Tips for Managing Traffic from an Emergency Operations Center

The Situation
2014 Poinsettia Fire - Carlsbad, CA

In May 2014 wildfires erupted across San Diego County due to a perfect storm of Santa Ana winds and drought conditions. Declared a state of emergency, these fires raged for days. At the height of the firestorm, eight fires burned simultaneously.

At 10:30 AM on May 14th the most destructive of the fires erupted. The Poinsettia Fire forced evacuations of 22,432 homes and businesses throughout the City of Carlsbad. Looking back over a year later, it's evident that the City of Carlsbad was prepared and equipped to handle this large scale evacuation.  

Based on the success achieved by the City of Carlsbad, this special edition of The Source covers tips and things to consider for emergency planning and managing traffic during a disaster. 
Starting TMC Operations from an EOC
Things to consider before the next emergency.

Once the City of Carlsbad released orders to activate its EOC, the City's traffic system operations team (the Team) transitioned into an emergency response team. Thanks to modern technology and the capabilities of the City's central control software, the Team was able to pack up their operations (a single laptop) and get their system up and running quite quickly at the EOC, located 1.5 miles down the road from the TMC.

Other than having a robust central software, here are some other things to consider when starting TMC operations from an EOC: 

What is the plan?
It is important to have an evacuation plan ready and prepared before an emergency occurs. A great way to start a plan is to use, or slightly modify, current peak hour timing plans, as they are designed to move large amounts of people in and out of the city. 

What happens if the TMC loses power or catches fire?
Fires move quickly and change course without much warning so consider redundant communication infrastructure. Since an EOC may be at a different location than the TMC it would be helpful to have a backup server at a separate location from the TMC, and master radios, or perhaps a fiber ring between city facilities.

How will the TMC's network be accessed?
Work through a plan with your city's IT department ahead of time. At the very least, make sure you can virtually connect to the TMC's network. This option may cause for a slow connection but at least you have access. 

How will you transition from a multi-screen TMC to an EOC?
The key is to have a central control software that can be operated from a laptop. If you're able to work off of a laptop you can create a TMC anywhere! Better yet, consider having a projector handy to allow for greater visibility and faster analysis and response times.

Your Takeaway
Make sure your traffic management center can easily be operated from a laptop or other mobile devices, like McCain's QuicNet® central software or Transparity® TMS
Getting the Public Out of Harm's Way
Signal timing adjustments on the fly and your central system's capabilities.

The Team knew that the City of Carlsbad's road systems has a maximum capacity. To avoid a collapse of this system during evacuations, city operators relied heavily on their central control software. 

The Team was able to remotely coordinate phases to favor traffic in critical directions. With accurate displays for major roadways in place, changes could be made quickly with immediate field implementation.

To quickly evacuate people and move them out of harm's way during an emergency, like the Poinsettia Fire, city operators may use their central system software to:
  • Identify/confirm power-outages at intersections 
  • Track intersections operating in police controlled flash 
  • Modify signal timing parameters 
  • Monitor congestion via live video 
  • Reopen intersections remotely

Your Takeaway
Invest in a central software system that allows you to easily adjust signal timing and quickly respond during emergency situations.
Adjusting to the Unknown
Keep lines of communication open.

During the Poinsettia Fire conditions changed moment by moment. To stay up-to-date on the most current information, it was critical that the Team maintained open lines of communication cross-jurisdictionally as well as within the City's EOC. 

Don't let the unknown catch you off-guard, here are three things to help you better prepare:

Fire Perimeter Maps
As fire perimeter maps are released, evacuation areas will change, altering traffic patterns. Keep lines of communication open with all emergency response teams and local jurisdictions. You never know where a helpful tip will come from. 

Flash Mode

Avoid using manual overrides to place the intersection in flash. Once an intersection goes into flash, EOC operators can no longer control the intersection. The best thing is to update police and fire personnel on your city's flash procedures so that they clearly know when to manually override the intersection.

Unidentified Objects
Be prepared to make timing changes on-the-fly in response to field responders placing cones or other objects in the road to direct traffic. Depending on the city's detection methods, a lane that is closed off with signs and cones may be interpreted by the detection system as a lane with a long queue. If field responders identify these changes, city operators can update timing plans accordingly.

Your Take-Away
Keep lines of communication between other emergency response teams open at all times.
The Biggest Take-Away
The number one takeaway is to educate other emergency response teams on your city's TMC and its capabilities. If given the opportunity to understand what is possible, better strategies can be developed to leverage your city's central system.
To all of the traffic management staff, first responders, police officers, and firefighters, thank you for your hard work and sacrifice to keep the public safe during emergencies.
For more information visit 
Don't miss another webinar! 
Sign up to receive notifications.

Like us on Facebook  Follow us on Twitter  View our profile on LinkedIn