National Special Security Events: Transportation Checklists

Officials in Washington, D.C., have completed their hosting responsibilities for the 2013 Inauguration of President Obama, which was held on 21 January 2013. Second-term inaugurations often do not draw the same sized crowds as the first term; therefore, a repeat of the1.8 million people who attended the 20 January 2009 event was not expected. However, using the lessons learned from the 2009 inauguration (as well as other events), Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) had created a service plan, special fares, and fees to support an estimated 500,000 to 800,000 participants traveling to and from the inauguration activities. The estimate was correct. According to WMATA, the Metrorail ridership totaled 779,787 – about 70 percent of the number of passengers reported on Inauguration Day in 2009.

Regardless of the actual number of participants, special events of national significance – for example, presidential inaugurations, presidential nominating conventions, major sports events such as the Super Bowl, and major international meetings such as G-20 Summits – are designated as National Special Security Events (NSSEs). Although all special events require advance planning, attention to security and safety issues, and coordination among all agencies involved, NSSEs require additional considerations, including the U.S. Secret Service being designated as the lead agency responsible for the operational security of the events.

Checking for Transportation Concerns 

Approximately 40 NSSEs were held between September 1998 and the end of 2012. In addition to larger cities like Washington, D.C., New York, N.Y., and Chicago, Ill., that are accustomed to managing major events, smaller cities including Denver, Colo., Tampa, Fla., Pittsburgh, Pa., and St. Paul, Minn., also have hosted these security events. As the frequency of NSSEs increases, more cities across the country are likely to host these events in the years to come and, in most cases, the transportation systems for those jurisdictions will be affected.

Checklists are invaluable to those involved in the public safety aspects of major events, as emphasized in Kay Goss’s 13 June 2012 article entitled, “Special Events: Pre-Event Planning Checklists.” Appropriately designed checklists can also assist transportation planners and operators who have to develop, implement, and manage the transportation plans – including a range of activities such as the halting of work at a construction site – for special events, which can be a daunting task without the proper training. In order to assist those planners and operators, the U.S. Department of Transportation (USDOT), Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), produced the 2011 report, “National Special Security Events: Transportation Planning for Planned Special Events.”

The 2011 report includes a series of checklists that focus on three specific phases of the event: (a) Pre-NSSE Planning and Preparedness; (b) Day-of-the-NSSE Execution; and (c) Post-NSSE Review/After Action. Those checklists are based in large part on two previously published FHWA documents, the 2006 “Planned Special Events: Checklists for Practitioners,” and the 2003 “Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook.” The 2006 document offers users a number of very detailed checklists that can be adjusted to incorporate the greater demands that planners are likely to encounter for NSSEs.

A Planning Overview 

In addition to the checklists, the 2011 report provides state departments of transportation (DOTs) – as well as local transportation, public works, and law enforcement agencies responsible for planning and executing transportation for NSSEs – with a transportation overview, including but not limited to:

  • Lessons learned from previous NSSEs;
  • Transportation-focused case studies of two NSSEs;
  • A playbook thatentifies key transportation activities for an NSSE;
  • An NSSE fact sheet;
  • A template that provides information about an NSSE to appropriate groups in both the planning and implementation phases of these events; and
  • A resource directory.

The planning and implementation of an NSSE can be overwhelming, so the FHWA Office of Operations’ Traffic Incident and Events Management Team offers peer-to-peer sessions – Traffic Incident Management/Planned Special Events (TIM/PSE) Peer-to-Peer Program – to assist agencies in better preparing their transportation operations for such events. The TIM/PSE Peer-to-Peer program offers both webinars and organized one- or two-day sessions to help planners prepare for local NSSEs. During those sessions, the transportation peers have the opportunity to share information, accomplishments, and lessons learned from the field, and help one another overcome operational challenges that transportation planners often face.

Transportation is a key component for any NSSE. Very often, the success of any planned special event depends in large part on the planning and implementation of the transportation plans. In fact, the length of time needed and/or expected to get to and from the event may determine the perceived level of enjoyment experienced by the attendees. The checklists, publications, and tools provided by FHWA help ensure that both the preparation for and implementation of the plans include all critical partners – from within the agency and from other agencies at all levels of government, private-sector organizations, or volunteers – and are performed in the spirit of coordination and collaboration.


For additional information on: FHWA, September 2003, “Managing Travel for Planned Special Events Handbook,” visit

FHWA, October 2006, “Planned Special Events: Checklists for Practitioners,” visit

FHWA, May 2011, “National Special Security Events: Transportation Planning for Planned Special Events,” visit

FHWA’s peer-to-peer program, including how to apply for peer assistance to answer transportation questions, visit

Kay Goss, 13 June 2012, “Special Events: Pre-Event Planning Checklists,” visit

WMATA, 11 October 2012, “Approval of Special Service & Fares for 2013 Inauguration Day,” visit

Laurel J. Radow

Laurel J. Radow is an American Astronomical Society Solar Eclipse Task Force (AAS SETF) member and co-chair of the AAS Local Planning Working Group. She joined the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA), U.S. Department of Transportation in 1996. From 2004 until her retirement at the end of 2016, she served as a member of the FHWA Office of Operation’s Traffic Incident and Events Management Team. In that capacity, she served as program manager for the agency’s Evacuations/Emergencies and Planned Special Events programs and managed a range of Traffic Incident Management tasks. From 2014-2016, she served as vice chair of the National Academy of Sciences Transportation Research Board’s (TRB) Standing Committee on Critical Transportation Infrastructure Protection (AMR10). She recently completed her second and final term as chair of the same committee. In addition to co-chairing the TRB at the October 2018 Resiliency Conference (T-RISE), she also served as guest managing editor for the TR News September/October 2021 Issue no. 335, “State of Emergency: What Transportation Learned from 9/11.”



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