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1. Introduction

The Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Report estimated that incidents cause 52 to 58 percent of total delay in large urban areas.1 The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) indicates that incidents account for about 25 percent of total nonrecurring congestion.2 FHWA also reports that about 20 percent of all incidents are secondary incidents.3 Incidents also present a serious hazard to responders. Over half of fire, emergency medical services (EMS), and police fatalities are transportation related and about 15 percent of the fatalities result from being struck by a vehicle.4 Increasing the effectiveness of incident response practices has the potential to improve mobility and increase safety for both road users and responders.

In the United States, FHWA has had a focused program on traffic incident management for more than a decade. Many other organizations have also focused efforts on incident management, including initiatives to determine the state of the practice, develop guidance on creating traffic incident management programs, document successful practices, assess needs, and provide training and education. In the early 1990s, several organizations united to form the National Incident Management Coalition to support, heighten awareness of, and provide education on incident management. A successor organization, the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC) was formed in June 2004 as a cooperative, national organization to spearhead, conduct, and track activities in traffic incident management and assume a leadership role in developing a national agenda for traffic incident management. The coalition's mission is to provide a multidisciplinary partnership forum spanning the public safety and transportation communities to coordinate experiences, knowledge, practices, and ideas toward safer and more efficient management of incidents affecting traffic. NTIMC focuses on incident management that does the following:

As part of the continuing effort to improve incident management practices in the United States, a team of 12 incident response specialists (many of whom are active in NTIMC) visited four European countries in April 2005 to assess and evaluate various practices for responding to traffic incidents and identify procedures, practices, and technologies that might improve the effectiveness of U.S. incident response. During the 2-week scan, the team met with numerous officials and heard many presentations about traffic incident response practices from a wide variety of perspectives, including road authorities, fire departments, police agencies, EMS, automobile clubs, recovery providers, and other groups. The team also saw many examples of responder equipment. From the information obtained during the scan, the team identified several areas where practices in the United States have the potential to be improved. This report describes the scan, the team's findings, and the recommendations to improve the effectiveness of traffic incident response in the United States.

The purpose of the scan was to identify policies, practices, issues, challenges, and innovative procedures that the host countries use in responding to incidents. The major focus of the team members was on how agencies respond to an incident after it is detected and how the response is coordinated among various agencies and organizations with responsibility for or involvement in responding to incidents. Team members were interested in a wide range of perspectives, including those of transportation agencies (at all levels) and emergency responders (fire, police, EMS), as well as removal efforts, traffic control at the incident site, communication between the various stakeholders, and all related issues. Major issues of interest included pre-incident planning of response actions; how organizations respond to incidents and operate onscene during the response; how transportation/highway agencies coordinate incident response with emergency responders (police, fire, EMS) and vehicle/debris removal/cleanup services; the tools, systems, and communication technologies used to respond to incidents; coordination of response activities; and management and administration of incident response resources. While the team members recognized that the most significant incident response efforts are associated with urban areas, they also wanted to know about incident response actions associated with incidents that occur outside of urban areas. General topics of interest to the panel included the following:

1.1. Team Members

Traffic incident response efforts involve a wide spectrum of perspectives and organizations. The team assembled for this scanning study mirrored this spectrum of perspectives in an effort to optimize the value of the information gained. The 12 members of the multidisciplinary team included transportation agency personnel from four States and FHWA, plus representatives of the police, fire, EMS, trucking, and research perspectives. The team members were Rebecca Brewster (American Transportation Research Institute), John Conrad (Washington State DOT), John Corbin (Wisconsin DOT), Henry deVries (New York State Police), Gene Hawkins (Texas A&M University), David Helman (FHWA), Greg Jones (FHWA), Kevin McGinnis (National Association of State EMS Directors), Ron Moore (McKinney, TX, Fire Department), Mark Olson (FHWA), Larry Tibbits (Michigan DOT), and Mike Zezeski (Maryland State Highway Administration). John Conrad and David Helman were team co-chairs. Appendix A contains contact information and short biographies for the team members. Figure 1 is a photograph of the team during the visit to Trafik Stockholm in Sweden.

Figure 1: Scan Team Members
Scan team members (left to right: Henry deVries, Gene Hawkins, Mark Olson, Rebecca Brewster, Kevin McGinnis, Greg Jones, John Conrad, Larry Tibbits, John Corbin, Dave Helman, Mike Zezeski, and Ron Moore).

1.2. Scan Preparation

Planning for the Traffic Incident Response (TIR) scan trip began in December 2003 with the completion of a desk scan. The purpose of the desk scan was to review traffic incident response practices in a variety of countries and identify the four countries that would provide the most useful information about practices and technologies that could be implemented in the United States. The desk scan recommended that the team visit England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden during the study. While many other countries in the world have extensive traffic incident response programs, these four countries provided the optimal combination of advanced practices located within reasonable proximity of one another so that they all could be visited within the constraints of a 2-week scan. The team met in June 2004 to identify the critical issues to address during the scan and develop a list of amplifying questions to give the host countries in advance. These amplifying questions, in Appendix B, were intended to help the host countries determine whom to invite to the meetings with the U.S. contingent and what to present to the group.

1.3. Team Meetings and Travel Itinerary

During the 2-week scan, the team visited representatives in four countries: England, Germany, the Netherlands, and Sweden. The team members left the United States on April 8 and held their first team meeting on April 10 in Birmingham, England. They met with representatives of several groups in and around Birmingham on April 11 and 12. The team left England on April 13 and met with their German hosts April 13 through 15 in meetings near Ahrweiler, Bergisch- Gladbach, and Cologne. The midpoint team meeting was held April 16 in Bergisch-Gladbach. The team left Germany on April 16 and met with representatives in the Netherlands in Delft and Arnhem on April 18 and 19. The team traveled to Sweden on April 20 and met with the Swedish hosts in Stockholm from April 20 to 22. The wrapup team meeting was held April 23. The team met in Washington, DC, on July 21 and 22 to review a draft of the final report and refine the implementation plan. Table 1 summarizes the team meetings and travel schedule.

Table 1: Team meetings
Date Location Purpose or Host
June 4, 2004 Washington, DC Initial team meeting to determine emphasis areas and develop amplifying questions
April 10, 2005 Birmingham, England Kickoff trip meeting to review travel plan and make note-keeping assignments
April 11-12, 2005 Birmingham, England Meet with English hosts
April 13-15, 2005 Ahrweiler, Bergisch-Gladbach, and Cologne, Germany Meet with German hosts
April 16, 2005 Bergisch-Gladbach, Germany Midtrip meeting to review findings to date
April 18-19, 2005 Delft and Arnhem, Netherlands Meet with Dutch hosts
April 20-22, 2005 Stockholm, Sweden Meet with Swedish hosts
April 23, 2005 Stockholm, Sweden Final trip meeting to identify key findings and develop preliminary recommendations
July 21-22, 2005 Washington, DC Final team meeting to finalize report and implementation plan

1.4. Host Delegations

During the scanning study, the team members met with representatives of about 30 organizations that represented a broad range of incident response stakeholders. The majority of the organizations represented one of the following perspectives: road agency (city, regional, or national), fire, police, EMS, auto clubs, and education, as indicated in table 2. A list of individuals the team met with and contact information are in Appendix C. Many organizations represented in the meetings are known by acronyms, which are based on the native-language name of the organization. The team also visited several sites in the four countries, which are listed in table 3.

Table 2: Types of host organizations represented in meetings
Type of Agency Country
England Germany Netherlands Sweden
National or Regional Road Agency X X X X
Local Road Agency X

Police X X X X
Auto Clubs X X X
Other X

1.5. Report Organization

The team members learned about many interesting practices, policies, technologies, and programs during the scan. While the original intent was to collect information about incident response on all types of roadways, the vast majority of information gathered was specific to freeways (known as motorways in Europe). At the end of the 2-week trip, the team met for a day to review its observations and findings and to develop recommendations for potential implementation in the United States.

The team's general observations and findings are described in Chapter 2 and the recommendations are described in Chapters 3 to 5. At the final meeting, the team determined that the recommendations would have greater implementation value if the organization of the report paralleled that of the three overarching topics identified by the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC).5 These topics are identified in Table 4 along with the chapters where the scan recommendations are presented. Table 4 is followed by three additional tables (table 5, table 6, and table 7) that provide descriptions about the issues in each topic. While a number of the recommendations described in each chapter are already in place in some locations around the United States, the team believes that more widespread and uniform implementation of the recommendations at the State and/or national level would greatly improve incident response.

Table 3: Sites visited during the scan
Country Sites Visited Location
England RAC Control Centre Bescot
National Traffic Control Centre Quinton
Germany German Academy for Crisis Management (AKNZ) Ahrweiller
German Research Institute (BAST) Bergisch-Gladbach
Central Fire Department Headquarters Cologne
Netherlands Offices of Traffic Management Center Delft
ANWB Dispatch Centre Wolfheze
Netherlands Institute for Fire Service and Disaster Management (NIBRA) Arnhem
Sweden South Link Underground Motorway Stockholm
Trafik Stockholm Center Stockholm
Table 4: NTIMC topics and issues
Topic Issues Chapter Containing Recommendations Issue Details
Programs and Institutions
  • Policy
  • Program Resources
  • Multiagency Relationships
3 Table 5
Onscene Operations
  • Responder Safety
  • Secondary Crash Prevention
  • Traffic Control
  • Incident Site Management
  • Quick Clearance
4 Table 6
Communications and Technology
  • Integrated Interagency Communications
  • Transportation Management Systems
  • Traveler Information
5 Table 7
Table 5: NTIMC issues for traffic incident management programs and institutions
Issue Description

Traffic incident management is often part of, but not at the center of, an agency's routine mission. As such, benefits and performance are not measured. Policymakers are not informed of the benefits of traffic incident management and the potential for further improvements for enhanced safety and reduced delay. Traffic incident management is only one of several agency operational responsibilities and is not usually a service program with its own line-item budget. Traffic incident management, as performed by transportation agencies, is often a fragmented, part-time, reactive activity with responsibilities divided among maintenance staff, traffic operations units, TMC management, and ITS project staff. Local laws and conventions such as boundary constraints, towing practices, and clearance policies inhibit improvements in key areas.

Program Resources

Traffic incident management, as a lower-tier activity, often is limited by resource availability from budgets unrelated to traffic incident management or agency priorities. Practitioners are challenged to fund new programs and/or take on new responsibilities in constrained fiscal environments and times of downsizing governments. Resource availability often is uneven among stakeholder agencies.

Multiagency Relationships

Each agency has a unique culture that may not be well understood by other stakeholders. Roles are defined informally on a case-by-case basis. Role conflicts may be partially resolved at the site and are disregarded after the incident. Key stakeholders can be uninvolved for extended periods. Stakeholder involvement is determined by personality strength or agency size. Level of attention and involvement depends on recent events or the personality of a strong program chairperson. Problems can be repeated frequently.

Source: NTIMC

Table 6: NTIMC issues for traffic incident management onscene operations
Issue Description
Responder Safety Traffic incidents are one of the most dangerous tasks responders handle. Improving safety requires training, equipment, research, policy development, updated statutes, and performance standards.
Secondary Crash Prevention These crashes can range from 14 to 20 percent of all crashes. Improvements in traffic control, quick clearance, and management of the original incident scene could reduce the rate of secondary crashes.
Traffic Control Traffic control often is not a consistent part of all incidents. All responders may not understand and use the basic procedures required for the safe movement of traffic. Proper use of traffic-control devices and detour routes, better onscene traffic control, and continuous monitoring of the incident impact can improve responder safety and traffic flow and decrease secondary crashes and motorist delays.
Incident Site Management Although agencies may respond to similar traffic incidents on a frequent basis, multiagency efforts to streamline processes are unusual. Proper positioning of response vehicles, early deployment of tow trucks, and mutually understood emergency-lighting procedures can improve safety, traffic flow, and clearance times.
Quick Clearance Implementing quick clearance requires individual and multiagency actions in changing laws and policies; training; striking interagency agreements; setting onscene responder priorities; streamlining investigation procedures, towing regulations, and procedural updates; and establishing challenging performance standards for clearance.

Source: NTIMC

Table 7: NTIMC issues for traffic incident management communications and technology
Issue Description
Integrated Interagency Communications Voice communications among diverse response agencies have been hampered by a lack of direct connectivity among communications systems. In addition, data and information transfer (e.g., incident detection, traffic information, and resource availability) among agencies and applications may be nonexistent, possibly caused by incompatibility (e.g., lack of a "common language" or integration).
Transportation Management Systems While the use of technology for detection, verification, and clearance of highway incidents has increased dramatically over the past decade, multiagency co-location in centers that use this technology is limited. Surveillance and detection efforts would benefit from the integration of transportation management systems and public safety computer-aided dispatch technologies. Multiagency agreements on policies and procedures for traffic management during incident response (signal timing changes, opening and closing lanes, and ramp metering) may not yet be established.
Traveler Information Agencies may not be able to integrate and interpret information from multiple sources. Access to real-time, incident-specific information and travel-time estimates for route segments may not be available to motorists.
Incident Site Management Although agencies may respond to similar traffic incidents on a frequent basis, multiagency efforts to streamline processes are unusual. Proper positioning of response vehicles, early deployment of tow trucks, and mutually understood emergency-lighting procedures can improve safety, traffic flow, and clearance times.

Source: NTIMC

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