NCHRP Report 525, Volume 16: A Guide to Emergency Response Planning at State Transportation Agencies was adopted in 2012 as a guide to state DOTs on how emergency response should occur within transportation agencies. Since then NCHRP has sponsored other research to add practical guidance to the emergency response function of DOTs (to be discussed below in the literature review). However, there is a gap in the research relating to recommended state DOT operational models for emergency response. The importance of the topic has been well established; the types of actions and related responsibilities have been identified; desire outcomes have been defined, but research is lacking on recommended ways DOTs should organize themselves for effectively participating in emergency response.
A key research need identified by the NCHRP Project 20-117 panel and research team is effective organizational structure for the Emergency Response activities of transportation agencies. The importance of Emergency Management activities to tate DOTs is highlighted in AASHTO’s 2014 Fourth Generation Strategic Plan which helped form the basis for the new AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience; and, in fact, the following three of the six goals of AASHTO’s 2014 Fourth Generation Strategic Plan which helped form the basis for the new AASHTO Committee on Transportation System Security and Resilience (TSSR) are related emergency management.
- Goal 3: “Investigate, develop, and report on recent advances in infrastructure protection, security, and emergency management issues in urban and statewide environments, including consideration of their social and economic impacts.
- Goal 4: Advance the state-of-the-practice and awareness of transportation infrastructure protection and emergency management through training, technical assistance and technology transfer activities.
- Goal 5: Develop, promote and encourage effective working relationship among state transportation officials and other stakeholder responsible for various aspects of transportation infrastructure protection, emergency management and system operations.”
Organizational structure can and does make a difference in the effectiveness of emergency response and related emergency activities and initiatives.As noted in 2017 AASHTO 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 frameworks may not be ideal.
For decades, state DOTs have been developing and honing all-hazards emergency response procedures and protocols, and have become adept at responding to a range of emergencies and incidents, and fulfilling their federal responsibilities, namely ESF#1 responsibilities such as emergency access and evacuation support.
However, the increased frequency and intensity of disasters have galvanized the transportation community to start focusing on resilience and systematic resilience-based approaches to plan, prepare, respond, and recover from these costly events. Further, new federal guidance requirements such as the 2015 Fixing America’s Surface Transportation (FAST) Act incorporates the concept of resilience into transportation planning guidance, and evolving and expanding state, regional, and local requirements provide state DOTs with additional impetus to integrate resilience practices and initiatives into emergency response, and identify effective organizational and operational models for emergency response. This effort will help agencies save money as well as lives and support state DOTs in their path towards resilience.
NCHRP currently has a project under development entitled "Emergency Management in State Transportation Agencies." This project is intended to more "effectively bridge the gap between all-hazards emergency response research and DOT practice and thereby improve the DOT’s response over a broad continuum of emergencies affecting the nation’s travelers, economy, and infrastructure."
The research objective of this requested project is to augment the purpose of the project currently in development. The project will examine how state DOTs utilize different organizational models to fulfill their Emergency Support Function 1 and related Emergency Response responsibilities, facilitate timely and effective emergency response on DOT assets, and support communities impacted by different conditions that may require DOT resources to support response and recovery of operations. More specifically, the research is expected to:
- Analyze and capture the different organizational and operational models used by state DOTs
- Identify best practices and options
- Capture how the models were implemented, cost of implementation, how they were evaluated, and how they may have evolved
The methodology will likely include a survey of state DOTs and case studies of best practices implemented by state DOTs.
Because effective emergency response is a key component of a resilient transportation organization, understanding the influence of organizational and operational structures on emergency response and best practices and options with respect to those structures is important and ultimately affects the ability of the state DOT in providing the best possible response for a given situation. This translates into lives saved, injuries averted, and damage to transportation infrastructure and assets mitigated. As natural disasters increase in frequency and intensity, the negative impacts of the disasters on transportation assets and infrastructure and systems will increase as well.