Traffic incident management coordination

Traffic Incident Management (TIM) restores traffic flow as safely and quickly as possible following a roadway incident. Through planning and coordination, each of the collaborating agencies can focus on what they do best. State patrol can focus on law enforcement. Fire can focus on health and safety. DOT can focus on traffic control and getting traffic going again.

Key characteristics




WSDOT regions

Strategy description

Traffic Incident Management (TIM) uses significant planning and coordination to put in place the proper process to respond to a traffic incident. When done effectively, TIM can reduce the duration and impacts of a traffic incident, as well as improve safety for road users and emergency responders. As stated by the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition, “For every minute that a freeway travel lane is blocked during a peak period, four minutes of travel delay results after the incident is clear” (1).

Typical TIM goals:

  • Enhance the safety of first responders working at the scene of an incident
  • Enhance the safety of the traveling public by managing the scene, informing the public of the incident in real-time, and restoring traffic flow quickly to reduce the likelihood of secondary collisions
  • Improve the reliability of the transportation system by clearing lane-blocking incidents quickly
  • Strengthen the communication, coordination, and collaboration between response partners

TIM stakeholders include state and local transportation departments, traffic management centers, fire and rescue, law enforcement, emergency medical services, 911 dispatch, towing, hazardous material clean up crews, and media. Each of these partners has a crucial role to play in detecting, responding to, and clearing incident scenes.

TIM strategies require an ongoing commitment of resources and funding, and therefore, demand frequent strategic planning.

Stakeholders typically identify strategies and improvements within the following functional areas:

  • Stakeholder coordination
  • Policies and regulations
  • Technology needs and monitoring
  • Traveler information needs and methods
  • Performance measurement and evaluation
  • Responder training

TIM Coordination: Joint Operations Group

A Joint Operations Group (JOG) is a type of coordinated response team that brings together representatives from different organizations and agencies to plan and execute responses to an emergency or other significant event. JOGs are often used in situations where multiple agencies or organizations have a role to play, such as natural disasters, major incidents, or large-scale planned events. By working together, the members of the JOG can share information, resources, and expertise, and coordinate their efforts to respond to the situation effectively. A significant element of work for JOG participants is predetermining routes for detours that may be necessary for a given situation and help ensure local routes can safely handle the impacts. JOGs are typically led by a WSDOT, Washington State Patrol (WSP) , and local agency partners, who are responsible for overseeing the response and ensuring that all activities are coordinated and aligned with the overall objectives.

JOG’s are established by a Joint Operations Policy Statement (JOPS) that is signed by WSP, WSDOT, and the Washington Fire Chief (WFC). The JOPS documents joint policy positions between the agencies regarding issues of mutual interest in the operations of state highways and ferries. The JOPS can be found at the link below.

Common Operation Picture

A common operation picture (COP) is a continuously updated overview of an incident compiled throughout an incident's life cycle from data shared between integrated communication, information management, and intelligence and information sharing systems. The goal of a COP is real-time situational awareness across all levels of incident management and across jurisdictions.

When to use this strategy

Coordinating traffic incident management makes sense everywhere because incidents can occur anywhere and multiple agencies have roles managing the incident. Collaborating and coordinating before the incident ensures the collaborating agencies manage the scene safely and work well together.

Strategy benefits:

  • Allows each of the collaborating agencies to focus on what they do best

What you need in order to implement

Policy needs:

Many policies apply for an effective TIM program:

  • Departments of transportation and law enforcement must set mutual assistance agreements
  • Instant towing policies allow dispatchers to send tow trucks at the same time as responders are dispatched

Specific laws that enable a more effective program:

  • Move Over Laws require drivers to move over a lane and not travel in the lane adjacent to the responder vehicle, or to reduce their speed to under the speed limit
  • Removal Laws allow law enforcement to remove vehicles or debris, or direct a driver to do so if the incident is blocking traffic
  • Move It Laws require drivers involved in an incident to remove their vehicle from the travel lanes if there are no serious injuries

Planning needs:

It is critical to prepare a TIM strategic plan that identifies the vision, goals, and objectives of the program and aligns them with regional planning goals.

The TIM strategic plan may also identify:

  • Collaboration with stakeholders and partners to identify roles and responsibilities
  • Policies and regulations needed to support the TIM goals
  • Strategies to inform the traveling public in real-time
  • Technologies and strategies that improve safety for responders and the traveling public
  • Documentation needs for performance metrics
  • A plan for ongoing stakeholder outreach and responder training

The strategic plan may also Identify and monitor performance measures, such as:

  • Duration the roadway is closed
  • Duration to clear the incident
  • Number of responders trained
  • Time of key incident milestones (for example, the time it took to arrive on scene, time it took to establish traffic control, time to transport injured persons, etc.)
  • Number of secondary collisions

Coordination needs:

  • Requires active and ongoing coordination between law enforcement, transportation departments, and the responder community including after action reviews/debriefs to continually identify areas for improvement
  • Traffic Management Center (TMC)/Dispatch Center to monitor conditions and coordinate response

Learn more about this strategy

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Organizing and Planning for Operations, Traffic Incident Management.

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Emergency Transportation Operations, Traffic Incident Management (TIM).

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Best Practices in Traffic Incident Management, September 2010.

U.S. Department of Transportation’s Intelligent Transportation System (ITS) Knowledge Resource website (regularly updated with the latest studies documenting TIM benefits).

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) Traffic Incident Management Handbook, January 2010 (PDF). 

Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices, 2009 Edition, Chapter 6I.

Works Cited:

(1) National Unified Goal introduced in 2007 by the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition (NTIMC) (PDF).

(2) Washington State Department of Transportation (WSDOT) Incident Response Program

About key characteristics

Location notes:

Because traffic incidents can happen on highways anywhere, effective policies, collaboration, and management apply for any location with a traffic incident and multiple stakeholders.

Cost notes:

Costs to implement traffic incident management are mid-range, but it also requires ongoing funding to support strategic planning, as well as response equipment, tools, and training.

Technology notes:

The primary challenge in implementing an effective TIM program is collaboration amongst the responder community and the technology that it requires. Technology plays a key role in many aspects of incident response from incident detection and recovery to performance monitoring.

Collaboration notes:

Collaboration is high because there are many agencies involved in traffic incident management and a coordinated response is required to be effective.