Supporting Hometown Heroes
Successful traffic incident management programs depend on the participation of skilled multidisciplinary responders. Defining TIM as a new branch of public safety can help.
Building strong, sustainable traffic incident management (TIM) programs is essential for prompt and safe response on highways. But responders need support. They need backing from each other, from their senior leaders, and from the political infrastructure.
Most important, sustainable TIM programs cannot rest on the enthusiasm and good will of one or two champions. Those individuals play an important role in getting the TIM effort organized in a community. Over the past decade, however, the Federal Highway Administration and its TIM partners have found that unless a program is multidisciplinary and unless one of the governmental partners--usually the State or local department of transportation or law enforcement--assumes the lead, the TIM program will suffer serious setbacks when the champions retire or move on to other efforts.
Without a formal program, public safety professionals will, of course, continue to respond to traffic crashes and to apply TIM as an operational strategy, but usually without multidisciplinary planning or resource management. Instead, official TIM institutions typically evolve after a key partner faces losing its funding or support.
For example, the potential dissolution of the Florida Road Rangers, a safety service patrol program, in 2008 galvanized TIM partners within the State and across the country to find a way to explain convincingly that such DOT resources are not a courtesy, but critical and cost effective. Soon afterward, many courtesy patrols or freeway service patrols became “safety service patrols.”
As understanding of the TIM discipline improves, many jurisdictions realize that institutionalizing these programs creates a more effective, efficient response. Large or small, programs provide an opportunity to build trust and relationships among multidisciplinary responders without the stress and risk encountered at the scene of an incident. Instead, TIM program partners meet regularly to assess issues and needs; develop legal agreements, if needed; create and update plans; and produce strategies to allocate fiscal, human, and equipment resources most effectively. When TIM programs are firmly established as essential services, the frequency of contact among the response partners increases and communications improve.
Public Roads Series on
The Building Blocks of a TIM Program
TIM programs begin at the grassroots level. Most often, they start with an agreement between a DOT and State or county police. Once these groups agree to formalize a TIM program, they consider which additional organizations to invite to the planning table. Although many jurisdictions include county fire and rescue officials on the TIM team, some programs have not.
“Stakeholders need to regard traffic incident management as a continuous, comprehensive program that includes all responder disciplines,” says Dave Bergner, a principal with Monte Vista Associates, LLC, and retired public works superintendent and traffic operations manager in Overland Park, KS.
He continues, “The ‘four Cs’--communication, collaboration, coordination, and cooperation--are the guiding precepts for the Incident Command System, the foundation of TIM. Each discipline must acknowledge that operating with common policies, protocols, and practices is essential to avoid confusion and conflict. For TIM to be successful in the long term, organizations must incorporate these concepts as part of their standard operating procedures. They should also view TIM as more than an ‘as needed’ function; it should be considered an ongoing activity that requires regular planning, preparation, and performance measurement.”
Preparing responders to hit the ground running requires a great deal of effort. To address this need, FHWA deploys TIM responder training courses that include a 10-hour train-the-trainer option, a 4-hour classroom session, and a Web-based offering for individuals. These foundational courses help unify operations, terminology, and best practices among TIM responders across the country.
In addition, responders must be supported by an administrative and programmatic team that addresses the following: (1) ensures that fiscal and human resources are available; (2) conducts regular multidisciplinary meetings; (3) develops and updates TIM program implementation plans, including TIM sections in metropolitan transportation improvement plans and strategic highway safety plans; (4) prepares and updates agreements among partners, especially where roles and authorities must be spelled out (for example, mutual aid, bi-agency agreements); (5) collaborates on multidisciplinary training strategies and conducts joint training, drills, and exercises; (6) assesses the needs of the program and of the responders; (7) identifies ways to share activity costs for the TIM program; and (8) integrates contracting mechanisms to accommodate multidisciplinary budgets and ways to allocate funding.
Tools for a Successful TIM Program
Most TIM operations, particularly in larger metropolitan areas, include an administrative program. With more information now available on TIM programs and more than 100,000 practitioners now trained, many TIM program managers are working to improve their programs. Successful programs offer examples of how to accomplish this.
To determine what constitutes a successful program, FHWA developed a self-assessment tool that can help jurisdictions determine where they stand relative to TIM best practices. In 2003, when the voluntary self-assessments began, approximately 70 jurisdictions agreed to participate with the understanding that it would help them progressively improve their programs.
The summary reports are available on the Office of Operations Web site at www.ops.fhwa.dot.gov/eto_tim_pse/preparedness/tim/self.htm. The self-assessment tool proved to be so valuable that, in 2014, nearly 100 jurisdictions used it and submitted their results to the program office.
From 2010 to the present, FHWA has offered another tool to help jurisdictions develop action plans specific to improving their TIM programs. FHWA facilitated this self-analysis and planning effort through delivery of advanced TIM workshops for mid-level managers. Workshop participants reviewed the TIM National Unified Goal’s strategies and determined where they needed help. For more information on the National Unified Goal, see http://ntimc.transportation.org/Documents/NUGUnifiedGoal-Nov07.pdf.
FHWA conducted the workshops in the 40 largest metropolitan areas from 2010 to 2012, and since then the agency has responded to requests from about 4 additional jurisdictions each year. Local organizers, usually State DOTs and police, also gathered regional decisionmakers to discuss the importance of the TIM program as both safety and congestion strategies. Finally, FHWA, in conjunction with the Transportation Research Board and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, developed a Capability Maturity Framework that will help identify programmatic strengths and areas for improvement.
TIM Tiered Training
|More than 50 of the most populous metro areas developed a TIM action plan, such as this one from New Orleans, LA, as a part of the FHWA advanced TIM workshops held from 2010 through 2012. The plans provide a framework for institutionalizing TIM programs in those metro areas.|
Examples of Strong TIM Agreements
Several programs offer effective models for traffic incident management, including the Wisconsin Traffic Incident Management Enhancement (TIME) Coalition Partnering Agreement, the Maryland Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART), and the Georgia Highway Emergency Response Operators (HERO) program. Below are a couple others:
The Washington State DOT, State Patrol, and Fire Chiefs’ Joint Operations Policy Statement covers data sharing, winter operations, coordinated public communication, work zone safety, and TIM. The TIM subsections include a 90-minute clearance goal; responder safety; safe, quick clearance; an incidence response team program; contracted service patrols and motorist assistance vans; an instant tow dispatch program; a major incident tow program; and use of technology and education to expedite investigations. For more information, see http://wsdot.wa.gov/Operations/IncidentResponse.
The Indiana State TIM Effort (IN-TIME) formally committed signatories to a multilateral agreement centered on agencies adopting an “Open Roads” philosophy. It states, “All agency responders, after ensuring their own personal safety and the safety and security of any incident victims, should have as their top priority reducing congestion and the higher risks of secondary crashes for public/motorist safety.” The agreement also requires that a representative from each signing agency actively participate on the IN-TIME team. The group sets a common framework for TIM policies and training programs across the responder discipline. IN-TIME members are given voting rights, and best practices are an example of something that would be voted on by the group.
Through research and discussions with hundreds of TIM professionals, FHWA identified the following six best practices and elements of effective programs.
TIM Staff, Partnering Agreements
First, one sign of a healthy program is the maintenance of a cadre of dedicated professional staff responsible for administering the TIM program as a primary job function, with liaisons in each partnering organization.
The staff members should have an understanding of the roles and responsibilities, and ensure that formal agreements are in place. These may be multiagency agreements or memoranda of understanding (MOUs) between two or more groups representing different disciplines, including law enforcement and the DOT, at a minimum. For the agreement or MOU to aid groups in institutionalizing TIM programs, the highest ranking official for each participating agency should sign it.
The agreement or MOU will define the TIM program objective and each participating agency’s roles and responsibilities. It also will state the program’s time goals for quick clearance of crashes.
Second, a good program will have a multiagency TIM team that typically includes membership from law enforcement, transportation, fire and rescue, emergency medical services (EMS), towing and recovery, safety service patrols, and public works, if appropriate. Effective TIM teams meet regularly, often quarterly, and conduct incident debriefings on responses that reach specified thresholds (for example, those taking more than 90 minutes to clear).
The selection of TIM team members should consider the following: (1) agency responsibility for incident management response or administration; (2) agency area of responsibilities for TIM (for example, some representatives should come from the maintenance and traffic operations divisions of DOTs); (3) stakeholders affected by TIM operations; (4) stakeholders who might be able to help raise awareness of TIM; and (5) roles within other organizations, such as metropolitan planning organizations (MPOs), private sector EMS, traffic reporters, elected officials, debris clearance experts, and hazardous materials (hazmat) contractors.
Stakeholders--the public or traffic reporters, for example--might be among the most important to include because the TIM program is built around the unique needs and resources of an area. For example, the Florida Traffic Incident Management Strategic Plan recommends including a representative from a grassroots advocacy group to provide a perspective from the public concerned with motorist safety to the State TIM steering committee. Building a coalition of those who conduct TIM operations and key stakeholders will lead to a more effective program.
Although law enforcement usually leads roadway operations, DOTs often serve as the administrative lead for the TIM team. However, many successful TIM programs use an MPO to coordinate the program, especially the planning effort. When the TIM team covers multiple jurisdictions, the team might need to include representatives from more than one fire department, law enforcement agency, public and private EMS, and so forth.
Most successful TIM programs include the following representatives on the TIM team:
Law Enforcement. This discipline might include city, county, regional, or State police. Most frequently, this discipline receives the first call. Law enforcement also collects performance metrics, such as time taken to open a lane and whether the incident is secondary (that is, related to another incident downstream).
Fire and Rescue. Paid State, city, rural, and tribal, as well as volunteer, fire departments provide temporary traffic control and handle car fires and hazmat situations. Rescue workers extricate motorists using the Jaws of Life®.
Medical. This discipline includes the emergency medical team, the coroner’s office, ambulances, and medevac capabilities.
Transportation and Public Works. These resources provide debris clearance; temporary infrastructure repairs; temporary traffic control, including lane blocking; safety service patrols to aid motorists with disabled vehicles in need of minor vehicle work (for example, adding gas or changing a tire); provision of documentation; and services to push vehicles off the road.
Safety Service Patrol/Freeway Service Patrol (SSP/FSP). Patrol programs throughout the United States are tasked with supporting safe, quick clearance. SSP/FSP stakeholders may include contracted towing companies, State DOTs, private SSP providers, and consultants.
Towing and Recovery. These personnel primarily remove disabled vehicles, clear incident debris, and clean up spilled cargo. Stakeholders include private towing companies, the Towing and Recovery Association of America, and Wreckmaster-certified operators.
Traffic Management Center. TMC staff members manage incidents, control traffic, and provide accurate information to the traveling public so that motorists can make informed choices in order to avoid incidents. TMCs collect incident data (reports, photos, and videos), confirm and analyze information, and communicate that information to incident responders and to the public. TMCs often serve as the nerve center where intelligent transportation system technology such as closed-circuit television cameras, dynamic message signs, and other tools are available.
A Training Plan
A third characteristic of effective programs is maintaining a multi-agency training plan and calendar. Successful programs seek out opportunities for the TIM task force to train, drill, or conduct exercises at least once per year.
Innovative jurisdictions ask the TIM team to contribute to multifunctional plans for large special events, especially those with the designation of National Special Security Event. Although a TIM plan will not be incorporated in its entirety in the special plans developed for larger events, the TIM team might provide resources and operational input to a regional emergency transportation coordinator.
TIM teams also might staff operations centers--whether emergency operations centers or transportation operations centers--and conduct watches during an event. They might pre-position TIM task force elements and execute an after-action review to evaluate the multifunctional plan, just as TIM task forces evaluate their operation after a response.
“Emergency management agencies coordinate with the various departments and agencies with regard to planned special events,” says Laurel Radow, FHWA’s evacuations and planned special events program manager. “On the day of the event, these agencies often stand watch during the event and assess the plans based on the activities during the watch. Similarly, for the transportation-specific parts of planned special events, the appropriate transportation agencies bring together TIM planners to prepare for the special events’ transportation plans, including transit and pedestrian plans. The TMCs serve as operations centers for planned special events in order to manage the event, as well as test TMC staffs’ ability to support nonrecurring incidents.”
Another characteristic of an effective TIM program is the identification of responders who are likely to deploy to traffic crashes or other incidents, plus the development of a TIM responder roster and call-down list. The roster and call-down list make deployment smoother when larger teams are needed. This way, the TIM program can develop task forces and target training toward those who need the skills to respond.
Fourth, an effective TIM program develops a plan to collect, analyze, and process performance measurements. Usually, the TIM partners build into their multiagency agreements standards for roadway clearance (the time a lane is blocked), incident clearance (the time that responders are at the scene), and secondary crashes (the number of incidents caused by a primary event downstream) to measure the impact on motorists.
They might also account for line-of-duty deaths or responder injuries as performance measurements of responder safety. Partners in an effective TIM program need to analyze data at least quarterly to evaluate overall performance and develop strategies to improve responses. FHWA's new TIM Benefit-Cost tool is now available to aid in analyzing data.
Fifth, the TIM team should partner with traffic reporters to make the public aware of their responsibility to comply with laws to move over and slow down.
FHWA, in conjunction with the Emergency Responder Safety Institute and a contractor, developed a “Move It” public service announcement, available at www.respondersafety.com/Videos/Move-It.aspx. The “Slow Down Move Over” PSA is available at www.respondersafety.com/Videos/Slow-Down-Move-Over.aspx. FHWA provides a variety of other materials for public communications in its TIM Outreach Toolkit for jurisdictions to use to make drivers aware of their duties and the law. The TIM Outreach Toolkit is available at http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/eto_tim_pse/timtoolbox.
Safety Service Patrols And Towing
Lastly, an effective TIM program often will integrate a regional safety service patrol into its TIM planning and field training, exercises, and operations. SSPs are effective public relations tools for DOTs but can be underutilized and occasionally forgotten when planning for TIM.
A jurisdiction must determine what it can afford in terms of the hours of operation, routes/lane-miles covered, and the extent of the services offered. For example, will SSPs be trained in basic life support and major mechanical fixes? If the SSP is not on call 24/7, then a backup organization must be designated and be prepared to respond quickly. Often fire and rescue cover for SSPs in terms of lane blocking and temporary traffic control, or to address minor mechanical malfunctions.
Many TIM programs also find that establishing contracts in advance with towing companies accelerates the delivery of equipment when needed. Towing companies are the principal private sector resource integrated into the TIM task force. As such, those who arrive at the scene first--especially law enforcement, SSPs, and fire and rescue--should train their staff on how to request the proper towing equipment. In some areas, laws determine who may call for towing assistance.
The Towing and Recovery Association of America conducts training with law enforcement and has produced a visor card to help responders know how to describe the vehicle, incident, and impact. The towing company, if given the right information, will send the right equipment. Smartphones and instant dispatching of photos also help the towing company determine the correct resources to send.
Effective TIM programs offer towing agreements and contracts to make procurements quickly, and some even offer incentive programs to encourage faster cleanup and removal of vehicles and debris. The same type of prenegotiated contracts with incentive programs might be established with hazmat companies.
Additional Best Practices
Effective TIM programs use the resources available from MPOs for planning and funding. And, the TIM teams develop implementation plans, as well as sections to be included in the mandatory metropolitan transportation improvement plans and State strategic highway safety plans.
Effective programs will also plan for the least frequent scenarios. TIM implementation plans should establish thresholds for reporting the types and the amount of hazmat, as well as procedures that allow jurisdictions to call their own contractors when the responsible party cannot conduct the cleanup quickly. Plans should also document when to call medical examiners to the scene and how to handle deceased victims prior to the arrival of the medical examiner.
The TIM partners must also meet routinely with elected leaders to ensure their commitment to and support of the program, which translate into resource security.
The TIM team works with tactical leaders from the TIM task forces to document policies and procedures for incident response and clearance. The tactical plans should address the latitude that authorities have to remove vehicles, especially if there is a law that permits authorities to move vehicles that are causing safety hazards. It should also document the jurisdiction’s driver removal, or “move it,” law and the parameters and circumstances in which drivers may move or drive their vehicles to safe locations. If State and local laws require motorists to remove their vehicles from the road when they are drivable, then their law enforcement responders should have the technology and ability to reconstruct the crash for investigations.
TIM programs have the responsibility to ensure that their responders utilize personal protective equipment, including high-visibility vests, for all operations. In addition, program disciplines must ensure that their responders understand and utilize the national Incident Command System, including the principles of scalable response and unified command. Also, those who conduct temporary traffic control must be familiar with the guidelines in the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices and how to stage response vehicles to protect responders and those motorists involved in the crash.
Effective programs also define the role of TMCs in supporting operations, including dispatching resources and reporting to TIM team members on the status of the operation. The best TMC operations colocate law enforcement, fire and rescue, and traffic reporters for rapid coordination and to share information collected through dispatch systems (if not conducted from the TMC), video feeds, signal timing, opening/closing of ramps and ramp metering, and dynamic message boards for critical messages to the motoring public. The TMC also can furnish motorists with real-time traveler information via its Web site or 511 services, including travel time estimates and alternate routes for avoiding the area.
Organizing the Program
Currently, TIM programs across the country are in various states of development. As long as public safety agencies have plans and processes in place to deploy resources to help stranded motorists, there is a TIM program, regardless of whether it has a formal administrative multidisciplinary program. TIM organizations typically follow common steps; however, a cookie-cutter approach does not fit all scenarios. For example, laws may require that only law enforcement call for towing support, and the division of responsibilities can differ across the country. In addition, some SSPs might be owned and operated by public works departments rather than local DOTs. Or, hazmat resources might come from environmental protection organizations rather than local fire and rescue.
“As a best practice, it is important for agencies to ensure that TIM practices are institutionalized, which may include preparing standard operating procedures and analyzing performance data,” says Joseph Sagal, TIM subject matter expert with the Operations Team in FHWA’s Resource Center and former deputy director for operations at the Maryland State Highway Administration, overseeing the Maryland Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) program.
He continues, “Frequent and consistent meetings, such as regional MPO meetings held with agendas focusing on TIM efforts, are paramount at all levels, from senior executives and political leaders, down to the boots on the street responding day to day. These sustained efforts are just as important for ensuring a mature TIM program as responding to the actual incidents.”
The Strategic Plan for Highway Incident Management in Tennessee provides a sample chronology of activities and milestones to evolve from localized TIM efforts to a statewide program. An abridged version of the chronology includes the following: (1) start a TIM program locally in one area of the State, (2) leverage intelligent transportation systems plans and programs for TIM, (3) utilize TIM service patrols to build support for the program, and (4) obtain the necessary legislation and authority for TIM responders.
Often TIM teams and administrative operations do not receive the same attention as the field responders. However, TIM teams play a critical role in institutionalizing TIM. The following benefits accrue to TIM programs through the administrative teams and actions:
- Program stakeholders demonstrate early success and leverage that success to expand the program to additional cities, counties, or regions.
- Stakeholders build relationships and lines of communications over time rather than overwhelming any one individual or group of individuals.
- Administrators evaluate the program early on and make course corrections based on lessons learned.
TIM program leaders overseeing an emerging program benefit from other programs that have developed robust model programs. This helps the newer programs avoid hard lessons and trial and error. FHWA’s Office of Operations, the Operations Team in FHWA’s Resource Center, and FHWA division offices can help match programs and support peer-to-peer exchanges and other technology transfer activities.
Once team membership has been determined, the TIM team leader should arrange a kickoff meeting if no formal planning structure currently exists. If the team is formally constituted after years of ad hoc operations, the group should meet to define their vision, mission, goals, objectives, and challenges.
TIM partners need to work together to identify how disruptive traffic incidents are to a community in terms of congestion, safety to motorists and responders, livability, contribution to environmental damages, and the added costs of delayed freight. To do so, partners must collect the data needed for a holistic view of traffic incident impacts.
TIM programs should look at three common challenges that may be quantified and measured. These include the following: (1) the frequency of incidents by location, time of day, season and weather, and other special circumstances; (2) the duration of incident response; and (3) the traffic impacts of these incidents. By continually measuring these three metrics, programs can identify where to focus resources and improvements.
Data sources for incident frequency and duration may be obtained through law enforcement crash reports. In most locations, these systems are not integrated, although many TIM professionals understand the value of crash reports as a performance measurement. Various locations now collect the top three measurements: (1) the time a lane is closed, (2) the time that responders are at the scene, and (3) secondary crashes.
Other localities measure the number of calls or dispatches associated with a crash or other incident. For example, the Florida Department of Transportation operates a program called SunGuide®, which manages and maintains the intelligent transportation systems of the region. The program posts statistics on the use of its Road Rangers and response time on lane blockages.
Many public safety groups also track their line-of-duty deaths and number of injuries to responders who are struck while at TIM operations. The International Association of Fire Chiefs maintains a database for those who want to report near-miss incidents on a TIM operation.
In spite of many sources of data, crashes still evoke strong feelings, and “impacts” often supplement objective measures with subjective or anecdotal information to deliver a message. Occasionally, programs with effective simulation modeling tools might work out scenarios and determine the cumulative delay to anticipate challenges and to plan a response in advance.
Program managers might also use the TIM self-assessment tool to evaluate progress annually. FHWA uses the aggregate results to identify program gaps and better manage resources. In 2008 and 2011, FHWA revised the tool to incorporate performance metrics and rephrase some of the questions to better align with the National Unified Goal. Ideally, a jurisdiction will convene a TIM team meeting annually to conduct the self-assessment and revise its action plan toward established goals.
Institutionalized TIM Programs
A TIM program and its administrative coalition--the TIM team--institutionalize the program and provide critical services that support field personnel, the TIM task force. In the early years of TIM, individuals championed the call to organize those responding to traffic crashes and incidents. However, FHWA has found that only institutionalized programs survive disruptions when a champion retires or leaves, or there are changes in the political landscape.
Institutionalized programs collect performance measurement data to demonstrate the value of the program to elected officials. TIM teams manage financial, equipment, and personnel resources, as well as offer suggestions to jurisdictional leadership regarding investments and policies. The TIM administrative program develops and maintains plans. The TIM team also may be the face of TIM with the public and the media.
The most effective TIM programs have significant support elements behind all of the responders. FHWA TIM proponents believe that building and institutionalizing these programs will significantly enhance and improve TIM operations in the future. Because responders also tackle most community incidents--whether large or small--investing in the TIM program also shows dividends as public safety professionals address moderate to large-scale events with the same protocols and working relationships.
Building the institutions behind the responders is one of FHWA’s principal goals over the next 5 years. In the months ahead, FHWA and State, tribal, regional, and local TIM programs will work with TIM program leaders who wish to enhance and institutionalize their operations.
Kimberly C. Vásconez serves as team leader of the Traffic Incident & Events Management Team and director of the TIM program in FHWA’s Office of Operations. She has 28 years of disaster management experience with FHWA, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, and the U.S. Agency for International Development. Vásconez has a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Indiana University of Pennsylvania and a master’s degree in public and international administration from the University of Pittsburgh.