The Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) has been a strong and consistent advocate for traffic incident management (TIM) activities, developing guidance and partnering with agencies and coalitions across the nation. Over time, TIM has developed into best practices involving not only the traditional partners – emergency response and transportation agencies – but to include partners such as towing contractors, coroners, the trucking industry, news media, and the traveling public. Countless agencies and areas in the nation have created coalitions to increase their focus and cooperation on TIM activities.
Despite the significant increase in TIM activities and the amazing work being done by agencies and coalitions across the country, TIM programs have consistently been faced with significant funding challenges. TIM programs can be expensive, and they must compete with other roadway programs for capital and on-going operations funding. To help justify TIM programs, approaches to quantifying the benefits of these programs have evolved over the past several years.
The benefits of TIM programs can be determined using the concept of performance measurement. The General Accounting Office (GAO) defines performance measurement as “…the ongoing monitoring and reporting of program accomplishments, particularly progress towards pre-established goals”(1). FHWA provides a complementary definition as “…the use of statistical evidence to determine progress toward specific defined organizational objectives”(2). Performance measures can be both quantitative and qualitative. In general, a program of performance measurement helps to (a) set goals and objectives, (b) detect and correct problems, (c) manage and improve program processes, and (d) document program accomplishments.
There are a number of benefits of performance measurement for TIM programs. TIM program performance measurement can demonstrate accountability, process efficiency, and improvements over time; improve communications; and support future planning. The development, collection, and analysis of performance measures can assist organizations in realizing these benefits; examples include:
Demonstrating accountability – a TIM program could demonstrate to decision makers how funds spent on expansion of the program resulted in a reduction in overall incident clearance times.
Demonstrating process efficiency – TIM partners could monitor performance outcomes resulting from changes in response strategies to determine which processes result in greater efficiency.
Demonstrating program effectiveness – a TIM program could demonstrate to the public how implementation of a program, such as a freeway service patrol, resulted in a reduction in the clearance of minor incidents.
Improving communications – The need for gathering and organizing data from various organizations could help to improve communications amongst responder groups.
Demonstrating improvements over time – Using performance measures to monitor TIM performance could assist TIM partners in demonstrating their continued improvements from one year to the next.
Supporting future planning – By analyzing TIM performance overall and at more disaggregate levels, an agency could identify certain areas in the region, certain roadways, or certain types of incidents where clearance times are longer as compared to others. This knowledge could lead to the development of tactical ways in which to better respond to incidents in these areas/locations or these particular types of problematic incidents.