The National Academies

NCHRP 20-121A [Pending]

Countering Human Trafficking: A Toolkit for State DOTs

  Project Data
Funds: $450,000
Contract Time: 22 months
Staff Responsibility: Mike Brooks




Human trafficking can be defined as the recruitment, harboring, transportation, provision, obtaining, patronizing, or soliciting of a person for labor or services through force, fraud, or coercion for the purpose of involuntary servitude, peonage, debt bondage, commercial sex acts, or slavery. Within the United States, human traffickers are using national, state, and local transportation infrastructure, systems, and modes.


Under NCHRP Project 20-121, “State DOT Contributions to the Study, Investigation, and Interdiction of Human Trafficking," the research team conducted extensive research, synthesis, and analysis, including a review of academic and grey literature (podcasts, blogs, deep journalism, etc.); informal interviews with a range of experts and stakeholders; inter-disciplinary knowledge transfer via work groups; a project survey (long and short form); and structured interviews with state departments of transportation (DOTs). The final report documenting the results from this project, including how DOTs are currently countering human trafficking and strategies for the future, is available on request.


State DOT staff resources and practices (including policy development/implementation, training, and technology) have the potential to assist in efforts to combat human trafficking, aid victims, and support critical decision-making. Many transportation professionals are not familiar with the problem of and the tools available for combating human trafficking; and, while some have awareness, their knowledge may be limited to anecdotal experiences. It can be challenging to rally the resources needed to educate employees on the scope of the problem and on the specific steps they can take – through planning, programming, and daily operations – to respond appropriately.


NCHRP Project 20-121 identified several actions that state DOT personnel can take to enhance awareness and use of their resources to supply valuable information that supports anti-human-trafficking efforts. To fully implement the results from NCHRP Project 20-121, a toolkit with guidance and training materials is needed to assist state DOTs in determining and supporting priority action(s) to combat human trafficking in their state.




The objectives of this project are to build on the contractor’s final report from NCHRP Project 20-121 to develop a suite of tools that support effective training, policy, and collaboration practices related to combatting human trafficking. The products from this project will be tailored to employees of state DOTs as well as their contractors and collaborative partners engaged in countering human trafficking operations, but the results will also likely benefit other transportation agencies.

At a minimum, the research plan should incorporate the following tasks.




Task 1. Conduct a scan and summarize existing resources. This task shall be performed within the first quarter of the project to inform the development of the toolkit in Task 4.


Task 1a. Conduct a scan to reflect activities in the area of anti-human trafficking that have occurred since the completion of the NCHRP Project 20-121 final report in November 2019 (e.g., COVID-19, new policies, and new research activities). This effort will be focused on those changes pertinent to transportation agencies and their partners.


Task 1b. The NCHRP Project 20-121 final report contains results of the project survey and a census of state DOT practices, sentiments on then-current measures, and needed research. Summarize survey results from NCHRP Project 20-121 to help the knowledgebase of stakeholders, potential partners, and the community of practice among state DOTs. Present results from Task 1 for review and approval by NCHRP.


Task 2. Analyze vulnerabilities within transportation networks. Identify and assess areas within transportation networks that may be particularly vulnerable to human trafficking, including physical and workforce vulnerabilities. The results of this task will inform efforts under Task 4, specifically to develop methods to assist agencies in prioritizing risks and evaluating solutions to mitigate the risks. This task shall be performed within the first quarter of the project. Present results from Task 2 for review and approval by NCHRP.


Task 3. Analyze agency partnerships. Investigate how agencies are partnering with anti-human trafficking task forces and others. Evaluate current processes that will inform products in Task 4, including case examples and sample policy. This task shall be performed within the first quarter of the project. Present results from Task 3 for review and approval by NCHRP.


Task 4. Develop toolkit. Building on the results of Tasks 1-3, as well as the information and models produced in NCHRP Project 20-121, develop a modern and user-ready toolkit tailored to state DOTs including tools for leadership (policy guides and governance) and operational tools (training and instructional aides). This task shall include conducting virtual reviews of the draft toolkit prior to finalization, including review by survivors and anti-human trafficking organizations as inputs to the process.


The toolkit will include (but is not limited to) the following:

  • Tools for leadership:
    • A brief leadership primer with a list of ready, relevant resources. This primer will summarize why and how transportation has a unique opportunity and role to play in mitigating human trafficking related to infrastructure, cross-sector collaboration, and leveraging the knowledge of staff who may regularly encounter victims and traffickers. The primer should also include an overview of why mitigating human trafficking is essential (e.g., the harm to victims, the negative impacts on society, and the illicit revenue derived from this activity).
    • Capabilities guide including maturity matrix and case examples of highly mature programs of state DOTs.
    • A guide on risk prioritization and evaluation of solutions to mitigate risks.
    • Sample policy, tailored to state DOTs.


  • Operational tools:
    • A training guide including narrative and instructional aides with a focus on observing and reporting to help state DOTs train frontline employees, office staff, leadership, and contractors. The focus of this training should be on identifying, assessing, and reporting. Training guide shall include a PowerPoint including facilitator notes and any other relevant training materials.
    • High-level discussion topics of observing and reporting human trafficking to be delivered during field staff tailgate meetings.
    • Print and digital awareness campaign materials that cover all aspects of anti-human trafficking for different stakeholders within DOTs.

Submit draft toolkit to NCHRP for review and approval.


Task 5. Prepare and submit an interim report summarizing the findings from Tasks 1-4. Following review of the interim report by NCHRP, the research team will present findings to NCHRP at an interim meeting. If possible, this meeting will take place in-person at the TRB offices in Washington, DC. Work on future tasks will not begin until the interim report is approved by NCHRP.


Task 6. Pilot the approved Task 4 toolkit. Toolkit shall be piloted in all four AASHTO regions through train-the-trainer activities. Feedback received during this activity will inform the revisions of final products from Task 4. Summarize the results of the pilot activities in a technical memorandum.


Task 7. Submit final deliverables to NCHRP for review and approval. Final deliverables for this project should include (a) a toolkit containing, at minimum, the items listed under Task 4; (b) a final report summarizing the work; (c) a PowerPoint presentation including speaker notes covering efforts conducted under this project suitable for conference presentation and posting on the project website; and (d) an implementation technical memorandum as a standalone document.



Contract Pending.




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