Research Archive

Research Plan

The Transportation Problem

Over 400 tropical storms, hurricanes, tornadoes, and highway hazardous material (HAZMAT) incidents require evacuation each year in the United States. These, plus winter weather, wild fires, complex multi-vehicle crashes, and potential security incidents, require the U.S. to be prepared for any eventuality. Responders must reach the scene, victims must evacuate the danger zone, and clearance and recovery resources must arrive on time.

image of emergency responders

Emergency Transportation Operations support planned and coordinated programs to detect and remove incidents and restore traffic capacity as safely and as quickly as possible. Photo from: Best Practices in Traffic Incident Management - Executive Summary, September 2010.

The ITS Opportunity

During transportation-related emergencies, the use of ITS technologies can result in improved management of the emergency. ITS technologies provide transportation service and public safety agencies with the ability to communicate and coordinate operations and resources in real time. They support the data collection required for effective coordination of changing transportation system conditions and allow for the real-time implementation of operational and logistical strategies in cooperation with many partners. Efficient and reliable voice, data, and video communications further provide agencies with the ability to share information related to the status of the emergency, the operational conditions of the transportation facilities, and the location of emergency response resources.

ITS communications and services can effectively address a wide range of stakeholder needs for information:

  • For public safety agencies, advances in logistical and decision-making tools can enable commanders and dispatchers to implement strategies as conditions change. Advances in communication and information systems provide an opportunity to access essential real-time data about conditions on routes throughout the affected region. The need for real-time data is especially critical during emergencies, when conditions are continuously changing. ITS can be used to help identify the appropriate response and get the correct equipment and emergency personnel to and from the scene quickly and safely.
  • For travelers, it is critical to receive information on road conditions and/or closures during emergencies. This is especially true when coordinating evacuations of the transportation-disadvantaged.
  • For transportation services, the availability of real-time data on transportation conditions, coupled with decision-making tools, enables more effective response and coordination of resources during emergencies. ITS also enhances the ability of transportation agencies to coordinate response with other stakeholders.

Research Approach

The ETO Initiative was a collective effort among Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and Federal Transit Administration (FTA) that was launched in 2004 to:

  • Develop and demonstrate innovative procedures and technologies for more coordinated public safety and transportation operations that improved the speed and effectiveness of response and management of major incidents.
  • Provide tools, procedures, and information that can be used to actively manage and therefore expedite the safe progress of an evacuation.
  • Increase transportation safety and mobility through new and dynamic partnerships linking the transportation and public safety communities - including law enforcement, fire and rescue, emergency medical service (EMS) providers, emergency managers, and emergency communications providers - at the Federal, State, regional, local, and tribal levels.

The collective efforts of the ETO encompassed six functional areas: public access to emergency services, enhanced information sharing, evacuation management and operations, transportation operations during biohazard situations, preparedness and response, and planned special events.


image of people in a crisis center

The Florida State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee (shown here) served as the coordination hub when State Emergency Response Team members from key State and Federal agencies, the military, and volunteer organizations were activated for an expected hurricane. Photo from: Public Roads, November 2005.

Research Findings

The ETO Initiative resulted in the development of 16 resources that address critical transportation roles, processes, and operations during emergencies and evacuations and provide critical tools to enhance decision-making in three areas:

  • Enhanced Information Sharing: Four resources address improvements in public safety with a focus on sharing information across and among organizations-such as law enforcement, fire, emergency medical response, tow truck drivers, and transportation operators-and jurisdictions.
  • Evacuation Management and Operations: Eight resources provide an assessment on the state of- the-practice and provide new tools and processes to help agencies plan for and manage evacuations, with a particular focus on events that occur with little or no warning.
  • Transportation Operations During Biohazard Situations: Six resources provide a comprehensive and actionable understanding of the role of transportation during a biohazard situation and assist communities in better planning for, responding to, and recovering from such situations.

The ETO Initiative provided guidance to State and local agencies on effective evacuation modeling techniques.

  • Early research results in 2006 determined that there was an adequate spectrum of commercial tools to support evacuation traffic decisions and operations; however, there was a significant lack of understanding among transportation and emergency management stakeholders of the capabilities and limitations of these tools. With this insight, the ETO Initiative was restructured to assess and test commercially available modeling products and provide corresponding detailed guidance to State and local stakeholders.

The ETO Initiative assisted in harmonization of data standards between transportation and emergency operators.

  • Collaboration with the Department of Justice revealed an overlap in message sets of the standards used by public safety systems (GJXDM) and the standards for transportation incident management (IEEE 1512). This insight resulted in the opportunity to harmonize the standards, develop a method for data conversion, and test the capability to support connectivity between transportation operations centers and local emergency operations centers. A field operational test in Houston, Texas is expected to show the following benefits:
    • Information exchange with increased data accuracy, timeliness, and automation (use of fewer resources).
    • Reuse of exchanges, leading to time and cost savings.
    • Enhanced Response, leading to greater situational awareness, more effective response with the ability to identify and use appropriate equipment, and more efficient response at the right time.
    • The ETO resources, reports, tools, and knowledge are easy to access.


The ETO Initiative has produced numerous documents covering a wide range of topics in its six functional areas: public access to emergency services, enhanced information sharing, evacuation management and operations, transportation operations during biohazard situations, preparedness and response, and planned special events. Most of these documents are available on the Best of Public Safety and Emergency Transportation Operations CD-ROM, which is available free upon request.