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Federal Highway Administration / Publications / Focus / November 2001

Accelerating Infrastructure Innovations

Publication Number: FHWA-RD-02-004
Date: November 2001

September 11 and Beyond: Highway Agencies Respond to Keep America Mobile and Secure

On September 11, 2001, the emergency response plan that the Virginia Department of Transportation (DOT) devised 8 years ago was suddenly no longer just a plan. "Our control center was locked down minutes after the incident in New York City, and our rapid response plan was put into effect," says Steve Mondul, Special Assistant to the Transportation Commissioner. "The DOT's Smart Traffic Center is located near the Pentagon in Arlington," says Mondul. "Center personnel were watching the coverage of New York on TV when the plane came directly overhead and hit the Pentagon. Immediately they dispatched vehicles to the site to assist and offered their building as an evacuation center for military personnel. For 3 days, many of the Pentagon's operations were run out of the Smart Traffic Center."

The Virginia DOT also dispatched several emergency augmentation teams to set up lights and message signs on roads near the Pentagon and help direct the flow of traffic out of Washington, DC, into Northern Virginia. Across the river in Washington, DC, the District Division of Transportation swung into action to facilitate the movement of traffic out of the city. "We're very proud of the work of DC's traffic management on September 11," says Bill Rice, Public Information Officer for the Division of Transportation. "There was certainly gridlock at times, but they were able to empty the downtown area in only 3 hours." This was accomplished by falling back on Y2K planning and training and such measures as changing traffic lights and signals to effectively turn that Tuesday morning into the Tuesday afternoon rush hour.

The New York State DOT also played a vital role in coordinating the movement of traffic in New York City and surrounding areas and assisting in emergency response efforts. This assistance included deploying maintenance personnel, trucks, loaders, and emergency vehicles and equipment to New York City; aiding in debris clearance; and transporting generators and other needed items. New York State DOT personnel also helped staff the State Emergency Operations Centers and the New York City Mayor's Office of Emergency Management.

Across the country, the California DOT moved quickly to facilitate travel in the San Francisco/Oakland area on the 11th, amid rumours that the hijacked plane that eventually would crash in Western Pennsylvania was headed for the Bay area. To move traffic as quickly as possible, all lane restrictions were lifted on the major bridges and roadways in the Bay area. There was also an immediate heightened awareness of security for important transportation structures that has resulted in some important system-wide changes.

"The events of the 11th were a wakeup call for the agency," says Randell Iwasaki, Deputy Director of Maintenance and Traffic Operations at the California DOT. All access points to important transportation structures have been analyzed and secured. Access doors to bridges, for example, have been closed and locked and those not necessary for inspection purposes have been welded shut. The agency has begun to install new, stronger fencing at key access points on major bridges, surveillance cameras have been added, and areas surrounding key structural points have been cleared and secured.

Construction sites in California have also implemented new security measures. All modular buildings and nonessential equipment have been moved away from critical points under bridges, for example. Heavy equipment must now be registered and have the contractor's name prominently displayed, and construction workers are required to have two forms of identification.

The Washington State DOT has also ramped up its security measures. It has set up a working agreement with the State patrol and the Oregon DOT, for example, to monitor major bridges in the region. The Washington State DOT recently published a brochure that is being distributed to employees, The Eyes and Ears, which details how they can play a pivotal role in watching out for suspicious activities and objects on the State's roads and bridges. "They're out there every day. They know what belongs and doesn't belong," says John Conrad, Assistant Secretary for Engineering and Regional Operations at Washington State DOT. The highway agency has also been working since September 11 to facilitate traffic control around military bases in the State and increase security for vehicles and people traveling on ferries in the State. Along with six other State agencies, the DOT serves as a member of the new Governor's Task Force on Terrorism.

In New York State, the DOT has launched a multifaceted campaign to help safeguard transportation system assets and the traveling public. A system-wide vulnerability assessment is underway, as well as an extensive internal audit of information technology security. On the roadways, the number of truck inspections being done per day has nearly doubled and special attention is being given to inspections conducted near border crossings.

Other highway agencies are also taking a new look at their operations. In Washington, DC, the Division of Transportation is bolstering its emergency planning by mapping out evacuation routes for the area, using snow routes as a starting point. And the Virginia DOT has increased inspection of vehicles traveling through tunnels in the State. Highway agencies in DC, Virginia, and Maryland are also working with government and police officials in their regions to better coordinate their emergency efforts. Improvements being considered include links between highway cameras in Maryland, Virginia, and DC, and a new radio system that would allow police and transportation officials across the region to speak directly to each other.

In addition to individual State efforts, protecting transportation assets and public safety nationwide is also the mission of a new Transportation Research Board Task Force on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Protection. The Task Force will study a full range of security issues, including risk assessment, prevention, technology, procedures, and applications. Task force members include representatives from the military, academia, the private sector, State and local highway agencies, and the U.S. Department of Transportation. For more information on the Task Force's activities, visit its Web site at san-antonio.tamu.edu/trba5t56/trba5t56.html.

State Contacts

California DOT

Randell Iwasaki, 916-654-6823 (email: Randell.Iwasaki@dot.ca.gov)

New York State DOT

Melissa Carlson, 518-457-6400 (email: mcarlson@gw.dot.state.ny.us)

Virginia DOT

Steve Mondul, 804-786-2978 (email: smondul@VDOT.state.va.us)

Washington, DC, District Division of Transportation

Bill Rice, 202-673-6813 (email: bill.rice@dc.gov)

Washington State DOT

John Conrad, 360-705-7032 (email: conradj@wsdot.wa.gov)

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Updated: 06/27/2017
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