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Publication Number:  FHWA-HRT-05-007    Date:  September/October 2005
Publication Number: FHWA-HRT-05-007
Issue No: Vol. 69 No. 2
Date: September/October 2005


Internet Watch

by Keri A. Funderburg

FHWA Revamps Web Site On Emergency Operations

The transportation network is critical to emergency response. Regardless of whether transportation facilities are directly affected by a disaster, emergency responders rely on the Nation's transportation infrastructure to deliver them to the scene, transport the ill and injured to medical facilities, and move the public out of harm's way. Surprisingly, however, few of the State, local, and regional emergency management plans recently surveyed by the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) fully integrate transportation concerns. According to FHWA, fewer than 50 percent of plans include details on media coordination, traveler information, and asset protection. Only 10 percent address transportation coordination with a nearby emergency operations center. And few utilize intelligent transportation systems. In addition, transportation responders may be unfamiliar with handling terrorist threats or lack training on how to work with other responders under an incident command structure.

To help FHWA maintain its commitment to effectively managing emergencies that affect or take place on or within the U.S. transportation system, the agency's Office of Operations recently updated its "Emergency Transportation Operations" (ETO) Web site at http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/opssecurity/.

A Timely Update

The Web site was developed following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, and was unveiled in June 2003. Aside from the occasional addition of new informational documents, the site had not been updated since its launch. The ETO program, however, has grown significantly during the past 5 years, and program leaders since have learned more about their stakeholders' needs and how other agencies can help meet them.

"A reassessment and reengineering of the Web site was needed to transmit this new knowledge," says Vince Pearce, team leader for the Emergency Transportation Operations Initiative and one of the Web site developers.

The updated site categorizes information and materials according to the components of emergency operations-prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. Emphasizing both theoretical and practical resources, the site includes new tools for assessing a particular network's level of readiness, new references on protecting critical assets, and recently developed guides to improving emergency preparedness and mitigation. The Office of Operations expanded several existing areas of the site, including those that define the role of transportation during disasters and others that explain how to maintain operations during a crisis.

A screenshot of the Office of Operations web site

New Features

According to Pearce, a few user-friendly sections of the site are particularly helpful for planners and other transportation professionals who may be navigating the process of upgrading their emergency operations systems. A "Current News" section provides updates on pertinent legislation, technologies, operational upgrades, and success stories from across the United States. Almost daily, the site managers post new material that they receive from sources including the Transportation Research Board and Risk Management magazine.

The section on preparedness, in particular a subsection on assessments, provides to-the-point tips on determining whether a system will be able to survive a natural disaster, infrastructure malfunction, or terrorist attack. A link to "Additional Resources" contains case studies on transportation systems that were recently affected by emergency situations, including New York City during the August 2003 blackout and Baltimore following the fire in the Howard Street Tunnel on July 18, 2001.

"These case studies are incredibly detailed and provide insight into how surface transportation is impacted by and works during disasters," says Pearce.

A section on funding offers links to information on obtaining funding from agencies such as FHWA and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

To help FHWA stakeholders and other site users understand how the ETO program collaborates with other agencies and programs, the new site features materials that explain the Transportation Security Administration's role in emergency operations and provide information on training and exercises offered by the DHS Office for Domestic Preparedness. Among the briefing materials and background information, DHS provides a full report on its recent Top Officials 3 exercise, a full-scale simulation of a coordinated terrorist attack involving biological and chemical weapons.

In addition, the site provides links to FHWA programs in traffic incident management, planned special events, and regional operations coordination and cooperation. Although these programs do not necessarily involve managing disasters, their Web sites provide information on key concepts-such as institutional coordination-that are necessary for success in emergency transportation operations.

A Tool for Many Stakeholders

In keeping with the spirit of interagency collaboration, the redesigned Web site reflects inputs received from several key groups, including the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' Special Committee on Transportation Security Items, the Intelligent Transportation Society of America's Public Safety Advisory Group, and the National Traffic Incident Management Coalition. Further, the site's basic structure and many of its features echo the ETO program's coordination with DHS regarding several key presidential directives on homeland security, such as management of domestic incidents and critical infrastructure identification, prioritization, and protection.

Although FHWA updated the site with State and local emergency operations and transportation security officials in mind, Pearce notes that a broad spectrum of users are accessing the site, including consultants and representatives from public safety and emergency management agencies.

For more information, visit http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/opssecurity/, or contact Vince Pearce at 202-366-1548 or vince.pearce@fhwa.dot.gov.

Keri A. Funderburg is a contributing editor for PUBLIC ROADS.




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