The effects of both weather and emergency events on transportation operations can be significant, and require an effective, coordinated response. The Transportation Management Center (TMC) Integration Study, published in 2006, examines how weather and emergency information and systems are being integrated into transportation operations. It is part of an ongoing research effort by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to identify strategies for enhancing the operational effectiveness of transportation management systems in general and TMCs in particular.
TMC integration reflects how TMC operators, agencies internal to the TMC, external agencies, and support systems interact to improve transportation operations. It is the thesis of this study that integration of weather and emergency systems and information into transportation operations, coupled with effective deployment of ITS, will improve performance and offers benefits in increased public mobility, safety and security.
Thirty-eight TMCs that demonstrated current best practices in weather and emergency integration were interviewed for this study, and ten of those were selected for on-site visits. Based on observations from these TMCs, this study documents an integration framework and describes concepts and methods for improved integration. The study identifies both potential benefits of integration, as well as its challenges, and includes recommendations to enhance the development and deployment of weather and emergency integration in TMCs.
In addition to highlighting current best practices for emergency integration and ways to improve current levels of integration, this study recommends investment in the development of new methods and approaches that move beyond the existing technology. Two key concepts recommended for research and development include advanced tool support and Federal resources for rapid deployment. These concepts are described in detail below.
- Develop advanced decision-support tools. Existing tools address emergency transportation support planning, but are not designed for use during emergency operations. Decisions made during emergency and recovery operations are generally based on the experience and cognitive capacity of managers and their staff. Advanced tools would assist emergency transportation managers by providing recommended operational strategies and tactics in support of emergency management goals. These recommendations would cover traffic operations parameters such as traffic signal timing, adjustments of traffic operations such as reversible lane operations, emergency operations such as contra flow and evacuation, and infrastructure repair priority (among others). The tools would be based on a synthesis of real-time conditions data with travel demand measurements, condition of the available transportation network, and transportation objective representations. The expected benefits of advanced tools include:
- Greater ability to integrate data from other agencies
- Reduction in the cognitive load of emergency transportation managers
- Ability to apply complex calculations and algorithms supporting emergency decision making
- Potential to capture knowledge of emergency transportation experts nationwide
- Develop Federal resources available for rapid deployment. Catastrophic natural and manmade disasters have the potential to create gaps or complete outages in local transportation systems. TMC capabilities would improve greatly with the ability to rapidly deploy a set of resources, such as additional ITS components, communications networks, or control center components, when an emergency occurs that exceeds local resources. The expected benefits include:
- Decreased duration of outages caused by emergency occurrences such as storms, power outages, or deliberate targeting of infrastructure
- Reduction in regional resources dedicated to rarely used functions
- Improved ability to handle region-wide or multiple region incidents
There are a number of technical obstacles to the development of this concept, the most significant being that most currently deployed systems are customized, and they utilize a wide variety of field hardware (old and new). This makes it extremely challenging to develop reserve resources that will be compatible across multiple systems.
Through the development of new technology required for advanced tool support and Federal resources for rapid deployment, FHWA has the opportunity to extend the state of the practice in emergency integration. The process of creating the new technologies will enable the concepts to evolve and mature into new products that can be tested and utilized by emergency transportation managers. These enhancements are designed to improve performance during emergency situations, with the ultimate objective of increasing public safety, mobility and security.