Emergency Transportation Operations

1. Introduction to Traffic Incident Management

1.1 Introduction

For more than 20 years, transportation, public safety and private sector professionals have worked cooperatively in traffic incident management (TIM) programs to safely and efficiently clear traffic incidents and incident-related debris. As TIM programs have matured, program managers and field-level practitioners alike have benefited from Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) efforts to collect, document, and distribute good practices, lessons learned, and the necessary steps for implementing, improving, and expanding TIM program components.

The 2010 version of the Traffic Incident Management Handbook (the Handbook or TIM Handbook) includes the latest advances in TIM programs and practices across the country, and offers practitioners insights into the latest innovations in TIM tools and technologies. The 2010 TIM Handbook also features a parallel Web-based version that can be conveniently bookmarked, browsed, or keyword-searched for quick reference. This version supersedes the Freeway Incident Management Handbook published by FHWA in 1991 and the Traffic Incident Management Handbook published in 2000.

The Handbook is organized according to the following chapter topic areas:

  • Chapter 1: Introduction: This chapter provides an overview of Traffic Incident Management and sets the context for the 2010 TIM Handbook update.
  • Chapter 2: TIM Strategic Program Elements: This chapter details the programmatic structure and institutional coordination necessary for a successful TIM program.
  • Chapter 3: TIM Tactical Program Elements: This chapter describes the full range of on-scene operations.
  • Chapter 4: TIM Program Support – Communications and Information Exchange: This chapter describes the communications and technical aspects of successful TIM programs.

A quick resource guide titled, "Want to Know More?", follows each chapter and directs readers to supplemental information associated with the specific chapter content.

1.2 What's at Stake

In 2006, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT) announced the "National Strategy to Reduce Congestion on America's Transportation Network". In this strategy-defining document, USDOT defined congestion as "one of the single largest threats" to the Nation's economic prosperity and way of life. The USDOT's Fiscal Year 2006 to 2011 Strategic Plan[1] identified reducing congestion as one of the Department's key strategic goals.

The impact of congestion on the Nation's highways is well documented. In the 2009 Urban Mobility Report published by the Texas Transportation Institute (TTI), data calculated in 2007 reported that based on wasted time—4.2 billion hours—and fuel—2.8 billion wasted gallons, congestion cost about $87.2 billion combined in the top 439 urban areas in the United States.[2]

Traffic incidents have been identified as a major contributor to increased congestion. The National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC) estimates that traffic incidents are the cause of about one-quarter of the congestion on US roadways, and that for every minute a freeway lane is blocked due to a incident, this results in 4 minutes of travel delay time.[3]

Improving traffic incident management is one key to reducing congestion. In the 2009 Urban Mobility study, TTI calculated that in 2007, where improved incident management procedures were implemented in 272 of the 439 urban areas, the resulting reduction in incident-related congestion saved 143.3 million hours and $3.06 million.[4]

Improved TIM has been shown to reduce both overall incident duration as well as secondary crashes. In the annual evaluation of its Coordinated Highways Action Response Team (CHART) program, the State of Maryland estimated that the CHART-directed incident management resulted in average incident duration of 22 minutes, as compared to 29 minutes for other agencies, and that this reduction in incident duration resulted in 290 fewer secondary incidents in 2005.[5] The impact of this reduction incident duration is demonstrated by a study published in the ITS Journal that estimated that the likelihood of a secondary crash increases by 2.8 percent for every minute that the primary incident remains a hazard.[6]

In addition to the economic and safety impacts, congestion levies a very real human toll. According to the NTIMC, traffic crashes and struck-by incidents are leading causes of on-duty injuries and deaths for law enforcement, firefighters, and towing and recovery personnel.[7] As a result, increased responder safety is one of the three core objectives of the NTIMC's National Unified Goal (NUG) for traffic incident management.

An additional significant benefit of improved TIM and reduced congestion that is not often considered is the environmental benefit realized by reducing wasted fuel consumption. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that every gallon of gasoline burned emits 19.4 pounds of carbon dioxide (CO2). For diesel fuel, the average is 22.2 pounds of CO2 per gallon of diesel fuel.[8] Given that approximately 2.8 .billion gallons of fuel were wasted due to congestion in 2007, the environmental impact of reducing congestion and improving TIM is significant. For example, in Maryland, the reduction in incident duration for the CHART program of 7 minutes when compared to other agencies would result in a reduction of 135.8 pounds of CO2 for gasoline and 155.4 pounds of CO2 for diesel. Given that CHART reported 20,515 incidents that involved the blockage of one or more freeway lanes in 2005, the per-incident savings multiplied by the number of incidents in Maryland alone demonstrates the potential impact in emissions reduction from improved traffic incident management.

1.3 Traffic Incident Management: A Timeline for Progress

TIM program progress has evolved over two decades and has benefited from a series of national initiatives described in sections 1.3.1 through 1.3.6.

1.3.1 National Incident Management Coalition

As one of the earliest formal TIM initiatives, the National Incident Management Coalition's (NIMC) work has been the genesis for a number of TIM programs across the country. In 1990, the American Trucking Associations Foundation (ATAF) and its Trucking Research Institute published Incident Management,[9] which was among the first documents to propose a link between the effective management of traffic incidents and the country's economic competitiveness. Concurrent with the publication of Incident Management, the ATAF collaborated with FHWA to create and manage the NIMC, an ad hoc coalition of national organizations dedicated to advancing the cause of coordinated management of traffic incidents as a discipline.

The NIMC's work focused on outreach and education, introducing the concept of coordinated incident response. Through a series of 20 outreach conferences held around the country from 1991 to 1994, the NIMC brought together the diverse range of TIM stakeholders to make the case and build consensus for multi-agency cooperation and coordination involved in clearing traffic incidents. In 1996 and 2001, the NIMC convened TIM expert focus groups to document current TIM state-of-the-practice and future recommendations.

1.3.2 National Highway Institute Training

Initiated in 1998 and ongoing currently, the National Highway Institute's (NHI) Managing Traffic Incidents and Roadway Emergencies training course is among the longest running TIM-related training courses ever offered. Designed for mid- to upper-level managers from TIM responder agencies, the curriculum focuses on institutional and technical aspects of multi-agency incident clearance.[10] Since its initial offering, the course has been taught more than 90 times, reaching some 2,800 TIM practitioners.

1.3.3 National Conference on Traffic Incident Management

In 2002, several key NIMC organizations convened the National Conference on Traffic Incident Management with goals to develop and promote an agenda for improved TIM at the national level. More than 150 TIM stakeholders identified seven Action Items essential for guiding a national agenda for traffic incident management:[11]

  • Professionalize incident management.
  • Develop national program models and guidelines.
  • Create standards and guidelines for performance data.
  • Recognize regional focus in developing/operating/funding TIM technologies.
  • Develop regional/cross-agency systems architectures, based on standards.
  • Establish a clearinghouse for incident management data.
  • Integrate TIM needs into highway planning and design.

Participants refined the identified Action Items by introducing several key components, including the need to form a national-level TIM framework or coalition for advancing a national TIM strategy. Where the earlier NIMC focused solely on education and outreach, the results of the 2002 National Conference suggested the need for a more active national coalition with a broader focus and the ability to complete the Action Items.

1.3.4 National Traffic Incident Management Coalition

A direct outcome of the 2002 National Conference, the American Association of State Highway Transportation Officials (AASHTO) formed and led an ad hoc steering charged to explore creating and sustaining a national TIM organization. That activity resulted in 2004 with the launch of the NTIMC, whose membership comprises representatives from more than 20 national organizations representing transportation, public safety, and the private sector.

The NTIMC's mission is to improve incident management policies, procedures, and practices through the creation of a national-level multidisciplinary coalition. To fulfill its mission, and lay a foundation for future work, the NTIMC crafted, and its member organizations ratified, a National Unified Goal (NUG) for Traffic Incident Management. This milestone is significant as it represents the first time such a multidisciplinary group of stakeholders has formally agreed to pursue a set of shared objectives in support of a national goal. The NUG contains three overall objectives: responder safety; safe, quick clearance; and prompt, reliable interoperable communications. To achieve its objectives, the NUG outlines the following 18 strategies as presented in Table 1.

Table 1. NTIMC NUG Strategies
Strategies Description
TIM Partnerships and Programs Encourages NTIMC members to participate in TIM programs at the State, multi-state, regional, and local levels.
Multidisciplinary NIMS and TIM Training Ensures that incident responders are cross-trained on scene roles and responsibilities and have a thorough understanding of the Incident Command System (ICS) as required in the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
Goals for Performance and Progress Develops a systematic approach for measuring TIM program performance at the national, State, and local levels.
TIM Technology Promotes the deployment of affordable and useful TIM technologies.
Effective TIM Policies Advocate for policies and legislation that support NUG goals of responder safety; safe, quick clearance; and interoperable communications.
Awareness and Education Partnerships Cultivates broad partnerships to educate motorists on the shared responsibilities in the safe, quick clearance of incidents.
Recommended Practices for Responder Safety Develops consensus-driven practices to protect responders on scene.
Move Over/Slow Down Laws Ensures that motorists provide a safety buffer for responders when possible.
Driver Training and Awareness Teaches drivers how to prevent secondary incidents.
Multidisciplinary TIM Procedures Encourages widespread adoption of procedures for quickly clearing incident-involved vehicles, cargo, and debris.
Response and Clearance Time Goals Sets forth mutually agreed upon time goals for incident response and clearance.
24/7 Availability Encourages 24 hours a day, 7-day per week availability of traffic incident responders and equipment.
Multidisciplinary Communications Practices and Procedures Develops guidelines for standardized communications practices and procedures.
Prompt, Reliable Responder Notification Develops systems and procedures to ensure prompt and reliable notification of incident information to incident responders.
Interoperable Voice and Data Networks Creates linkages between incident responder information and communications systems.
Broadband Emergency Communications Systems Promotes integrated broadband networks linking emergency service providers.
Prompt, Reliable Traveler Information Systems Encourages the development and deployment of traveler information systems to deliver real-time traveler information.
Partnerships with News Media and Information Providers Develops recommended practices for working with news media and information service providers to deliver timely and reliable traveler information.

1.3.5 Traffic Incident Management Self-Assessment

In 2002, FHWA developed of a method to measure TIM program performance and identify potential program gaps at the national level. The Traffic Incident Management Self-Assessment (TIMSA) provides State and local TIM program managers with a tool and process for periodically measuring achievement of a multi-agency program to manage traffic incidents.

The TIMSA consists of various questions, grouped by TIM program functional area, that query respondents on the level of progress in each area. Since its initial launch in 2003, FHWA has conducted the TIMSA annually and publishes the aggregated national results in the annual TIMSA Analysis report.

Table 2 provides an example of questions from the on-scene operations/tactical section of the current TIMSA. The sample questions are extracted from TIMSA Section 4.3.2, Response and Clearance Policies and Procedures.

Table 2. Traffic Incident Management Self-Assessment Sample Questions
Section 4.2.3 Response and Clearance Policies and Procedures Does the TIM Program…? Utilize the Incident Command System? Have specific policies and procedures for fatal accident investigation that also address maintenance of traffic flow? Have specific policies and procedures for hazardous materials response that also address maintenance of traffic flow? Have quick clearance policies for major and minor incidents? Have a pre-qualified list of available and contracted towing and recovery operators (to include operators' capabilities)? Use motorist assist service patrols?

Year to year, the tactical on-scene operations questions receive the highest scores (indicating high levels of success/progress), while the questions focused on TIM strategic program and institutional issues routinely receive the lowest scores. On-scene operations are the primary focus of new and emerging TIM programs, as well the cornerstone of more mature programs. Therefore, the higher scores are a logical outcome of the attention paid to on-scene operations.

Chapter 2 of the Handbook provides detail and guidance on many of the specific issues for which TIM program progress has scored low in previous TIMSA responses. Similarly, the tactical program elements leading to higher scores on the TIMSA are detailed in chapter 3 for the benefit of new and emerging TIM programs.

1.3.6 Traffic Incident Management Performance Measures Focus States Initiative

In 2005, FHWA identified 11 States to participate in an initiative to develop and test TIM program-level performance measures. The TIM Performance Measures Focus States Initiative (TIM PM FSI) participants, representing transportation and law enforcement agencies, worked together through a series of workshops to reach consensus on three TIM performance measures for collection and analysis:

  • Roadway Clearance Time: This interval is defined as the time between the first recordable awareness of an incident (detection, notification, or verification) by a responding agency and first confirmation that all lanes are available for traffic flow.
  • Incident Clearance Time: This interval is defined as the time between the first recordable awareness of the incident and the time at which the last responder has left the scene.
  • Secondary Incidents: These incidents are identified as the number of unplanned incidents beginning with the time of detection of the primary incident where a collision occurs either a) within the incident scene or b) within the queue, including the opposite direction, resulting from the original incident.

Focus State participants then implemented State Action Plans to collect and analyze the requisite data for tracking performance. FHWA published the results in the TIM PM FSI Final Report that available through various FHWA-sponsored and other Web sites,[12] as well as a TIM Knowledge Management System that FHWA is developing to transfer the knowledge from this initiative to interested practitioners around the country.

1.4 Traffic Incident Management Redefined

The 2000 TIM Handbook defined an "incident" as

…any non-recurring event that causes a reduction of roadway capacity or an abnormal increase in demand. Such events include traffic crashes, disabled vehicles, spilled cargo, highway maintenance and reconstruction projects, and special non-emergency events.

However, the events of September 11, 2001, and the widespread impacts of major weather events like Hurricane Katrina in 2005, caused the alignment and redefinition of TIM within a national blueprint for incident response, highlighting the critical role of TIM in national preparedness. As a result, transportation agencies are recognizing that TIM is more than just a tool for increasing mobility and reducing congestion. Public safety agencies also are acknowledging their roles in responder and motorist safety and secondary incident prevention.

In 2003, the President of the United States charged the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to develop and administer the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS provides a framework for incident planning and response, at all levels, regardless of cause, size, or complexity. The broad scope of NIMS includes ensuring U.S. roadways are available for incident response and has an enormous impact on emerging as well as established TIM programs. As traditional lines of incident scene responsibility become blurred, it is incumbent on all incident responders to be aware of and understand each other's role, regardless of incident size or scope.

NIMS compliance applies to every discipline, including transportation. As such, emergency transportation operations documentation will use standard terminology promoted through NIMS. The NIMS framework calls for aligning TIM program components in three broad areas, which mirror the NIMS concepts of Preparedness, Resource Management, and Communications/Information Management:

  • Strategic: How to plan, prepare for, and measure performance.
  • Tactical: How to execute the plan and manage resources.
  • Support: How to incorporate the tools and technologies to manage and communicate information.

This evolution in TIM program components to mirror NIMS also will be seen in the TIMSA, which is under revision to reflect the role of TIM in the broader area of emergency preparedness. Starting in 2009, TIMSA questions will measure TIM program performance across the emergency operations continuum.

Though the definition of TIM has expanded, the opportunities for addressing core transportation issues remain:

  • Incidents are estimated to cause more than 50 percent of total delay experienced by motorists in all urban areas.[13] Of this, 25 percent is caused by traffic incidents such as crashes, stalled vehicles, roadway debris, and spilled cargo.[14]
  • Secondary crashes are estimated to cause 18 percent of all fatalities on freeways.[15]
  • In 2002, approximately 50 percent of all police, Emergency Medical Services (EMS) personnel, and firefighter fatalities occurred as a result of transportation incidents (either accidental or "struck-by" incidents or crashes in pursuit or other line-of-duty activities).[16]
  • Between 1997 and 2006, 17 percent of the accidental law enforcement deaths were the result of "struck-by" motor vehicle incidents occurring during activities such as traffic stops, roadblocks, directing traffic and assisting motorists.[17]

1.5 Traffic Incident Management Stakeholders

As the definition and scope of TIM has evolved, so too has the list of key TIM stakeholders. Table 3 defines the current TIM stakeholders involved in traditional response, special circumstances, information dissemination, and transportation system providers and users.

Table 3. TIM Stakeholders Roles and Descriptions
System Providers
and Users
Law Enforcement Hazardous Materials
Public Safety
Traveling Public
Fire and Rescue Coroners and
Medical Examiners
Traffic Media Trucking Industry
Emergency Medical
Services (EMS)
Coroners and
Medical Examiners
Traveler Information
Insurance Industry
Towing and Recovery Emergency
Public Transportation
Transportation Agencies Environmental/Natural
of Health (DPH)
Motorist Organizations

1.6 A Handbook for Today's Traffic Incident Management

Much has changed for TIM practitioners over the last 15 years:

  • A number of national initiatives have advanced TIM state-of-the-practice.
  • The NTIMC has coalesced multidiscipline national organizations in support of its National Unified Goal.
  • Events of national significance have redefined and expanded the role of TIM through the NIMS.
  • The list of stakeholders with a role in TIM continues to grow as congestion impacts our Nation's safety and economic prosperity.

These national initiatives, and others that are detailed in subsequent chapters of the Handbook, have facilitated TIM program advancement to a level that now necessitates the updating of the previously published TIM Handbooks (1991 and 2000) to reflect the current state-of the-practice. While new levels of program maturity provide the rationale for this TIM Handbook update, the intervening 9 years since the publishing of the last TIM Handbook have witnessed other events that are reshaping TIM.

In recognition of these changes, the updated 2010 TIM Handbook is designed for TIM stakeholders across the experience continuum. Professionals new to TIM will find the necessary elements for starting and maintaining a successful TIM program. Experienced career professionals will gain insight into the latest practices, tools, and technologies for capitalizing on their earlier successes.

Similarly, the 2010 TIM Handbook relates to stakeholders, regardless of their roles in TIM. While each stakeholder group performs individual roles and responsibilities in incident response and clearance, a shared understanding and appreciation of each group's roles is crucial to improving the individual responder's effectiveness, and the effectiveness of the response overall.

In today's economy, all TIM stakeholders must maximize resources and minimize cost effects. The 2010 TIM Handbook documents how TIM program success can be achieved, and provides valuable information on capitalizing on available resources to minimize the budgetary impacts of TIM program components. In addition, recommendations for resource management and resource sharing may be found throughout the Handbook. The Handbook provides a clear rationale and the tools necessary for calculating the value of TIM resource commitments where additional resources are necessary for program success.

1.7 What to Expect

With a focus on preparing the next generation of TIM professionals, the 2010 TIM Handbook is intended as a training tool. Each subsequent chapter 2 through 4 provides sufficient detail on TIM Strategic Program Elements, TIM Tactical Program Elements, and TIM Program Support – Communications and Information Exchange to train new entrants to the field of TIM in critical program success factors.

For those interested in learning more, each chapter concludes with a brief reference guide titled, "Want to Know More?" where additional resources will be listed by subject, title, and where applicable, an associated link or URL.

1.8 Want to Know More?

For additional resources and information, please view the items listed in the following resource guide.

Want to Know More?

TIM Resources:


1. Department of Transportation: Strategic Plan Fiscal Years 2006-2011, available online:

2. TTI:2009 Urban Mobility Report, July 2009, p. 14, available online: http://tti.tamu.edu/documents/mobility_report_2009.pdf.

3. NTIMC: Benefits of Traffic Incident Management, available online: http://www.transportation.org/sites/ntimc/docs/Benefits11-07-06.pdf.

4. TTI: 2009 Urban Mobility Report, July 2009, p. 14.

5. Chang, Rochon: Performance Evaluation and Benefit Analysis for CHART—Coordinated Highways Action Response Team—in Year 2005 Final Report, University of Maryland, College Park, MD, May 2006.

6. Karlaftis, Latoski and Sinha Richards. "ITS Impacts on Safety and Traffic Management: An Investigation of Secondary Crash Causes," ITS Journal, 1999, Vol. 5, pp.39-52.

7. "Responder Safety," National Traffic Incident Management Coalition, November 2006.

8. EPA: Overview: Pollutants and Programs, "Emission Facts: Average Carbon Dioxide Emissions Resulting from Gasoline and Diesel Fuel," available online: http://www.epa.gov/oms/climate/420f05001.htm.

9. Incident Management, ATAF Trucking Research Institute, Alexandria, VA: 1990.

10. NHI Courses 133048 and 1330488A: Managing Traffic Incident and Roadway Emergencies (1- and 2-day courses); available online: http://www.nhi.fhwa.dot.gov/home.aspx.

11. Proceedings of the National Conference on Traffic Incident Management: A Roadmap to the Future, June 2002, available online: http://onlinepubs.trb.org/onlinepubs/archive/conferences/TIM/TIMProceedings.pdf.

12. See FHWA and DHS Web sites: http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/; http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/eto_tim_pse/index.htm; and https://www.llis.dhs.gov/index.do.

13. Urban Mobility Report 2003, Texas Transportation Institute, September 2003.

14. National Traffic Incident Management Coalition National Unified Goal, available online: http://timcoalition.org/?siteid=41&pageid=1973.

15. Improving Traffic Incident Management Together, NTIMC, December 2004.

16. Ibid.

17. Law Enforcement Officers Killed and Assaulted, 2006, U.S. Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Washington, DC: 2006.

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