating procedures or guidelines to guide their activities and responses. These procedures must support patroller safety and meet the agency's expectations for performance. It is important to craft the policies and operating procedures to meet the expectations of the program as well as avoiding conflicts with the policies and procedures of other responders. MOUs between the service patrol program and other response agencies should be established and provide clear guidance to all agencies about how to operate together, safely and efficiently, while allowing each agency to complete the necessary tasks that they are required to perform. It is helpful to outline the duties and responsibilities of each agency which are required at the scene of a traffic-related incident scene. These documents should outline common goals and operational procedures to follow when working together to complement each organization's activities.
  • Inter-agency coordination is an important element of successful service patrol program. It relies on the sharing of reliable, timely information between agencies and a coordinated vision for resolving traffic incidents in a safe and efficient manner. Building the relationships and trust between the various responder agencies as well as learning each organization's roles, goals, and capabilities is vital. One of the most successful ways to develop the team environment is through TIM Team meetings which many agencies hold on a regular basis. Metropolitan Planning Organizations can be instrumental in organizing and sustaining TIM teams. Inter-Agency agreements should be established to ensure a clear, consistent consensus between agencies. These agreements should be revisited from time to time to ensure they are still applicable.
  • There is no standard curriculum for training service patrol operators and the level of training for service patrol programs depends on the level of service that the patrol is expected to provide. Service patrol training should be delivered on a regular basis with refresher courses to maintain certification in some skills and proficiency in others. The number one priority in these training sessions needs to be safety. Cross-training and operational exercises with other responder agencies build trust, relationships, and knowledge of each organization's resources and capabilities. The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has developed a training curriculum through the SHRP2 program entitled the "National Traffic Incident Management Responder Training Program." The SHRP2 training combines classroom training with tabletop exercises. Although there needs to be a training curriculum developed specifically for the patrollers about how to perform their duties, a multi-agency training program has the added benefit of building relationships between the different response disciplines and the patrollers. These relationships carry over to responses to incidents and an elevated level of coordination and cooperation can be realized between the agencies.
  • Technology is beginning to find its way into patrol vehicles, and there are great benefits being derived from these technology implementations. Mobile data terminals, vehicle-mounted CCTV streaming live video to the operations center, and other technologies are beginning to become standard equipment on some agencies' patrol vehicles. The technologies in the patrol vehicles are about to increase dramatically with the rapidly approaching connected vehicle initiative and will bring a new wave of applications geared toward service patrols. Some of these technologies include warning of errant vehicles approaching the incident scene, alerts sent out to motorists of the patrols or other responders ahead in the traffic lanes including possible options the approaching vehicles should take, and possibly alerting the service patrols when motorists become disabled. Connected vehicle technology could inform the SSP of vehicle issues being experienced. It will be important for agencies to keep up with the emerging technologies and decide which options they may need to deploy as funding budgets allows.
  • When evaluating program funding, the public and legislative awareness of the program can aid in increasing the current funding or sustaining the current funding level for these types of programs.
  • Service patrol justification is important to initiate, sustain, and enhance the growth or level of service of a patrol program. Insightful performance measures coupled with benefit cost ratios are invaluable tools in making the case for supporting these efforts. Public awareness and support of these programs is important. There are examples of programs that have demonstrated the benefit of the implementation and, as a result, have expanded patrols, hours, and/or routes. In justifying the program, the executive level agency management must be engaged and armed to be able to sell the service patrol program. It is beneficial to prepare a one- to two-page document with executive talking points highlighting the SSP benefits along with any data to back the benefit claims up. Having benefits data available to the agency as well as the traveling public can add to the support needed to obtain funding. The funding needs to cover the implementation or enhancement of the program and it needs to become a line item in the budget to ensure that the implementations can be sustained over time. Research will be needed to identify the potential funding streams between the State and federal sources. There are program sponsorship options which should be left open to accommodate more than one sponsor for additional funding if needed.

State and local departments of transportation and other agencies are looking for ways operate the roadway networks in a safer, more efficient manner. In order to do this, one of the most efficient tools to deploy is a Traffic Incident Management Program consisting of a very strong TMC/TOC and service patrols that operate as a well-coordinated team. The benefits that these programs can bring compared to the cost invested needs to be made apparent to all stakeholders. The decision-makers, armed with SSP benefits data, will be able to steer funding to these programs. Another awareness campaign should target the traveling public. The majority of the public does not understand or even know that some of these programs exist, nor do they know the benefits they as travelers realize as a result of the TIM programs. Inter-agency coordination and communication are at an all-time high thanks in part to FHWA and their efforts in promoting TIM programs and the development of the SHRP2 multi-agency TIM training program. These programs are touching more responders and raising awareness of clearing the roads in a safe and efficient manner than any other program has ever achieved. The introduction of connected vehicles will only serve to make the operations centers and the service patrols much more efficient in their duties.

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