Coordinate across jurisdictions/regions and share resources to reduce future costs and delays.

Major metropolitan areas' experiences with formalized incident management programs.

Date Posted

Regional Traffic Incident Management Programs: Implementation Guide

Summary Information

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.

There is some form of incident management activity in most major and many mid-sized urban areas. Typically this involves each agency carrying out its own responsibilities, with primarily working-level and middle-management administrative teams to provide coordination with the other agencies who are also involved in their own aspects of managing incidents. Such a situation not only achieves less than the full potential benefit, but also leaves open many risks for failure within individual agencies or on a broader scale. The following lessons provide suggestions for creating a coordinated incident management program:

  • Resolve internal institutional barriers first before working on gathering interagency support for a coordinated incident management program. Prior to working with outside agencies to develop a program, organizations must look inside their own walls to resolve potential conflicts between departments. Often, new programs create divides with regard to funding and chain of command that can jeopardize the success of a program. Sometimes a strong leader with enough power to force organizational change is enough to ensure implementation and sustainability. More often than not, however, program leaders come from mid- and lower-level management and must build a credible incident management effort before senior executives will endorse incident management and consistently promote it as an agency priority. Once internal implementation challenges have been overcome, agencies involved in incident management can focus on developing their external relationships with one another, as well as with the private sector, elected officials, and the public at-large. There are several options for developing long-term sustainable external relations. Good public relations are key to raising public awareness for a product or service, which will ensure funding year after year. As an example, the Washington State Department of Transportation piloted its modest but highly successful service patrol under the leadership of its Engineering division, but decided to develop its full incident management program under its Maintenance division. Placing the program under Maintenance was complicated by the maintenance staff’s perception that an engineer had forced the implementation of an unnecessary program. Eventually, incident management was assigned to Traffic Operations, and funded as a separate line item in the Traffic Operations budget. An individual from the Maintenance division was later named to head Seattle’s Incident Management program. The combination of removing Incident Management from Maintenance and hiring a Maintenance person to lead the program alleviated many of the problems that existed in the program’s early years.
  • Coordinate across jurisdictions/regions for technology and infrastructure planning to reduce future costs and delays. By coordinating technology and infrastructure plans regionally rather than locally, benefits related to interoperability of technology and infrastructure management can be addressed prior to implementation, helping to reduce future costs and delays. This technique is often employed for ITS, but too frequently neglected by incident management leaders. Several regional programs exist in the United States that employ the regional planning method, including the Gary-Chicago-Milwaukee Corridor and the I-95 Corridor Coalition.
  • Share resources to overcome shortfalls to help build and solidify relationships among organizations. When starting or improving an incident management program, a stumbling block to the cooperation and coordination of some agencies may be access to limited resources. Some organizations may not be as interested in participating if they are already stretching the resources they have on existing programs. It may be beneficial for agencies to help each other with resources where possible. For example, when Maryland’s Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) program was starting up, it was a challenge to establish the relationships necessary between the participating agencies—Maryland State Highway Administration (MdSHA), Maryland State Police (MSP), and Maryland Transportation Authority (MdTA). As the nucleus agency, MdSHA found it useful to build relationships with other key agencies by cooperatively funding joint needs. For instance, MdSHA agreed to fund several necessary items for MSP, including paint for outlining crash scenes, facilities improvements for the jointly-staffed traffic operations centers, and fully equipped motorcycles that could be used for reaching crash scenes during peak travel hours. In return, MSP has collocated full-time staff at the statewide operations center (SOC). Based on this success, CHART has extended the approach to outside organizations, including the media. Agreements were developed that allow local radio and television stations to be patched into live closed-circuit television feeds from the SOC. In exchange, traffic helicopters owned and operated by local stations provide real-time views of traffic incidents and delays to CHART. Radio broadcasts are also shared between the organizations.
  • Make the interagency incident management program a "win-win" for all stakeholders involved. Stakeholders must perceive that there is a benefit to changing the status quo. Most organizations already perform some level of incident management and may not see the potential benefits in working in a structured, coordinated fashion with other agencies that do not share a common goal. The first step in gaining buy-in from all stakeholders is to develop a common program goal that recognizes the different priorities among agencies. For example, DOTs may be more interested in the safe and efficient restoration of traffic flow, while fire departments may focus more on the individual safety of their personnel while clearing an incident. This difference of interests can create institutional and physical bottlenecks when the two organizations try working together to clear an incident from the roadway. By working together in an atmosphere of mutual respect and trust, several regions have been able to come to new agreements about how to meet each agency's goals while working toward a common goal of public safety and service.
  • Create procedures that do not threaten the agencies' own roles. A sure way to alienate a key partner is to say that their involvement in incident management will change their responsibilities at the incident scene. The key to effective incident management is not shifting roles, but working together effectively in a coordinated manner, and perhaps taking slightly different actions which consider a broader set of goals than those of any single agency. Each partner will continue to be held accountable (by its senior management, other units of government, and the public) for its role in managing the incident, and for addressing those components of an incident (public safety, safety of involved personnel, safety of incident victims, environment, traffic flow) with which it is charged. Incident management should allow each partner to perform its duty, but with consideration for the duties of others and in coordination with them.

Oftentimes, benefits beyond the incident management program can be identified from an inter-agency agreement. This practice can continue to yield benefits as a regular practice as the incident management program grows and matures; it is not limited to the program’s early phases. This approach can also increase overall efficiency.