Over the past several years, the occurrence of major disasters, from weather events to post-9/11 threats of terrorism have highlighted the need for effective communication with the public regarding disaster-related travel. This concept of operations document, which is part of a study on "Communicating with the Public Using ATIS during Disasters," provides a high level system overview of who, what, when, where, why, and how agencies and data need to interact and operate to deliver appropriate and necessary traveler information to the public using ATIS devices and mechanisms. This document provides assistance and guidance to regions and individual agencies as they develop traveler information systems, with a specific focus on information dissemination during disasters.
A workshop was convened with a panel of subject matter experts on disaster information dissemination, including individuals from transportation, transit, regional planning organizations, police, fire, emergency management, and private sector traveler information providers. The panel provided their perspectives on operational roles and responsibilities and information flows leading to effective information delivery, and provided feedback on the problems, needs and issues they experience when responding to disasters. Based on these insights, recommendations were developed for enhancing ties between emergency response and the application of ATIS assets.
As part of the study on “Communicating with the Public Using ATIS during Disasters,” the panel of experts on disaster information dissemination was asked to discuss and provide feedback on sample disaster scenarios. In discussing the disaster scenario for a rural condition, the participants developed a number of lessons learned that demonstrate the special challenges in rural areas of communicating with the public during a disaster. These lessons learned are highlighted below.
- Be aware of the challenges due to limited infrastructure. In rural areas, the limited infrastructure may mean that ITS devices, such as Dynamic Message Signs, travel information websites, and phone systems, may not be available. Disaster managers may have to rely on more traditional information dissemination options. Media outlets, including radio, television, and newspapers are likely to be the only sources of information for many rural residents.
- Know what resources are available in advance. As previously stated, media outlets may be the only information source available in rural areas. The advantage of having fewer information sources is that people will know which outlets to turn to for information, and the messages being disseminated have a reduced chance of being changed or distorted. However, this also requires that the media be a trusted part of the process. Sometimes, agencies can also depend on the citizens themselves as sources of information for their neighbors, friends and surrounding communities.
- Plan ahead for multi-lingual evacuations. The evacuation of ethnic communities in rural areas needs to be planned for in advance. It is important to establish contacts with emergency personnel who can speak the language of the community members (i.e. Spanish or French).
- Identify the location of potential animal and farm shelters. In rural farm communities, residents are often reluctant to leave their farm animals behind. Identifying the location of potential animal and farm shelters can help agencies plan for evacuations of these rural farm communities more easily.
- Plan for a reduction in carrying capacity or a complete failure. Similar to urban areas, rural areas need to plan for a disruption in their communications infrastructure. When such problems occur, the number of information tools may become limited to battery powered portable (or car) radio.
During a disaster, transportation agencies need to be aware of the special challenges in rural areas of communicating with the public. In particular, agencies need to plan for limited infrastructure and limited information resources, as these will affect the dissemination of information. By taking into account the special needs of rural areas, transportation agencies will be better able to effectively communicate with rural populations, resulting in improved disaster management operations and improved public safety.