Traffic Incident Management is a planned and coordinated program process to detect, respond to, and remove traffic incidents and restore traffic capacity as safely and quickly as possible. This coordinated process involves a number of public and private sector partners. Find out more below.

Law enforcement agencies include State Police and Highway Patrols, County Police and County Sheriffs, Township and Municipal Police and other agencies which have officers sworn to enforce laws. On the scene of a traffic incident the duties of these officials include:

  • Securing the incident scene
  • Providing emergency medical aid until help arrives
  • Safeguarding personal property
  • Conducting accident investigations
  • Serving as incident commander
  • Supervising scene clearance
  • Assisting disabled motorists
  • Directing traffic

Fire and rescue services are provided by county and municipal fire departments, and by surrounding fire departments through mutual aid agreements. Typical roles and responsibilities at traffic incidents assumed by fire and departments include:

  • Protecting the incident scene
  • Suppressing fires
  • Providing emergency medical care
  • Serving as incident commander
  • Providing initial HAZMAT response and containment
  • Rescuing crash victims from contaminated environments
  • Rescuing crash victims from wrecked vehicles
  • Arranging transportation for the injured
  • Assisting in incident clearance
  • Providing traffic control until law enforcement or DOT arrival

The primary responsibilities of EMS are the triage, treatment, and transport of crash victims. In many areas, fire and rescue companies provide emergency medical services. In some areas, other agencies or private companies provide these services to local jurisdictions under contract. Typical roles and responsibilities assumed by EMS at traffic incidents include:

  • Providing advanced emergency medical care
  • Determining of destination and transportation requirements for the injured
  • Coordinating evacuation with fire, police and ambulance or airlift
  • Serving as incident commander for medical emergencies
  • Determining approximate cause of injuries for the trauma center
  • Removing medical waste from incident scene

Transportation agencies are typically responsible for the overall planning and implementation of traffic incident management programs. Typically, these agencies are also involved in the development, implementation, and operation of traffic management centers (TMC), as well as the management of service patrols. Typical operational responsibilities assumed by transportation agencies and their service patrols include:

  • Assist in incident detection and verification
  • Initiate traffic management strategies on incident impacted facilities
  • Protect the incident scene
  • Provide traffic control
  • Assist motorist with disabled vehicles
  • Provide motorist information
  • Provide sand for absorbing small fuel and anti-freeze spills
  • Provide special equipment clearing incident scenes
  • Determine incident clearance and roadway repair needs
  • Establish and operate alternate routes
  • Coordinate clearance and repair resources
  • Serve as incident commander prior to the arrival of law enforcement or fire and rescue personnel and for clearance and repair functions and/or serving as part of a unified command system
  • Repair transportation infrastructure

Public safety communications services are the 911 call takers and dispatchers. In larger urban areas, call taking and dispatching duties may be separated. Call takers route emergency calls to appropriate dispatch. In some areas, all public safety emergency calls (police, fire and rescue, and emergency medical) are handled in one joint center with call takers sending calls to appropriate agency dispatch depending on the nature of the call. In smaller urban areas and in many rural areas, call-takers may also dispatch public safety response. Most large urban areas have E911 capabilities so that call takers can obtain the location of landline 911 calls. Many rural areas do not yet have E911. Most calls on highway emergencies come from cellular telephones that are currently not able to provide location information for 911 calls.

State and local governments have agencies whose duties are to plan for and coordinate multi-agency response to large-scale emergencies such as natural and man-made disasters. They have specific responsibilities under both federal and state law. Even very large highway incidents rarely activate emergency response plans unless they necessitate evacuation due to a spill or presence of hazardous materials. Emergency management agencies maintain lists of the location of many public and private sector resources that might be needed in a major emergency. These lists and contacts for activating resources are valuable tools in planning multi-agency response to major highway incidents.

Towing and recovery service providers are responsible for the safe and efficient removal of wrecked or disabled vehicles, and debris from the incident scene. Towing and recovery companies are secondary responders operating under a towing arrangement usually maintained by a law enforcement agency. Towing and recovery companies that respond to highway incidents are indispensable components of all incident management programs. Even programs that include service patrols with relocation capability depend heavily on towing and recovery service providers. Their typical responsibilities include:

  • Recover and remove vehicles from incident scene
  • Protect victims' property and vehicles
  • Remove debris from the roadway
  • Provide other services, such as traffic control, as directed or under contract

Hazardous materials contractors operate in a number of regions in the United States. They are hired by emergency or transportation authorities to clean up and dispose of toxic or hazardous materials. Most common (and small quantity) engine fluid spills (oil, diesel fuel, gasoline, anti-freeze, etc.) can be contained and cleaned up without calling hazardous materials contractors.

Traveler information is a critical component of effective traffic incident management. Tools to help inform travelers of an incident include ITS devices (such as variable message signs and highway advisory radio), and the broadcast media. It is important to inform motorists of current traffic conditions to help minimize frustration, increase compliance with alternate routes, and enhance safety throughout the work zone. Furthermore, it is important to notify drivers who have not yet entered the highway system. For example, it is imperative to inform those who have not left for their destination so they can reconsider the amount of time or route of travel.

Traffic information service providers are primarily private sector companies that gather and disseminate traffic condition information. These private providers are the primary source of information for commercial radio traffic information broadcasts, the most common source of traffic information for motorists. These companies also package specific information on a route or time of day basis to paying clients who subscribe for the information. In recent years, many Internet sites have been created to provide road condition and traffic information. A mixture of public sector agencies and private information service providers maintains these sites.