Major metropolitan areas' experiences with formalized incident management programs.
In May, 2001 the Federal Highway Administration and the Federal Transit Administration published the Regional Traffic Incident Management Programs Implementation Guide to assist organizations and their leaders in implementing and sustaining regional traffic incident management programs, both by examining some successful models, and by considering some of the lessons learned by early implementers. The objective is to present a framework for developing a formal multiagency traffic incident management program, with endorsement by, participation from, and coordination by senior agency management, and which includes all of the participating agencies. The document presents the case for incident management and then provides a framework and series of steps for implementing and sustaining a regional traffic incident management program. The report then provides a series of lessons learned from nationally recognized traffic incident management programs around the country, and, finally, discusses the importance of program monitoring, evaluation and reporting, as well as the need for strategic planning throughout the process. This implementation guide is based on face-to-face interviews with incident management leaders in Atlanta, Houston, Seattle, Milwaukee, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Detroit, San Antonio, and the state of Maryland. Information was also gathered through an extensive review of literature about and from incident management efforts nationwide, which was then combined with business management best practices.
The Regional Traffic Incident Management Programs: Implementation Guide aims to explain general steps to implementation (with an institutional, rather than technical, focus), and is based on understanding needs, defining the program, building and maintaining support, assessing the program’s effectiveness, and revising its approach to better address the needs. The following two lessons are based on the experience of others regarding building program support for a formal incident management program:
- Take advantage of attention focused on major events (international games, weather events, earthquakes, etc.) to help organize and build support for a formal incident management program. While some of these events cannot be anticipated, it is important to set the stage for success. Begin organizing interagency working groups and building the case for a program prior to a major event or crisis. Then, once an event occurs, take advantage of the media attention and public outcry to focus attention and resources on organizing a coordinated incident management program. In other words, strike while the iron is hot!
As an example, in the 1970s the GDOT Commissioner tried and failed to organize an interagency incident management program. It wasn’t until 1992 that the Chief of Georgia’s Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) began to include law enforcement and GDOT in emergency response. However, it was the announcement that Atlanta would host the 1996 Summer Olympics that was the real catalyst for mobilization. The GDOT Director of Operations helped organize the program because of his experience and his relationships within his agency. Critical to the success of this effort was the identification of a "credible nucleus" that recognized that many agencies had a role in managing incidents. In Georgia, this was GEMA. While it is important to understand that agencies cannot be forced to work together, if a viable framework is in place, a major event can help mobilize and solidify support for a coordinated interagency program. Steve Parks, Deputy Commissioner, Georgia Department of Transportation (GDOT), said, "You cannot wait for a crisis or international event to occur before organizing incident management agencies. Start the program and dialogue prior to any event, and the event will help solidify those relationships."
- Obtain and leverage political support when it is available. Since transportation funding is often politically influenced and transportation policy is an important item on political agendas, support of political leaders for transportation projects is essential. Obtaining political support is particularly important for incident management programs since they do not offer publicity-laden opportunities such as ribbon-cutting ceremonies for new roads or bridges. Obtaining political support is an important step for the success and sustainability of any incident management program. This step requires informing leaders about the benefits of incident management and convincing them of the need for a formal program.
It also can be accomplished by taking advantage of scenarios such as this one, in Houston: Mayor Lanier of Houston encountered severe traffic congestion on the way to a Houston Oilers football game. He called his staff several times, but no one could give him accurate information about what was happening or how long the congestion might last. He reached the game close to half-time. The next day he initiated action to ensure that his experience would not be repeated by Houston-area citizens. Thus, the Houston area’s first incident management program and the Houston TranStar ITS system were born. The mayor, a previous member of the State Transportation Board, led an effort to gain the cooperation of the other agencies in the Houston area. His efforts enabled TxDOT, Houston METRO, and the Houston Police Department to gain top management buy-in for their portions of the incident management program. The result was an incident management program developed in a very short time.
Two ways of improving an incident management program include taking advantage of the media and public attention given to large events, and seeking out political support of the program. In this way, incident management programs will become more organized, structured, and the opportunity for program sustainability will be enhanced, improving mobility and customer satisfaction.