The National Academies

NCHRP 20-128 [Active]

Emergency Response: Organizational and Operational Models Used by State DOTs

  Project Data
Funds: $400,000
Staff Responsibility: Stephan A. Parker
Research Agency: WSP USA Inc.
Principal Investigator: Deborah Matherly
Effective Date: 2/1/2021
Completion Date: 2/1/2023

The increased frequency and intensity of natural and man-made disasters have galvanized the transportation community to start focusing on resilience and systemic resilience-based approaches to prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery from these costly events. Approaches that incorporate the concept of resilience into transportation planning guidance include (1) federal guidance requirements such as the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act, and (2) evolving and expanding state, regional, and local requirements that provide state departments of transportation (DOTs) with additional impetus to (a) integrate resilience practices and initiatives into emergency response and (b) identify effective organizational and operational models for emergency response. State DOTs have been developing and honing all-hazards emergency response procedures and protocols, and are adept at responding to a range of emergencies and incidents, and fulfilling their federal responsibilities, namely Emergency Support Function (ESF) #1 - Transportation responsibilities such as emergency access and evacuation support identified in the National Response Framework (NRF).
Organizational structure can and does make a difference in the effectiveness of emergency response and related emergency activities and initiatives. As noted in AASHTO’s 2017 publication, Understanding Transportation Resilience: A 2016–2018 Roadmap for Security, Emergency Management, and Infrastructure Protection in Transportation Resilience, emergency management is an essential component of resilience, but the current organizational frameworks may not be ideal.
Emergency response is essential to the AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience (TSSR) “Resiliency Circle of Life” shown in Figure 1.
Resiliency Circle of Life
Figure 1. The AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience (TSSR) “Resiliency Circle of Life” has been formally adopted by TSSR.
There is a gap in the research relating to recommended state DOT operational and organizational models for emergency response. The importance of the topic has been well established; the types of actions and related responsibilities have been identified; desired outcomes have been defined, but research is needed on ways DOTs organize themselves for effectively participating in emergency response.
The objective of this project is to investigate and document how state DOTs use different organizational and operational models to fulfill their emergency response incident/event management responsibilities within the context of the National Planning Frameworks (NPF): prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. This includes management of and transition between
  • Frequently occurring, short duration incidents with minimal impact (typically covered in Traffic Incident Management);
  • Occasionally occurring, long duration, significant transportation incidents, typically involving some level of activation of the state DOT’s Incident Command System (ICS) structure or emergency operations center; and
  • Infrequently occurring, long duration, large scale emergencies involving state DOT participation in multi-agency response (i.e., invoking ESFs).
For these three scenarios, areas of focus for this project include how state DOTs
  1. Are internally organized in general and for emergency response;
  2. Understand, assign, and execute their responsibilities and authorities for emergency response;
  3. Coordinate with emergency management agencies, transportation agencies, and others;
  4. Staff with dedicated and surge capacity employees for their emergency management functions;
  5. Bring in outside resources (including mutual aid and contract staff);
  6. Access funding and potential funding sources (ongoing and grants); and
  7. Manage training and exercises (internal and external).
  •  Literature Review of applicable guidance, research, and reports pertaining to the topics outlined earlier, culminating in a summary report.
  • Census of all 52 AASHTO member state DOTs and associated state emergency management agencies, covering the topics outlined earlier, culminating in a summary report with groupings by model. Identify common and diverse approaches; compare and contrast approaches. Include a glossary of terms and how they are used in the state DOTs.
  • For each model grouping, case studies and/or scenario narratives from at least 2 states, based on actual emergencies or conduct of structured scenario-based discussions. Include documentation such as process flow diagrams and how they leverage standard operating procedures for emergency response.
  • Identification and analysis of effective practices within each model, culminating in a report. Capture how and why the models were implemented, costs of implementation, how they were evaluated (including response times and policies), and how they may have evolved. Identify any process validation improvements or steps. Determine strengths and weaknesses of various models, and recommended workarounds or adjustments.

The final deliverables will include a final report that contains (1) documentation of the entire project, incorporating all other specified deliverable products of the research; (2) an executive summary that outlines the research results; and (3) recommendations of needs and priorities for additional related research.

Status: Research in progress. An interim report is anticipated in December 2021.

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