The National Academies

NCHRP 20-59(19) [Completed]

Transportation Response Options: Scenarios of Infectious Disease, Biological Agents, Chemical, Biological, Radiological, or Nuclear Exposure

  Project Data
Funds: $251,000
Research Agency: Science Applications International Corporation
Principal Investigator: Steven M. Mirsky
Effective Date: 10/23/2003
Completion Date: 12/31/2005


The nation's transportation system is a vast, interconnected network of diverse modes. Key modes of transportation include aviation; highways; motor carrier (i.e., trucking); motor coach (i.e., intercity bus); maritime; pipeline; rail (passenger and freight); and transit (e.g., buses, subways, ferry boats, and light rail). The transportation modes work in harmony to facilitate mobility through an extensive network of infrastructure and operators, as well as through the vehicles and vessels that permit passengers and freight to move within the system. For example, the nation's transportation system moves over 30 million tons of freight and provides approximately 1.1 billion passenger trips each day. The diversity and size of the transportation system make it vital to our economy and national security, including military mobilization and deployment.

Private industry, state and local governments, and the federal government all have roles and responsibilities in securing the transportation system. Private industry owns and operates a large share of the transportation system. For example, almost 2,000 pipeline companies and 571 railroad companies own and operate the pipeline and freight railroad systems, respectively. Additionally, 83 passenger air carriers and 640,000 interstate motor coach and motor carrier companies operate in the United States. State and local governments also own significant portions of the highways, transit systems, and airports in the country. For example, state and local governments own over 90 percent of the total mileage of highways. State and local governments also administer and implement regulations for different sectors of the transportation system and provide protective and emergency response services through various agencies. Although the federal government owns a limited share of the transportation system, it issues regulations, establishes policies, provides funding, and/or sets standards for the different modes of transportation.

Interdependencies also exist between transportation and nearly every other sector of the economy. Consequently, an event that affects the transportation sector can have serious impacts on other industries. For example, when the war in Afghanistan began in October 2001, the rail industry restricted the movement of many hazardous materials, including chlorine, because of a heightened threat of a terrorist attack. However, within days, many major water treatment facilities reported that they were running out of chlorine, which they use to treat drinking water, and would have to shut down operations if chlorine deliveries were not immediately resumed.

Furthermore, security measures may have economic and competitive ramifications for individual modes of transportation. For instance, if the federal government imposed a particular security requirement on the rail industry and not on the motor carrier industry, the rail industry might incur additional costs and/or lose customers to the motor carrier industry. Striking the right balance between increasing security and protecting the economic vitality of the national economy and individual modes will remain an important and difficult task.


The emerging issue of biological hazards, as exemplified by SARS, but certainly applicable to criminal releases of biological agents as well, highlights the opportunity to develop response plans for transportation in a well integrated and coordinated manner. Building on a workshop that DOT conducted in November 2002, "Transportation Issues in Bioterrorism: Considerations for Evacuation and Quarantine," this project will examine hazard characteristics (such as contagion, persistence, transmission, and the availability of treatment) and integrate those characteristics with transportation response options for each transportation mode. Taking this approach rather than a chemical by chemical or disease by disease approach will facilitate response to hazards that may have been genetically or otherwise altered, or "weaponized." Infectious disease and other public health expertise are anticipated to bring bio-medical considerations into a document primarily oriented to transportation operators. The research products will be issued and distributed in interim and final reports that will be reviewed, refined, and distributed to the transportation industry.

The research should recognize the operating constructs across modes, such as on-time, scheduled performance (e.g., for passenger transfers as well as for just-in-time inventory). The research should also recognize that there are existing emergency operations default plans (e.g., weekend schedules for transit, snow emergency plans for highways). It is intended that the research identify transportation critical functions across modes and be sensitive to the fact that, when working near capacity, even a glitch can have large effects on performance.

The research should also take account of operational management and control characteristics specific to different modes (e.g., highways are largely unmanaged in the operational sense; multiple jurisdictions for some modes raise issues as to who is in charge, as well as issues of access control, traffic manageability, and levels of control).


The objective of this research is to develop a Guide for state and local transportation officials to use to develop and communicate transportation response options within an incident management system.

This Guide will be designed so transportation managers can clearly convey transportation-related options (opportunities and limitations) to mitigate population exposures and the spread of contamination, and to expedite effective response. This Guide will identify the potential positive actions of transportation, as well as unintended consequences of reactions to extreme events such as mass exposures to infectious diseases, biological agents, radiological, chemical, and other hazardous materials. Transportation issues, needs, and solutions are to be packaged so that transportation officials can effectively communicate these options through the incident command system.

Accomplishment of the project objective will require the following tasks:


Task 1. Summarize existing characteristics of the transportation system (modes and networks: e.g., hub and spoke of air, local connectivity of road system, person and vehicle capacity and performance, intermodal connections).

Task 2. Create a matrix and graphic of transportation operations relative to controlling flows of people and goods, and the distinct effects of managing the transportation system under recent historical crisis situations such as Hurricane Floyd; the 2003 NY blackout; the Los Angeles port closure; 9/11/2001; SARS; Monkey Pox; Baltimore tunnel fire; Mississauga, Red River Flood 1999.

Task 3. Describe what transportation officials and industry can and cannot do operationally. List and graph the limits of physical and communications capabilities, as well as authorities and responsibilities. Examples of communications capabilities in the highway domain include variable messaging signs, 511, highway advisory radio, and web site postings. Physical capabilities present limited options such as signal retiming, shutting down selected facilities, rerouting or detouring traffic, expediting traffic through reversing lanes, removing construction constraints to provide surge capacity, and closing an area to traffic to provide additional pedestrian capacity.

Task 4. Submit an interim report with draft results of Tasks 1, 2, and 3.

Task 5. Describe the interrelationships between the various transportation modes and the potential threats as laid out in the literature (for example, see the RSPA supplied matrices: bio in 4 categories: radiological in 4 categories; agricultural (foot-and-mouth disease); others to come (about 20 total)).

Task 6. Map integrated transportation options in response to the threats described in Task 5. Provide sketch options for all modes, and develop templates for selected modes or scenarios. One method for accomplishing this task is to interview state and local officials (including public health officials and incident commanders), as well as operators of transportation.

Task 7. Submit interim report #2 covering Tasks 5 and 6. Include an agenda and discussion questions for a workshop to validate the work products from Tasks 5 and 6.

Task 8. Prepare for and participate in a three-day workshop and panel meeting. The day and a half workshop will include the panel and selected other reviewers (including transportation, public health, law enforcement, fire, emergency management, and elected officials), followed by a one-day meeting with the panel, and a half-day work session with TRB staff.

Task 9. Submit Preliminary Draft Final Report.

Task 10. Submit Revised Final Report.

Status: Completed. Published as NCHRP Report 525, Surface Transportation Security, Volume 10: A Guide to Transportation's Role in Public Health Disasters. There are four products from project 20-59(19):

1. In the report technical information is presented on chemical, biological, and radiological threats, including vulnerabilities of the transportation system to these agents and consequence-minimization actions that may be taken within the transportation system in response to events that involve these agents.

2. Tracking Emergency Response Effects on Transportation (TERET) is a spreadsheet tool structured to assist transportation managers with recognition of mass-care transportation needs and identification and mitigation of potential transportation-related criticalities in essential services during extreme events. TERET is intended to be used as a guide during emergency response planning stages as well as during an emergency response exercise or actual event.

3. The User's Manual for TERET is printed at the back of the Report as Appendix D. It provides step-by-step instructions on the use and maintenance of TERET.

4. An Introduction to Chemical, Biological, and Radiological Threat Agents is a slide presentation with presenter notes in MS PowerPoint. It is designed as an executive-level communications tool based on summary information from the report.

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