Traffic Incident Management - Expert Article on the Role of First Responders

In this article, police practices expert Jeff Jannarone describes Traffic Incident Management procedures and the potential dangers that exist for first responders and motorists at the scene of a Traffic Incident.


Traffic Incident Management (TIM) is a planned and coordinated program to detect and remove traffic incidents and optimize roadway capacity as safely and as quickly as possible. A Traffic Incident refers to any event that interrupts the normal flow of vehicle traffic and requires temporary traffic control devices utilized by agencies such as Police, Fire, EMS, and Towing Recovery personnel.

Examples of a traffic incident include vehicle crashes, disabled vehicles, and downed trees on the roadway. Effective Traffic Incident Management (TIM) reduces the duration and impacts of traffic incidents and improves the safety of passing motorists, current crash victims, and emergency responders.

TIM is multi-disciplinary, and can involve the coordination and collaboration of multiple agencies as described above. In a vehicle crash it is likely that law enforcement will respond to redirect traffic and investigate the incident. Emergency medical professionals may respond to treat and transport injured parties. The fire department may respond to address hazards such as fires and extrication. Towing/ recovery personnel may respond to remove disabled vehicles and debris from the roadway.

Effective Traffic Incident Management (TIM)

NFPA 1091: Standard for Traffic Control Incident Management Professional Qualifications was implemented to assist first responders at traffic incident locations. The Traffic Incident Management (TIM) timeline begins when a traffic incident occurs and is completed when roadway conditions return to normal.

When arriving on scene, emergency vehicles need to be properly positioned to protect the responders performing their duties, protect road users traveling through the incident scene, and minimize disruption of traveling motorists as much as practicable. Effective incident management demands a proper traffic control area all with the goal of safe, quick clearance.

The Traffic Control Area is comprised of four distinct divisions:

  1. Advance Warning Area: is the section of roadway where road users are informed about the upcoming emergency incident area. Alerting drivers of the impending incident should be a priority for emergency responders, especially in reduced visibility areas such as hills and corners.
  2. Transition Area: is the section of roadway where drivers are redirected out of their normal path, and responders strategically place temporary traffic control devices such as cones or flares to alert motorists to the roadway travel alteration.
  3. Activity Area: contains the Buffer Space (longitudinal and lateral) and Work/Incident Space.
    • The Buffer Space (longitudinal) separates the transition area from the Incident Space and provides an area for errant vehicles. The Buffer Space (lateral) may require that additional lanes be closed to protect the responders in the Work/Incident Space.
    • The Work/Incident Space is the area where emergency workers perform their duties. A blocking vehicle should be placed at the upstream end of the incident space to protect first responders from the errant vehicle hazards.
  4. Termination Area: is the space used to return road users to their normal path and protects responders working at the downstream end of the incident space. This is also when the responders demobilize and remove the temporary traffic control devices, personnel, and emergency vehicles.


Safe Quick Clearance is an initiative put forth by the Federal Highway Administration. Described on their own site as, “Quick clearance of incidents both large and small is important to reduce traffic congestion and for improving safety for travelers and first responders. Minor incidents can become major incidents when clearance times are increased. The longer the clearance time the longer all parties are exposed to secondary crashes which may create additional injuries.” The Safe Quick Clearance objective strives to open travel lanes of a roadway as safely and quickly as practicable. The realization of these goals can reasonably be achieved through effective Traffic Incident Management.


Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)

One of the leading causes of death and injury for emergency responders is being struck by vehicles while working alongside the highway. Since 2003, more than 59 law enforcement officers, 12 fire and rescue personnel, and 54 highway maintenance personnel have been killed after being struck by vehicles at a traffic incident on a highway.

Section 6D.03 of the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices (MUTCD) establishes standards for responder safety. Due to the vulnerability of responders on or near a roadway, the MUTCD established PPE standards to reduce the risk of accidents and injuries to emergency responders. The MUTCD states that emergency responders who are exposed to traffic in a TTC zone shall wear high-visibility safety apparel. Exceptions occur where the responder already has occupation specific PPE requirements to protect against fire or hazardous materials.

When a traffic incident area is improperly established and motorists and/or emergency responders are not provided adequate protective measures, the hazards associated with vehicles moving through the incident location are increased and the incident location becomes unreasonably dangerous.


The police practices experts at Robson Forensic are frequently tasked with reviewing the adequacy of police department policies and procedures and determining whether they were properly adhered to in relation to law enforcement involvement in a particular incident. The experts who conduct these investigations are active or retired law enforcement officers with decades of experience developing and implementing policies and procedures, as well as training and supervising law enforcement officers.

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