The National Academies

NCHRP 03-63 [Completed]

Assessment of Sharing Information Between Public Safety and Transportation Agencies for Traffic-Incident Management

  Project Data
Funds: $199,807
Research Agency: Mitretek Systems
Principal Investigator: Kevin Dopart & Ken Brooke
Effective Date: 11/12/2001
Completion Date: 3/31/2004

Background: "Incident management is defined as the systematic, planned, and coordinated use of human, institutional, mechanical, and technical resources to reduce the duration and impact of incidents, and improve the safety of motorists, crash victims, and incident responders." (Traffic Incident Management Handbook) There are many organizations involved in traffic-incident management, including public safety agencies (e.g., law enforcement, fire, and emergency medical services); transportation agencies; and other types of responders (e.g., environmental conservation, medical examiners, and towing and recovery). Efficient response is both a public safety issue and a mobility issue, because longer response and clearance times mean less effective critical care, more traffic congestion, and reduced mobility.

Interagency exchange of information is the key to obtaining rapid, efficient, and appropriate response from all agencies. Public safety agencies benefit from obtaining closed-circuit television pictures for verification and assessment of an incident as they begin their response. This visual information helps them to dispatch the appropriate response teams and to recall those teams if the incident clears up before they arrive. Public safety agencies can also benefit from information regarding traffic conditions on their response route and special information such as blocked railroad crossings or construction that might affect their response.

Transportation agencies also benefit from sharing information. Even in areas with good video surveillance, the great majority of incidents are first reported by cell phone to 9-1-1 public safety answering points (PSAPs). PSAPs also cover the entire transportation system while video surveillance is typically limited to the urban freeways. In most metropolitan areas, public safety agencies use computer-aided dispatch (CAD). Real-time CAD data are often the best source of timely, detailed information on traffic incidents. In addition to sending response teams to the scene, DOTs can initiate actions such as variable message sign and highway advisory radio messages, traffic signal timing changes, and public information notices based on the information they receive from the public safety agencies.

Objective: The objective of this research was to assess methods, issues, benefits, and costs associated with sharing information between public safety and transportation agencies in traffic-incident management. Co-location of public safety and transportation agency personnel in a communications center, which usually facilitates information sharing, is a closely related issue that was considered. Use of the information by other emergency responders and the media was also considered.

Tasks: The research consisted of the following tasks: (1) Briefly review the literature to identify methods of sharing traffic-incident information and related issues. Identify geographical regions where public safety and transportation agencies and other emergency responders are sharing information. Identify regions where public safety and transportation agencies have co-located in a communications center. Identify regions where transportation management centers have recently opened but public safety and transportation agencies are not exchanging information. (2) Identify a representative cross section of regions for interviews in Task 4, including at least one region where information is not being shared. (3) Prepare an interim report on the information developed in Tasks 1 and 2. The interim report shall also include an updated, detailed work plan for the remaining tasks and an annotated outline of the final report. The plan for Task 4 shall include the regions where interviews will be conducted, descriptions of the interviewees from each agency, format for the interviews, and specific questions that will be asked. (4) Conduct in-depth interviews in selected regions that include personnel with varying levels of responsibility in operations, maintenance, and management. Determine goals of the information-sharing effort, reasons for decisions made, benefits related to effort, effectiveness in reaching goals, problems encountered (institutional and technical), performance measures, agreements and formal programs, future plans, training, conflict resolution processes, costs, and institutional frameworks. (5) Based on the information collected, describe and evaluate methods used in practice to share information, including data flows and links. Highlight innovative methods of creating data paths. Estimate the resources associated with installing and maintaining these methods. Show at a high level how these data flows relate to the National Intelligent Transportation Systems Architecture and identify apparent gaps in the Architecture. (6) Describe institutional issues and barriers to information sharing and co-location and how they were or were not overcome. Document legal and policy issues, financing arrangements, and processes used to resolve conflicts. Special attention should be paid to the effects of sharing information with the media and the security of public safety data. Identify regions where agreements are in place and develop model agreements for typical institutional frameworks. (7) Document the benefits to each agency of information sharing and co-location (e.g., safety of the responders, increased dispatch efficiency, more efficient response formulation, better travel management). Identified benefits need to be specific and, when possible, quantified. (8) Describe performance measures related to information sharing that are currently used for traffic-incident management efforts. Describe the data and data collection and management capabilities needed to apply those performance measures. (9) Submit a final report that documents the entire research effort. The report should include a short summary of the information-sharing activities in each of the Task 4 regions. In this summary, sensitive statements should not be attributed to a particular location or agency. The report is intended for both the public safety and transportation communities and should be written accordingly.

Status: Completed.

Product Availability: The revised final report has been published as NCHRP Report 520.

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