Ensure the long-term stability of an interagency incident management program by creating dependencies and by managing for leadership succession.

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.

Formalizing the incident management effort existing in many cities into an incident management program can make incident management a core agency activity at senior executive levels and demonstrate a long-term commitment to incident management, with a clearly defined strategy. The program becomes a component in the budget process of each participating agency and of every major aspect of each agency, helping it last through tight budgets, personnel and political changes, and helping agencies to support each other.

  • Create dependencies to ensure program sustainability. Developing a clear 'dependency' on the program and its offerings is one way to ensure its visibility and stability for the long term. Public leaders and travelers come to expect the services and improved conditions that result from the program. Thus, it becomes part of the budget baseline, rather than an optional item.

    Atlanta’s highly popular HERO service patrol clearly illustrates the success of this approach: Sustaining interest and support (both financial and popular) is one of the toughest challenges any incident management program faces after its initial success. Atlanta has isolated its HEROs (Highway Emergency Response Operators) freeway service patrol from political and financial vulnerabilities by cultivating dependency on its services. The HEROs are a highly visible arm of the incident management program. GDOT is deluged with letters of appreciation for their service. "Our public and our partners could not imagine living without our HEROs", says Marion Waters of GDOT. "They are dependent on them on a daily basis." The positive responses and publicity that the Atlanta program receives puts the pressure on politicians and policymakers to sustain and grow the program. This provides the best protection from any threats to the entire incident management program, even the less visible operations that are most vulnerable to budget cuts.

  • Prepare for the possibility that a leader might leave. Successful leaders are difficult to retain in any organization, and particularly difficult to retain in the public sector. Often they are promoted internally or hired away by the private sector, leaving a leadership "vacuum" if no one has been designated as a successor. This lack of clearly-defined leadership following loss of a successful champion can cause incident management to lose momentum, sometimes causing the eventual breakdown of interagency relationships that had been established at a person-to-person level. Overcoming the loss of a champion requires the consideration of a leadership succession model. This model should consist of the identification and preparation of one or more additional persons participating in the incident management program who can be prepared to assume leadership responsibilities should the current champion leave. Such preparation will likely be informal and performed within the incident management program, rather than part of an individual’s career development program within his or her home agency. Ideally, each agency will see its incident management focal point as a key individual, and will take steps to ensure that a successor is identified and prepared in advance of such a departure. Critical to the success of this model is its early implementation. If there is no effort to begin preparing a qualified, capable, and recognized successor until the current leader gives notice, it is unlikely that the new leader will have the understanding necessary to succeed.

    Future leaders should be chosen not simply for their management experience, but because they exhibit qualities that would allow them to build and sustain an interagency team of incident management professionals.

Addressing institutional challenges is critical for the sustained success of any regional incident management program. Incident management programs that do not have a solid institutional foundation and which rely solely on the leadership of a single champion, or on temporary synergies created by interagency coordination for special events, may fall apart over the long term. The critical factor for the long term success and sustainability of an incident management program is its institutionalization and multilevel commitment across all agencies involved. Thus, the development and implementation of strategies to overcome the institutional challenges is of utmost importance when organizing incident management programs.

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