EIIP Virtual Forum Presentation — May 28, 2008

Emergency Transportation Operations Update
New Resources for Public Information, Evacuations, and Planned Events

Kimberly C. Vásconez
Team Leader, Emergency Transportation Operations Team
Federal Highway Administration, U.S. Department of Transportation

Amy Sebring
EIIP Moderator

The following version of the transcript has been edited for easier reading and comprehension. A raw, unedited transcript is available from our archives. See our home page at http://www.emforum.org

[Welcome / Introduction]

Amy Sebring: Good morning/afternoon/evening everyone. On behalf of Avagene and myself, welcome to the Virtual Forum! We are glad you could join us today. As you know, the official start of hurricane season is upon us which involves a number of transportation related issues. During September 2006 we presented a session which focused on evacuation planning with the Federal Highway Administration's Emergency Transportation Operations (ETO) Team.

There is a link on today's Background Page to that earlier program. Since that session, the ETO has accomplished a great deal in terms of planning and guidance, and we decided it was time for an update.

A theme that runs through all these efforts is the need for regional coordination between emergency management and transportation professionals, so we have a new poll on our home page, "Do you coordinate with regional transportation planners?" (Yes, No, Who?). This is an unscientific poll, but if you have not voted yet, please do so later. You can also see the results thus far.

Unfortunately, it turned out that Laurel Radow could not be with us today after all. She sends her apologies; however, hopefully Kim Vásconez will be able to respond to your questions regarding evacuation or planned special events, or put you in touch with Laurel as needed.

Kimberly C. Vásconez serves as the Emergency Transportation Operations (ETO) Team Leader in the Office of Operations at USDOT/Federal Highway Administration in Washington, DC. With 19 years of experience in a variety of areas that required knowledge of emergency transportation and traffic management, she assumed her current position in late February 2006, after spending one year with FHWA's Office of International Programs as the Global Technology Exchange Team Leader.

Ms. Vásconez transferred to FHWA in 2005 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), where she served almost 14 years in a variety of capacities. At FEMA, she developed the National Urban Search and Rescue (US&R) capability and managed their use in the field for Hurricane Andrew, Northridge earthquake and Oklahoma City bombing responses. She also developed and managed the Federal Disaster Logistics System, a program that grew from no resources to one averaging $20M per annum.

Please see the Background Page for further biographical details, and you may want to check out the podcast interview with Kim for additional brief remarks [http://www.emforum.org/podcasts/080527.htm]

Welcome back Kim, and thank you for being with us today. I now turn the floor over to you to start us off please.


Kim Vásconez: Thank you Amy. Good afternoon or morning, depending upon where you live! Only two days left until the official start of the 2008 Hurricane season for the Atlantic coastal areas and islands. However, the Hurricane season for the Pacific is already underway. The National Hurricane Center is already sending out notices. I am here to tell you about some exciting new guidance that we've produced through the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) to help State and local jurisdictions develop their disaster plans.

In addition to Highway Evacuation and Traffic Planning for Special Events, we also cover Traffic Incident Management, National Incident Management System for transportation professionals, and other disaster and emergency transportation operations planning.

Our primary audience comprises representatives from State and local departments of transportations, State Police, Fire and Rescue, Emergency Medical Services, and emergency managers. I want you to know that Laurie and I are emergency managers by profession and experience.

I had the privilege of speaking on this webinar in September 2006 about the Department of Transportation's Study of Gulf State Evacuation plans. This study was Congressionally-mandated and was conducted in concert with the Department of Homeland Security, which was conducting its own plan review, known as the National Plan Review. Through these efforts, the Federal Highway Administration identified gaps that it could fill that would aid State and local planners improve evacuation and other disaster plans.

We hope that you will walk away from this session with knowledge about new planning tools, ideas on how to integrate transportation tools into your response plans and operations, and a renewed commitment to include your DOTs as key planning and operations partners.

We will begin this session by talking about a new document that has generated some interest among the emergency management community, specifically Communicating with the Public Using Advance Traveler Information Systems (ATIS) During a Disaster: A Guide for Practitioners.

This document provides advice on using ATIS during disasters and is intended not only for State and local transportation agencies, but also for their partners in public safety and emergency management agencies. It offers practical guidance to managers of transportation management centers (or TMCs) and emergency operations centers (EOCs) and related public information officers who may be called on to staff joint information centers during disasters.

Advanced Traveler Information Systems, or ATIS, can play an important role in communicating essential information to the public during disasters. Variable message signs (VMS), 511 telephone systems, highway advisory radio (HAR), and websites are some of the dissemination devices of systems that collect, process, and disseminate information about travel conditions to the public for day-to-day transportation operations, and these same systems need to be effectively used during disaster situations.

The document discusses what we know about human behavior in disaster situations based on findings from several decades of research. That perspective can help in maximizing the effectiveness of traveler information communications.

The current use of traveler information in managing normal incidents and planned special events is examined as a starting point for gauging the processes and technologies that are in place today. Five case studies of actual disasters in Georgia, California, Nevada, Utah, and Washington State show the role that traveler information has played in current practice and provide lessons for others.

A concept of operations is presented that characterizes the flow of information among the people, organizations, and technologies comprising traveler information dissemination during disasters. To maximize the benefit of ATIS as a tool for communicating with the public during disasters, a local strategy should be developed.

A toolkit for organizing and conducting a strategy workshop is provided in this document as a starting point. A workshop that encompasses all the key stakeholders can acquaint them with currently available ATIS assets, potential future enhancements, and each agency's role in ensuring that ATIS is an important tool for helping the public when disaster strikes.

Currently, the following areas use ATIS tools for incidents and to manage planned events:

• Colorado DOT VMS, HAR, website, 511

• Florida DOT, District 5: VMS, 511, website, wireless devices, radio and television media

• Maricopa County DOT Partners with Arizona DOT on use of VMS, 511, and website

• Nebraska DOT VMS, 511, website, radio and television media

• Oregon DOT: 511, extensive website, radio and television media including cable TV, HAR, VMS, developing application to send information to wireless devices

• Texas DOT: HAR, VMS, website, wireless devices, radio and television media, e-mail alerts

• Wisconsin DOT Extensive HAR, VMS, radio and television media, website, telephone ATIS Service (800-ROADWIS)

The document also includes five case studies demonstrating effective use of ATIS during different types of incidents. They include: South Salt Lake City, Utah (Leaking rail tank car near I-15 & I-80); Rockdale County, Georgia (Warehouse fire involving chlorine product near I-20); San Diego County and City, California (Major wildfire known as Cedar Fire); Clark County, Nevada (Snow avalanches in winter resort area and flood in Moapa Valley); and Seattle/Olympia Washington (Nisqually Earthquake [Magnitude 6.8] in Puget Sound Area).

In addition, FHWA is working on a project that will demonstrate how to connect and use traffic information gathered at Traffic Management Centers (TMC) within the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) and Fusion Center (FC) environments. This document will be published in mid-July and will include the type of information available from Intelligent Transportation System feeds into the TMCs, how to package this information for use by the EOC or FC, how to harden ITS equipment to withstand weather or man-made incidents, and training of TMC, EOC and FC plans staff members to be able to integrate and share information among the three facilities.

After Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many modeling companies approached emergency management agencies claiming that they had a product that was a panacea to evacuation planning. We, at the U.S. DOT, received several inquiries about the products. We felt that rather than develop yet another product, that information on the strengths and weaknesses of modeling products would benefit the planning and response communities, and we are finishing an Evacuation Modeling Assessment project.

The first part of the project was completed last fall and involves describing the strengths and weaknesses of using decision support models in planning evacuation routes. The next product will include case studies of how these models have been used successfully. It should be available this fall.

To be able to capture lessons learned from disaster operations that will support emergency managers, public safety organizations and DOTs, FHWA established an interagency agreement with the USFA. This will be used to conduct joint research and after-action reviews on disasters with significant transportation components where a Traffic Incident response evolved into a disaster response. An example of this type of event would be the Minneapolis bridge collapse.

This year, we continued work on our Routes to Effective Evacuations Primer Series, releasing our second document, "Using Highways for No-Notice Evacuations," in January 2008. This follows the release of the "Using Highways during Evacuation Operations for Events with Advance Notice." These primers aid local and State planners maximize the highway network and transportation tools and capabilities in evacuation plans and operations for their communities, States or regions.

The third and final installment in the series will focus on Evacuating Populations with Special Mobility Needs. We have a final draft and will release it soon. The final primer will summarize information in the other primers that touch on moving populations with special transportation needs. It will provide findings, lessons learned and best practices that aid in developing evacuation plans for those with special movement requirements, including the elderly, those with medical conditions, transit-dependent populations, pets and service animals, and people being held by law enforcement officials.

To support the dissemination of knowledge found in these primers FHWA continues to conduct a series of Evacuation Workshops. These have been offered in specific regions and are based on invitations to members State DOTs, transit agencies, EMAs, Police and Fire and Rescue services. These workshops teach the material in the primers and use a region specific scenario to talk through how to evacuation populations. Future workshops will also incorporate "Populations with Special Mobility Needs" concerns.

In addition, we are producing a training course titled "Principles of Evacuations" that will be available later this year as an on-line course and an automated checklist for evacuations that may be used in the TMC, EOCs or Fusion Centers.

We also have several more specialized FHWA-produced documents that you may be interested in. I encourage you to visit our publications Website to see what is available. http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/opssecurity/evac_plan_doc_flyer/index.htm

We believe that emergency managers can learn and apply much from FHWA's Traffic Planning for Special Events work. Our philosophy is that the better prepared you are for a planned event, the better prepared you'll be for an unplanned event. You can find the following documents on the website:

Managing Travel for Planned Special Events (PSEs) Executive Summary: This document is for decision makers and senior officials who must be familiar with Planned Special Events (PSEs) and must provide safe travel to and from these events; the value of regional collaboration; and the merits of local, county and/or state agencies from transportation, transit, public safety, and private sector partners working together in planning and implementing these events. Drawn in part from the handbook, this summary also covers cost recovery and focuses on the Decision Maker's Responsibility to Community and the Stakeholder Challenges and Goals.

Managing Travel for Planned Special Events (PSEs) Handbook: This handbook presents and recommends policies, regulations, planning and operations processes, impact mitigation strategies, equipment and personnel resources, and technology applications used in the advance planning, management, and monitoring of travel for planned special events.

Planned Special Events: Checklists for Practitioners: These 6 checklists are for event-specific planning for planned special event (PSE) travel management. These checklists follow the order in which the topics are presented in chapters 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, and 10 of the FHWA handbook, Managing Travel for PSEs. Each list provides common, sequential steps for plans and activities that practitioners may use for most significant PSEs, regardless of event area.

All of the documents discussed, plus several others of use to disaster planning may be found on a CD that we just released a week ago, titled "The Best of Public Safety and ETO." [See http://www.its.dot.gov/its_publicsafety/index.htm]

We have also established an ETO Channel on the DHS Lessoned Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) system. This channel includes not only FHWA publications but a myriad of publications on various ETO topics that were submitted by other Federal, State, tribal, and local departments and agencies. We established this channel to ensure that our publications could be found on sites typically used by our non-traditional partners in emergency management and public safety.

We appreciate your interest in this topic and look forward to questions you may have.

Amy Sebring: Thank you Kim. Now, to proceed to your questions or comments.

[Audience Questions & Answers]

Steve McGee: Is there "DOT connecting" between your effort and U.S. Department of Transportation Intelligent Transportation Systems Next Generation 9-1-1: http://www.e-911ico.gov/ ?

Kim Vásconez: Steve, there is a connection. Many of the products are done jointly with the ITS group; however, we are starting to explore the connectivity and use of the NG-911 system with our Traffic Incident Management and Disaster ETO programs.

Anthony Mangeri: Hi Amy and Kim. I have been looking into public transportation planning guidance. I do not know if it comes out of FHWA But what is available and up to date for planning for public transportation? I am concerned as it relates to evacuation, preparedness and the role of Public Transit in evacuation modeling, given the value in mass evacuation and route management.

Kim Vásconez: We work closely with Federal Transit Administration and can provide you with a list of their publications. They have a very active Emergency Transportation effort. If you can provide me with your email address, I'll get you a contact and list of their publications. [See is http://transit-safety.volpe.dot.gov/Emergency/emerman.asp and http://transit-safety.volpe.dot.gov/Emergency/emerman.asp]

Anthony, we are addressing the modeling tools used for evacuations in the project I described earlier. This also looks at using mass transit. The CD has the first study on it, and the next one may be found on our website in August.

Tucker Husband: Do you have best practices for "credentialing" (ID/badging programs) into a major urban medical area (doctors, nurses, others associated) when masses of people are trying to evacuate?

Kim Vásconez: Tucker, our group has not dealt with credentialing for the purposes you are discussing. In my past life with FEMA, I'm very aware of the issue. However, the transportation community is looking at credentialing through a program called SHRP II with the American Association of State Transportation Officials (AASHTO) and the Transportation Research Board.

Ray Pena: Thanks. Is there information available about the Evacuation Workshops you mentioned-locations, dates, costs, etc.?

Kim Vásconez: I can provide information about the Evacuation Workshops. The next one will be held in Richmond on June 2-3 for Mid-Atlantic and Southeast States in preparation for hurricane season 2008. We will be conducting one for the Mid-West States in Chicago in the September timeframe, and this will deal with hazmat, no-notice evacuations. Please contact me if you are not covered or are interested in attending one.

Avagene Moore: With the hurricane season ahead, I am glad to hear about the planning and training on evacuation. However, I read this morning about a community in TX where a large percentage of the public does not want to evacuate primarily because of the traffic jams on evacuation routes. How much attention is being paid to public education as part of planning for this hurricane season?

Kim Vásconez: Good question. We have monitored evacuation efforts, operations and actions as a part of our day-to-day jobs. Many State and local jurisdictions are getting the word out that evacuations save lives; however, the reluctance to evacuate is very real. We are talking with FEMA about how to get the word out. FEMA is the lead Federal Agency for mass evacuation and is using our documentation in their planning guidance to State and locals.

Steve McGee: Have you been leveraging the Boston University’s Project Beacon traffic congestion project? The Boston Indicators Project - Research @ Transportation supported by Northeastern University's Center for Urban Research and Planning. System performance including traffic congestion trends in 85 urban areas. http://www.bostonindicators.org/IndicatorsProject/Transportation/Content.aspx?id=800

Kim Vásconez: We are looking at that project as part of our Traffic Incident Management program. Our TIM program is our tie into the USDOT's Congestion Initiative. Also, one of our program managers is a former state trooper from Massachusetts, so we look at every thing from MA!

Amy Sebring: The course you mentioned Kim, "Principles of Evacuations," will that be available during this year's hurricane season?

Kim Vásconez: Unfortunately, it will not be available this hurricane season. It is on a fast track for development, but should be ready for post-hurricane season planning efforts.

Amy Sebring: Kim, if somebody in a local region wanted to find the right transportation folks to include in their planning, how should they go about it?

Kim Vásconez: Good question! You are right about looking for the right person. In general, approach the local DOT office and ask for an operations specialist or leadership from a Transportation Management Center. If you don't get the right person, you won't know about the myriad of tools at your disposal. That's what happened to me when I was at FEMA. I didn't learn about all of the capability until I came to USDOT.

Amy Sebring: Speaking of which, could you tell us a little more about what resources the Transportation Management Center may have that will be of use?

Kim Vásconez: The Transportation Management Center is similar to the Emergency Operations Centers. They have camera feeds into it from the traffic cams. This gives you good ground truth and damage information. Many were upgraded in post 9-11 era with DHS funding to include secure communications and connectivity with EOCs. Many are also integrated with the law enforcement Computer Aided Dispatch systems so that the transportation community has immediate knowledge of a traffic accident and information on police & fire activity. Our new study will outline all of the capabilities.

Amy Sebring: Is any progress being made on real time traffic counts during evacuations in terms of technology?

Kim Vásconez: There is some modeling and traffic analysis work being done. I will have to get you a status update from the program managers, who do work in our office, the FHWA Office of Operations.

Ray Pena: Comment on Ava’s question and Kim’s reply: No matter how much education, there will still be people who will stay behind because they see hurricanes as opportunities rather than as hazards. Emergency managers in evacuation situations must assure that the only people left are there of their own volition.

Kim Vásconez: Good point Ray. There was a study published by Harvard University that outlined the reasons for this behavior. You will never get everyone to leave for a variety of reasons, so law enforcement officials and other public safety officials need to focus on helping those that do, even during a mandatory evacuation. We have a link to the Harvard study on our website. [See http://www.hsph.harvard.edu/news/press-releases/2007-releases/press07242007.html]

Anthony Mangeri: Can you provide some information regarding the integration of ADA requirements and special needs preparedness into transportation evacuation studies. The impact of the ADAG’s and best practices?

Kim Vásconez: The next primer that we do focuses on the ADA requirements and will provide good practices and the impact. If you need the document in advance, let me know and I can send you a draft.

Steve Elliott: Kim - what did your research find regarding the levels of political cooperation - between large single tier municipalities and neighbouring County governments and/or smaller rural municipalities - when it came to evacuating people on routes through their respective jurisdictions? I suspect its more than just public education and/or exercising. Do the Case Studies look at these issues?

Kim Vásconez: Thanks, Steve. Yes, there are many problems in cooperation at the neighboring jurisdiction and even State levels, as we found following Katrina. One example is when an Amtrak train tried to offload evacuees to a shelter and the jurisdiction wouldn't allow the offload. However, we discuss this and good practices in our primers; and the jurisdiction-to-jurisdiction and State-to-State cooperation is a large part of our Evacuation Workshops.

Avagene Moore: Follow up to my evacuation question - I can understand reluctance to be part of traffic gridlock in a massive evacuation. Is there reason for the masses to believe that evacuation will be smoother since the Katrina experience? Why?

Kim Vásconez: Ava, very good question. During mass evacuations, I cannot say how comfortable or smoother they will be since Katrina. We are working to support FEMA in their efforts to address mass evacuations. However, the good news is that the expertise on evacuations lies at the local and somewhat at the State levels. Most evacuation operations occur for floods, storms, but not tropical storms. Fires are the largest causes. An evacuation of 1,000 or more people happens every 2-3 weeks in this country. The Feds will never be able to improve evacuations dramatically due to our lack of experience vis-a-vis the locals, which is why we hope to see more peer-to-peer work on this topic and hope to help facilitate it.

Amy Sebring: Kim, since your last visit you published the Primer on No Notice evacuations. Can you point out a couple of the highlights of that document and the way it differs from those with lead times? What are key issues, e.g.?

Kim Vásconez: Thanks, Amy. No or little notice events cause many challenges. For example planning and decision making lead times are cut dramatically and your first responders--those who carry out the evacuations--may be victims and that won't be known immediately. Jurisdictions need to weigh the benefits of shelter in place in these situations. For example, aftershocks of earthquakes kill many who are fleeing their homes (e.g., Mexico City study 1985). These situations require pre-identification of those with special needs and immediate feedback on conditions.

Avagene Moore: Kim, switching gears a bit: Tennessee law now states we must move over for law enforcement and emergency vehicles on the side of the road. This occurred after a few deadly accidents in our state. Is this aspect of transportation safety a national policy now or does it vary from state to state?

Kim Vásconez: Thanks for helping me promote our Traffic Incident Management program, Avagene! States have their own laws for Move Over, Driver Removal, etc. However, we are engaging in a campaign under our Safe, Quick Clearance project under our TIM program, to get all States to adopt Move Over. This involves changing behaviors since people have been taught to leave their vehicles in the road for insurance purposes and documentation. However, not moving over puts motorists and responders at risk, so we are working with AASHTO and other partners under the National Unified Goal of Traffic Incident Management (TIM) to adopt Move Over.

Amy Sebring: I believe it is related but USFA/DOT just announced a recently published Traffic Incident Management Study. (See https://www.usfa.dhs.gov/downloads/pdf/publications/tims_0408.pdf). Did your program work on that one Kim?

Kim Vásconez: Yes we did; actually, we paid for the study. We do work very closely with the USFA on a variety of issues. They are members of our National TIM Coalition.


Amy Sebring: Let's wrap it up for today. Thank you very much Kim for an excellent job once again and we appreciate your time and effort.

Kim Vásconez: Thank you!

Amy Sebring: Please stand by just a moment while we make a couple of quick announcements. If you are not on our mailing list and would like to get notices of future sessions and availability of transcripts, just go to our home page to Subscribe.

Before we adjourn, please take a moment now, or after you review the transcript to Rate today's session and/or write a review or post your comments. You can access the form either from today's Background Page or from our home page. If you do not have time to write a short review or comment, then please just take a moment to do the rating. It should take less than a minute, and will assist future visitors to our site to find useful information.

Please join us next time, Wed. June 11th, when we will focus on the collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey and the National Weather Service to provide real time hydrological data used to forecast flooding conditions.

Thanks to everyone for participating today. We stand adjourned but before you go, please help me show our appreciation to Kim for a fine job.