For the United States, the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 and the subsequent anthrax scare raised the specter of future attacks involving any number of hazards. After these events the federal government embarked on a series of projects to support communities in their emergency preparedness for a full range of potential threats. The federal initiatives encouraged state and local transportation agencies, which have a long history of preparedness for severe weather, to expand preparedness to encompass man-made emergencies, including the release of biohazards.
Emergency transportation operations during a biohazard incident may differ significantly from those required in other types of emergencies, such as hurricanes, floods or snow-storms. The release of a biohazard is not likely to be known ahead of time (unlike weather conditions). Further, the detection of biohazards is difficult before and during their release because they are predominantly colorless, odorless and are easily concealed. Note also that, the variety of biohazards renders their identification challenging. They consist of three main types: bacteria, viruses and biological toxins, with effects that may not be evident immediately but emerge over time. Another complicating factor is that biohazards can be released intentionally, accidentally or through naturally occurring processes in the environment. The appropriate emergency response may differ depending on the cause of release. If the release is intentional, the transportation network itself could be a target. Finally, transportation management during a biohazard emergency may require simultaneous but conflicting operations, such as minimizing the mobility of exposed populations, evacuating non-exposed populations and maximizing the mobility of responders.
On occasion state DOTs are called upon to manage the transportation network in emergencies, most conspicuously during severe weather conditions. State DOTs are also charged with managing transportation operations under emergency conditions that occur from man-made disasters, such as the accidental or deliberate release of biohazards.
If the release of biohazards has an adverse effect on a community, it will also stress the transportation network by requiring support for the emergency response (e.g., the transport of emergency personnel, medical supplies, decontamination equipment, and so forth) and possibly directly harming transportation operations (as in staff) or infrastructure.
Although state DOTs are most conspicuously experienced in transportation management under severe weather, there is significantly less experience and knowledge (fortunately) in responding to biohazards. To support the preparedness of communities for biohazards, the FHWA published a document entitled “Transportation Biohazard Operational Concept.” This document is a blueprint for state DOTs to follow as they develop their emergency management procedures, roles and responsibilities for biohazard incidents. Using the Transportation Biohazard Operational Concept strengthens an agency’s capability to respond to biohazards by building upon existing emergency procedures, utilizing existing relationships with other public agencies (e.g., law enforcement, public health and emergency responders) and identifying the unique characteristics of a biohazard incident.
The FHWA Transportation Biohazard Operational Concept includes nine sections. One of the sections, entitled “Transportation Role in Biohazard Event,” identifies the required transportation activities for biohazard emergencies for each phase of the emergency management life cycle. The discussion below highlights this section by presenting the transportation activities that may be performed in a biohazard emergency. The activities correspond to the standard phases of emergency management (as defined by the Department of Homeland Security in the 2004 National Response Plan) which are awareness; prevention; preparedness; response and recovery. The Transportation Biohazard Operational Concept identifies the following state DOT activities in a biohazard incident as key best practices and lessons learned:
- Increase awareness by taking steps to identify, confirm, and monitor biohazards. Increasing awareness of biohazards involves integrating state DOTs with other agencies that have knowledge and protocols to deal with them. Increasing awareness requires that state DOTs maintain access to and participate in local, regional and state threat warning systems. Similarly, state DOTs should build relationships with local, regional, and State Emergency Management Agencies (EMAs), Emergency Operations Centers (EOC), Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs). To build knowledge of biohazards (and other hazards), state DOTs would benefit by participating in local, regional and state joint terrorism task forces. To solidify the relationship and ability to communicate with emergency responders, state DOTs should establish direct electronic connectivity to local/county and regional/state 911 Centers and EOCs. Increasing awareness is advanced when state DOTs build relationships with law enforcement, departments of public health and agricultural/veterinary medicine and U.S. military and intelligence communities. For practical purposes, state DOTs should obtain security clearances for key leadership position.
- Prevent biohazard incidents by taking steps to avoid an incident or to mitigate its effects. Prevention and mitigation of biohazards requires knowledge and understanding of biohazards. For this reason, it is important for state DOTs to train their employees in biohazard event detection and verification in transportation facilities. It is also of value to implement protocols for heightened Homeland Security Advisory System threat levels (such as when the threat level is High (Orange) or Severe (Red)). Related to prevention is the deployment of detection and surveillance technology. Prevention and mitigation will be advanced when state DOTs coordinate with law enforcement, address security in special events planning and develop plans for the pre-deployment of resources.
- Be prepared for biohazard incidents by taking steps in advance to reduce the potential loss from an event. Ensure preparedness by developing plans and procedures for responding to biohazard incidents. For example, having a Transportation Emergency Operations Plan (TEOP), which is coordinated with local, regional and state agencies, assures a viable response. Other plans and procedures that should be established for biohazards include Transportation Incident Management System, a Memorandum of Understanding with other agencies, and Mutual Aid Agreements and notification and information sharing protocols with local, regional and state partners. Preparedness involves coordinating with contractors regarding the potential of using contractor resources to support emergency response, conducting employee and contract training and exercise programs, and participating in joint multi-agency training and exercises.
- Respond to biohazard incidents effectively by taking steps during or immediately after an event to save lives and property. The activities in the response phase are the most intensive and complex of the five phases in emergency management. Transportation activities during the response phase address the following needs:
- Notification. Notification involves both receiving notification of the incident form the activated elements of the response structure and in turn notifying transportation personnel and the activation of the state DOT Emergency Operations Center.
- Coordination. Coordination activities revolve around the need for the state DOT and other agencies to combine their efforts, share information, and provide each other with situation assessments. Assigning personnel within the state DOT and the Emergency Operations Center to assist other agencies advances coordination. Technical support includes the provision of closed circuit television (CCTV) surveillance of affected locations.
- Resource Support. In biohazard incidents, state DOTs may be called upon to prioritize the available transportation resources and provide transportation equipment, facilities and capabilities. Examples are vans, trucks, etc., ground and operations personnel, transportation facilities such as repair stations and equipment, traffic management and associated control signs and devices, traffic flow data, etc.
- Support for Emergency Responders. State DOTs may be required to enable access for emergency responders and public health access (e.g., access control points and checkpoints) and coordinate traffic management to support restricted mobility conditions; support delivery of medical supplies and personnel, etc.
- Support for the Public. These activities involve the coordination of delivery of good into and around the affected area and facilitating the delivery of emergency supplies to the affected area.
- Other. State DOTs will be required to manage area-wide transportation to enable transportation flow around the affected area. The state DOTs must also provide regular updates to the traveling public as well as freight transportation services via the Internet, 511 traveler information systems, variable message signs, road-side signs, etc.
- Recover from incidents by taking steps to restore the affected areas to their normal status. State DOTs can support recovery from biohazard incidents by performing and/or supporting damage assessments for contaminated facilities and equipment, repairing damaged equipment and facilities, support the movement of recovery equipment, inform and reassure the public that normal conditions are being restored, and prepare a formal after-action-report.
This lesson learned proposes that the release of biohazards has implications on the transportation system specifically as well as the community in general. The transportation network may be called upon to support many of the response and recovery activities, such as installing travel restrictions from an affected area, closing parts of the transportation system (such as highways, toll roads, etc.), re-routing freight transportation, creating ad hoc transportation systems to transport medical supplies, emergency personnel, affected populations, and supporting enforced curfews and quarantines. In order to assure requisite mobility and safety in the transportation network, it behooves state DOTs to develop emergency plans for biohazard incidents using the FHWA document entitled “Transportation Biohazard Operational Concept” as a guide.
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