Road Network Operations
& Intelligent Transport Systems
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Planning for Emergencies

Traffic incidents occur all the time. Events that are more serious in nature are commonly referred to as “emergency events”. Emergency Management brings together different stakeholders to respond to, and manage, emergency events.

Emergency events include events of which there is little or no advance notice – and known events for which the impacts are largely unpredictable – such as a hurricane/typhoon/cyclone. (See Security Threats)

The scope or severity, of incidents is a continuum along which the responders and managers change and the team expands according to the severity of the event. The diagram below illustrates this continuum. Whatever the severity, first-line responders generally include law enforcement, fire rescue, emergency medical services, vehicle breakdown and recovery teams – and in the transport community, the road authority’s maintenance teams and mobile Safety Service Patrols. The TCC will be involved throughout as well. The involvement of agencies providing oversight and support will change as the severity increases – to include other stakeholders such as emergency managers, state and even national agencies. (See Incident Response Planning)

Normal practice is to designate an Emergency Coordination Centre from amongst the first-line responders. Often the Traffic Control Centre is well-placed to take this role. Where possible, the demarcation and allocation of responsibility for public statements, policies on the use of social media and press briefing – for different kinds of emergency, needs to be worked out in advance between those with a close interest.


Complexity of different types of Emergency Operations


Scale of the Response

A meaningful way to view this is to consider the degree of public preparedness for the levels of incidents compared with state and national preparedness. Typical types of incident for different levels of severity are shown in the Figure below.  The term “incident” applies to all levels of severity but the agencies involved and extent of their response varies and increases from the left side to the right.

Classification of Incidents based on Coodination Complexity and Level of Public Preparedness

The task of planning for major emergencies - the Regional/ State/National events shown in the diagram above – can be broken down into different stages:

  • definition of types of disruptions and situations likely to deteriorate into a crisis
  • identification of partners involved in handling each type of disruption
  • joint definition of missions delegated to each service and development of automatic response sheets or – for complex cases – a traffic management plan
  • definition of staff to be provided for each service, during and after operating hours
  • review of the organisation of communications (always a key factor in crisis management)
  • design of the decision-making organisation, coherent with the institutional framework and designation of an Emergency Coordination Centre
  • validation of the operational organisation by all partners
  • training of the officials in crisis response (their role and communications, in particular)
  • exercises to test the organisational arrangements and procedures, and to train staff

During the Emergency

During an emergency situation the Coordination Centre or other lead organisation has various important tasks to perform:

  • evaluation based on information received and discussions with the operational partners
  • implementation of measures that are well-planned or rehearsed, or a real-time search for new appropriate measures
  • centralisation and control of communications with road users and information service providers to avoid releasing confusing or contradictory information and to ensure all media carry current information
  • regular exchanges of information between operating partners to ensure crisis monitoring and the implementation of coordinated traffic management and road information measures
  • keeping a log within each organisation and particularly within the Emergency Coordination Centre (for debriefing and in the event of legal problems)

Advice for Practitioners

After the emergency has passed it is important to obtain feedback on the experience and information on any operational difficulties in order to update incident response plans:

  • hold a debriefing meeting with key players and prepare a record of the meeting as quickly as possible after the crisis
  • record any proposals to change the organisation of services for more effective response to future crises
  • update and improve traffic management plans and crisis management documentation

At the national level in the USA, Federal Highways Agency has brought Emergency Management to the forefront through its Emergency Transport Operations (ETO) Programme. (See

All incidents in the USA even minor traffic collisions are subject to National Incident Management System (NIMS) procedures – albeit usually on an informal basis. (See

Reference sources

Wallace C. E. et al. (2010) Surface and Transportation Security, Volume 16, A Guide to Emergency Response Planning at State Transport Agencies US Transportation Research Board. Washington D.C.

Lockwood, S., J. O’Laughlin, D. Keever, and K. Weiss (2005), Surface and Transportation Security, Volume 6, Guide for Emergency Transportation Operations NCHRP Report 525, US Transportation Research Board. Washington, D.C.