Manage response to a biohazard emergency using Emergency Activation Levels, an Incident Management System, and Emergency Operations Centers.
Recommendations for defining the system of direction and control of a state DOT for transportation management during a biohazard incident.
Made Public Date


United States

Applications of Technology to Transportation Operations in Biohazard Situations: Final Report


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.

Lessons Learned

When a biohazard has affected a community, the emergency response will likely involve the transportation sector because a biohazard could affect the transportation network directly (e.g., the release of biohazards on a highway or in a transit station) or indirectly (i.e., by requiring the transport of emergency responders and/or the quarantine of contaminated populations).

To gain control over biohazard emergency situations, state departments of transportation (DOTs) use tools and structures to activate a response appropriate for the severity of the incident and which set in motion the required coordination, if any, with external agencies. These tools are highlighted in a FHWA guide entitled “Transportation Biohazard Operational Concept” as a system of direction and control which enable state DOTs to manage the response to biohazard incidents. The actions and consequences involved in using these tools and structures - Emergency Activation Levels (EALs), a State DOT Incident Management System, and a Transportation Emergency Operations Center – are summarized below.

  • Indicate the severity of the biohazard emergency with the corresponding Emergency Activation Levels (EALs) as follows:
    • Level One: Traffic Incident indicates that the incident is manageable within a maintenance section/business unit of the state DOT and unlikely to require aid from external agencies.
    • Level Two: District-wide Emergency affects more than one maintenance section/business unit, may require activation from the District Emergency Center and may involve support from external agencies within the District.
    • Level Three: Region-wide Emergency involves more than one District, may require activation of the Region-wide Emergency Center and require support from external agencies within the Region.
    • Level Four: Major Emergency is an immediate threat to life and property and likely to be a state-wide emergency.

The district manager of the location with the incident designates the EAL. The EAL determines the deployment of resources, involvement of external agencies, and the command structure. As the EAL increases, management responsibility moves up the leadership chain as follows:


Level One: Traffic Incident

District Manager

Level Two: District-wide

District Manager

Level Three: Region-wide

Region Manager

Level Four: Major Emergency

DOT Statewide Maintenance Engineer

  • Use the Incident Management System to specify the state DOT’s response activities for the field level and for the various Emergency Operations Centers. As part of the state DOT’s Emergency Operations Plan, the Incident Management System establishes the relationships between the state DOTs and emergency management agencies at the field level and in local/state Emergency Operations Centers. The Incident Management System identifies management roles by job title and department, thus creating an unambivalent structure of the management chain and personnel that defines roles and responsibilities across the board. For example, it defines the structure and roles in:
    • the transportation field response teams including front-line employees, supervisors, Incident Commander, Command Post and Management Team;
    • the transportation coordinating structure including the state-wide, regional, district/division and field office Emergency Operations Centers; and
    • the transportation communications structure, which ensures that agencies convey consistent messages to the public.

This lesson learned identifies the tools and structures for state DOTs to implement when managing an emergency response to a biohazard. The Emergency Activation Level tool enables the state DOT to activate an appropriate response that deploys the required resources, involves external agencies only if needed and coordinates with emergency agencies when appropriate. Thus, the EAL enable the state DOT to contain an incident without over-extending unnecessary resources. The Incident Management System specifies in advance the relationships between managers and personnel in the field, district, regional and state DOT as well as the state DOT and external agencies. This system removes ambiguity by clarifying the roles, responsibilities and procedures for managing biohazard incidents. By facilitating an effective emergency response, these tools and structures support safety and mobility in biohazard incidents.

Applications of Technology to Transportation Operations in Biohazard Situations: Final Report

Applications of Technology to Transportation Operations in Biohazard Situations: Final Report
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Federal Highway Administration

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System Engineering Elements

Focus Areas Taxonomy: