Closely coordinate the content and delivery of travel information messages to the public during disasters.
Experiences of a panel of experts in disaster information dissemination.
Made Public Date


United States

Communicating with the Public Using ATIS During Disasters - Concept of Operations


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.

Lessons Learned

The effective dissemination of traveler information during a disaster event is critical to the overall management of disaster operations. One problem often experienced is that of having reliable, credible, consistent and timely information to help develop messages for the public. Based on feedback from a panel of experts on disaster information dissemination, the following set of lessons learned is offered regarding the development and delivery of messages to the public.

  • Coordinate the message. The Public Information Officers (PIOs) from all key agencies should gather at the Joint Information Center (JIC) and coordinate information for dissemination to the media and the general public. When decisions are being made, the appropriate people must be in the room, typically at the EOC (i.e. personnel who have the authority to make decisions). The JIC and the PIOs should pass along only coordinated key messages and only pertinent verified information to the media. Extraneous information should be limited so as not to send confusing messages.
    Properly crafted messages must cover the following topics:
    • Describe the threat (nature/geography of event)
    • Provide guidance (who may need to evacuate; shelter information; status of roads or transportation facilities; health advisories)
    • Provide where more information can be obtained
    The JIC and PIOs must determine what information is released to the public and when, as premature information can often be as bad as information that is not released soon enough.
  • Ensure the accuracy of the message. During a disaster good quality and actionable information, even if limited, is the best information the public can receive. It is critical that all information is checked and cleared through the EOC and/or JIC to ensure accuracy and consistency. Conflicting reports can cause confusion and can hinder efforts to effectively manage a disaster. To ensure accuracy, a group should be assigned to monitor news reports and confirm that accurate information is being disseminated. Accurate information released in a timely manner is the key to a successful operation.
  • Focus on adapting and delivering appropriate messages based on ATIS assets and capabilities. Transportation agency staff should recognize that all communications devices have different limitations, and so the exact same message cannot be developed for all media. While the core of each message should be consistent, the details of the message will need to vary, based on the communication device. Generally, the most details should be provided on radio and TV, and fewer details would be communicated via email, pager and text alerts, telephone and websites (including 511 and reverse 911 systems), and Highway Advisory Radio (HAR). Communication tools providing the least details include fixed and portable DMS, and telephone (if necessary to handle a larger volume of calls). During a disaster, the transportation agency staff should focus on adapting and delivering the appropriate messages based on the ATIS assets and capabilities.
  • Be aware of multiple audiences. The general public is not a monolithic group; rather, it consists of multiple smaller groups that have different information needs, rely on different sources of information, and have different levels of technological experience or acceptance. It is important to take these different groups into account when developing and disseminating messages. Some of these groups may include:
    • Driving community
    • Transit dependents
    • Younger generations (more likely to use new and advanced technologies)
    • Elderly (more reliant on traditional technologies)
    • Public and elected officials
    • First responders’ families
    • Tourists and business travelers
    • Large employers or managers of high rises/office parks
    • Hospitals
    • Nursing homes
    • Schools
    • Large public facilities
    • Convention and Visitor bureaus
    • Trucking associations
    • Towing community

The delivery of accurate, reliable information to the public is critical to ensuring efficient management of operations during a disaster. When developing messages, PIOs must consider the diverse informational needs of multiple audiences within the general public, as well as the capabilities of the specific ATIS. Effective information delivery, including accurate, well coordinated messages, can contribute significantly to improved public safety during disasters.