Emergency Transportation Operations
photos of traffic merging onto congested highway, congestion in snowstorm, variable message sign, cargo, variable speed limit sign in a work zone, and a freeway at night
Office of Operations 21st Century Operations using 21st Century Technologies

Emergency Transportation Operations for Disasters

The table shows both the likelihood and the severity of the event. No matter the size or the probability of the event, to FHWA, the intent of Emergency Transportation Operations it to preserve/improve transportation network efficiency and public/responder safety when a non-recurring event either interrupts (traffic incident) or could overwhelm (PSE/evacuations) the transportation system. ETO provides a connection point and works at the interface among the transportation, public safety (fire, rescue, EMS, police) & emergency response communities.  In addition, it spans the full range of activities: from transportation-centric (fender benders) to those where transportation is a critical response component (e.g., hurricane evacuations)

This chart shows Emergency Transportation Operations as a continuum that is defined by the Probability an Event will occur and the Severity of the Impact & Complexity of Response. The areas not shaded are generally handled by State and local authorities and-for the most part-do not need standardized policies, processes and protocols outside of those prescribed by the National Incident Management System.

The Emergency Transportation Operations (ETO) constitutes a Continuum of efforts that is defined by the Probability an Event will Occur and the Severity of the Impact and Complexity of Response. FHWA addresses the primary ETO activities as follows:

  • The high probability-low severity traffic incident through our Traffic Incident Management—or TIM—program.
  • Planned Special Events which is the platform for community preparedness and response readiness for events that range from parades through town and subsequent street closings and a focus on traffic management to events that might attract malevolent acts that cause a potential emergency response—for example the Super Bowl.
  • The low probability but high impact of a catastrophic event is covered through our Disaster/ETO program through which we work with local, State and Federal officials to address special Movement Coordination Operations, particularly in the area of Evacuations. During these events, the Federal and State government plays a greater role in providing support to local governments.

Use of Intelligent Transportation Systems (ITS) products differs in degree and amount of reliance on the systems as we move from TIM, PSE and Mass Evacuations, but often affect each area, e.g., Computer-aided Dispatch (CAD). Transportation Management Centers (TMC) and Emergency Operations Center (EOC) connectivity and communication interoperability.

While the same ITS tools will help in each of these areas, the different nature and response requirements of each event will result in different players, expectations and/or demands.

Though FHWA's three ETO programs have distinct characteristics, the interrelationships among these three are also very evident. From an institutional perspective, one of the similarities these three share is that they all depend on good regional relationships. The partners involved in the planning, response and recovery are often the same.

Before the Event

Transportation and other responders work together regularly in planning for emergencies and practice those plans in joint exercises. Transportation is prepared for its role and to deliver its capabilities, which are well understood by all.

During and following an Emergency

Transportation is there at the incident scene, in the Transportation Management Center, and at the Emergency Operations Center. They are prepared - trained and equipped, and able to communicate. They are participating as an equal with other responders.

The Vision in Detail


  • Transportation Agency Plans
    • The transportation agency has a plan, and follows it.
    • It addresses both response and recovery.
    • It is current and complete.
    • It includes the types of threats we are now likely to face, including biological, chemical, and radiological.
    • They have exercised using it.
    • It reflects the available resources; they know where to find these and how to use them. These resources include:
      • Personnel
      • Assets
      • Personal protective equipment
      • Supplies
    • It includes actions at every level in the Homeland Security Advisory System.
    • It includes pre-planned alternate routes around all major assets and choke points.
  • Regional Emergency Management Plans
    • Transportation is reflected appropriately in the regional emergency management plan.


  • ITS
    • Agencies have ITS well integrated into their response and recovery plans.
    • Agencies have measures in place to protect their intelligent infrastructure.
    • Partner agencies understand transportation's ITS capabilities.
    • ITS information is shared with emergency management partner agencies.
    • Agency ITS is effectively integrated with other emergency management systems, such as plume and dispersal models.
  • Communications Interoperability
    • Agencies are able to communicate internally and with response/recovery partners through workarounds in the short term.
    • Agencies have a long term plan for more permanent interoperability.
  • Tools
    • The agency has tools to assist it in conducting evacuations and other response activities in real time, such as flow modeling and redistribution.
    • These tools are effectively integrated with the agency's traffic management systems and information.
  • Incident Command System (ICS)/Unified Command System (UCS)
    • Transportation agencies understand ICS and UCS, and know how to operate in this environment.
  • Support
    • The agency has modified its support contracts to specifically address how contractors will assist in dealing with response to and recovery from acts of terror.
    • The agency has addressed how to work effectively with those agencies upon whom it will call for mutual aid.
  • Communication
    • The agency knows how to share information with the public during and following emergencies, and what information to share.
    • The agency knows what information it needs to provide to emergency management agencies to include with the other information being provided to the public


For a listing of Emergency Transportation Operations publications, please visit the Office Of Operations' Publications Web page.

Contact Us

For more information, please contact:

Kimberly C. Vásconez, M.P.I.A.
Team Leader, Emergency Transportation Operations
Office of Operations, Federal Highway Administration
Department of Transportation

Office of Operations