In April 2000, the Federal Highway Administration produced a cross-cutting study to examine successful incident management practices in a number of communities across the United States. The document, Incident Management Successful Practices – A Cross-Cutting Study, focuses on managing typical traffic incidents averaging less than two hours in duration. The study emphasizes having an incident management plan and executing it with full cooperation among all of the organizations involved. Included in the study are the lessons learned from the experience of many transportation agencies that have well defined incident management programs.
The objectives of improved incident response and clearance include: safe and timely removal of all vehicles, wreckage, and debris; and restoring the roadway back to its full capacity, while maintaining the safety of the responders and motorists. Identifying the appropriate needs at an incident site will significantly reduce the time required to clear the incident and return the facility back to normal operation. Training and knowledge of the responders provides the necessary details to deploy the appropriate personnel and equipment. Incident clearance is the most time consuming step in the incident management process, but it also provides the greatest benefit by reducing incident related delay. The following suggestions are offered for improving incident response, site management procedures, and incident clearance times.
- Provide joint training among incident response agencies to improve response times and site-management. Training the responding agency personnel on a regular basis helps improve coordination, communication, and trust among agencies and other responders (e.g. safety service patrols, towing and recovery service providers, fire and rescue). Fostering these relationships improves response times and on-site management of an incident, resulting in improved clearance times. As an example, in San Antonio, at the TransGuide Center, they participate in three variations of training activities: mock incidents, tabletop exercises, and classroom workshops. Each activity is structured in such a manner as to encourage participation by each responder.(1)
- Formalize incident command protocols to ensure optimization of time and resources. The use of common terminology and technology facilitates effective and clear communications among the different responding agency personnel.
- Cultivate relationships with fire and rescue agencies when developing a coordinated multiagency traffic incident management program. Fire and rescue agencies have different priorities than transportation agencies when responding to traffic incidents. Their first concern is with the safety of the victims and motorists, and getting traffic flowing again is a secondary issue. Including fire and rescue in the planning and development of an incident management program and maintaining consistent communication will help ensure their cooperation during an incident. The traffic agency may even want to consider providing the fire and rescue agencies with an enticement, such as providing a CCTV feed for video surveillance. Goodwill gestures such as this help cultivate multiagency ties, with the traveling public reaping the benefits.
- Document incident clearance times to better understand incident clearance performance. Documentation of these events can help improve future incident clearance times.
- Conduct post-incident debriefings. An important aspect to any incident management program is conducting post-incident debriefings. Post-incident debriefings should be conducted after every major incident. Agencies can walk through the incidents and be constructive in their means to continually improve the incident management process. As an example, in Chattanooga, the Incident Commander coordinates the debriefing sessions after major incidents and a lessons learned memorandum is produced and distributed to all participating agencies.(2)
This lesson suggests that, as with many other ITS programs, effective communication is key to deploying a successful incident management program. Incident response and clearance priorities may vary depending on the agencies involved. Some agencies focus on minimizing traffic delays and preventing secondary accidents, while other agencies focus on the security of the scene and the overall safety of the incident victims and the responders. Joint training among agencies, developing common terminology, cultivating relationships among fire and rescue agencies, and conducting post incident debriefings may improve relationships and the understanding of each agency’s role in the effective clearance of an incident. This aids in making each person involved more aware of the importance to clear an incident safely and quickly. Reducing response and clearance times has a major affect on returning the roadway to full capacity, and improving safety, mobility, and efficiency.
(1) Source: NCHRP Report 520 Sharing Information between Public Safety and Transportation Agencies for Traffic Incident Management
(2) Source: Chattanooga Urban Area Highway Incident Management Plan