Tuesday, March 29, 2011

DavisLogic - Blogging on Emergency Management: What is an EOC information management system?

DavisLogic Blog: What is an EOC information management system?

What is an EOC information management system?

What is an Emergency Operations Center (EOC) information management system?  With all of the talk about the use of Social Media in Emergency Management and the use of new technologies for "Situational Awareness" and a "Common Operating Picture" it is important to remember the basics.  After all, EOC management is all about information and resource management. So I thought I would share a summary of EOC information management issues that we recently prepared.

The EOC needs an effective information management system to work.

The following problems are often seen at all EOC levels:

  • Activation takes place after the fact resulting in a “catch up” process.
  • Lack of good and complete information at the beginning.
  • Possible loss or degraded communications capability.
  • Possible loss or late arrival of key, trained staff.
  • Often a shortfall of resources available to meet demands.
  • Lack of inter-agency coordination.

Information management is the essence and key to successful EOC operations. 

It is the EOC Planning Section's responsibility to establish and operate the EOC information management system so that they and everyone else in the EOC understands:

  • What is going on: What are the existing and emerging threats?
  • What are the locations and types of damage and injuries?
  • What new incidents are occurring?
  • What is like to happen in the future?
  • What is being done about it: What ongoing incident response is taking place?
  • Are the incidents stable or growing in magnitude?
  • Resource management and accountability: What resources are committed and where?
  • What resources are available and not committed? What resource needs are unmet?

EOC information management is a process that collects information from a variety of sources, uses multiple methods and tools to manage message flow in the EOC, documents vital information about EOC operations, and analyzes and displays information in useful ways to assure everyone in the EOC maintains a common operating picture.

An efficient EOC information management system will allow planning staff to quickly:
  • Determine probable disaster impacts, identify incident goals and objectives for the current and for the next operational period, and develop EOC Incident Action Plans (IAPs) and deadlines to meet incident goals and objectives. 
  • Determine the geographic scope of the incident(s) and layout of deployed response assets, impact on governmental and critical infrastructure facilities, boundaries, resource locations, and personnel assigned. 
  • Prioritize requests for scarce resources and make decisions on who gets those scarce resources. 
  • Determine the appropriate staffing for the Planning Section and effectively manage the wide range of functions (units) that fall under this section. 
  • Maintain a common operating picture (COP) for everyone in the EOC. 
  • Deploy damage assessment teams and incorporate damage assessment team information into the situation analysis. 
  • Provide continual updates on changing situations and resource availability so that a common operating picture is maintained in the EOC.

Remember, it is the Planning Section's responsibility to establish and operate the EOC information management system so that they and everyone else in the EOC.

Is your EOC Plans Section organized and prepared to handle all of the planning function tasks?

Special thanks to my business partner Rick LaValla for his thoughts on this topic.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

DavisLogic - Blogging on Emergency Management: Is E-Mail Still the King of Social Media?

DavisLogic - Blogging on Emergency Management: Is E-Mail Still the King of Social Media?

Is E-Mail Still the King of Social Media?

I just realized that our "Emergency Management Mail List" (a Yahoo! Group) is now over ten years old! It made me think about the importance of e-mail as a medium and how far we have come from the early start of communication across the Internet and where things stand now...
First, about this 10 year milestone:  I have been so busy that I missed our list's birthday (it was actually back on Feb 17th). In the ten years (and a month) since our start in February of 2001, we have shared almost 20,000 messages among our group of over 2,300 emergency management professionals. 
Milestones, such as ten year anniversaries, are a time for reflection and thanksgiving.
My reflections include remembering back to when I had more time to do things like starting up a mail list. And also back to the early days of the Internet and how much things have changed.  And that, how now, in a day of Tweets, Blogs, and Facebook pages, e-mail is still the king in communication in my book.

The difference between e-mail, which I think of as the second "social media" tool after Usenet, (I just dated myself -_-) and the "new social media" is that, as a push technology, it always gets to the intended recipient. You do not need to go look for it, it comes to you. That makes it a bit of a chore to read e-mails but unlike our "feeds" and "streams" where we might see only a few recent postings, we actually get around to reading all of our e-mail (eventually). 
I also want to thank all of you who contribute to the discussion and share information -- that is what the list is all about. In particular, I want to thank Lloyd Colston and Ed Kostiuk who actually do most of the moderation nowadays. The moderation process certainly adds value to the list. As a result, there are not flame wars, advertisements, or other junk that can clutter a list.
In addition to moderating, Lloyd servers as Vetter-in-chief, making sure that everyone who asks to join has a good reason for doing so. I suspect only 1 in 10 get through this process. We are currently at 2,379 members and 22 pending. Those who want to get on the list need to let Lloyd know who they are and he confirms the appropriateness of their professional involvement in the field. It is surprising how few applicants make it through the process. This certainly adds to the quality of the list.
As advertised from the start (see message #1) we created this mail list as a way to foster open communications among emergency management professionals and to support a wide ranging discussion
that includes all aspects of the emergency management profession. 
After 10 years I guess we can say "mission accomplished" So, now on to the next ten years!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Why Have and EOC? 

Emergency Managers know that bad things happen. Whether it is an accident, earthquake, fire, flood, storm, or act of violence or terror, your community is at risk of a disastrous event. That is why planners plan; they work to save lives, prevent damage, and to ensure continuity of operations. After conducting a hazard vulnerability analysis, detailed plans are constructed to describe response and recovery actions. Planning to manage these emergency events involves mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery efforts. A critical part of this planning process involves preparing to operate an Emergency Operations Center (EOC.) Good response and recovery management requires a good “Concept of Operations” and a robust approach to communications, coordination, and information management. EOCs hold the key to successfully managing potential problems associated with any disaster.

So what must an organization do to successfully address the response to an emergency? In addition to comprehensive emergency management planning, you must plan to establish and operate an EOC that is organized and equipped to manage all of your response and recovery plans, information, and resources.

But why, exactly, do you need an EOC? What should it do?

NFPA 1600 Says So

The NFPA “Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs” Has a section on Incident Management that specifies that:
  • The entity shall develop an incident management system to direct, control, and coordinate response and recovery operations.
  • The incident management system shall describe specific organizational roles, titles, and responsibilities for each incident management function.
  • The entity shall establish applicable procedures and policies for coordinating response, continuity, and recovery activities with stakeholders directly involved in response, continuity, and recovery operations.
  • The entity shall establish applicable procedures and policies for coordinating response, continuity, and recovery activities with appropriate authorities and resources, including activation and deactivation of plans, while ensuring compliance with applicable statutes or regulations.
  • Emergency operations/response shall be guided by an incident action plan or management by objectives.

These activities need to occur and an EOC is the best facility for supporting thee activities.

Direction, Control, and Coordination requires that an organization have:

  • The capability to direct, control, and coordinate response and recovery operations.
  • An incident management system.
  • Identified specific organizational roles, titles, and responsibilities in an emergency operations plan.
  • A mechanism to determine the level of implementation of the incident management system according to the magnitude of the incident and the capabilities of the entity.
  • Procedures and policies for coordinating response, continuity, and restoration activities with appropriate authorities and resources while ensuring compliance with applicable statutes or regulations.
 Understanding the EOC’s Mission
The EOC is a physical facility designated for information gathering, resource coordination, and disaster analysis. It is where executive decisions concerning emergency policy are made that result in resource coordination and emergency response. That response comes in terms of warnings to evacuate and dissemination of information or instructions to the public that are designed to protect lives and property. The EOC’s mission can be best understood in terms of three vital tasks:

  • Communication and Intelligence. The EOC must be able to effectively communicate and receive information. It is critical to inform everyone about an event and to communicate amongst the parties involved. It is equally important to undertake intelligence gathering to manage an incident and to provide notification to responders and the public.
  • Command and Control. The EOC must provide the command and control functions necessary to put multiple response and recovery plans into action – triggering them as needed, providing the triage structure required to deploy resources and personnel, and assuring effective direction of the response operations.
  • Coordination and Documentation. The EOC must create a mechanism to coordinate all of the steps taken to respond to an event and create a record of the actions taken to protect employees, infrastructure, and stakeholder value... as well as demonstrate adherence to “best practices” by documenting all information received and steps taken.

It All Happens in the EOC 

The EOC is ultimately a center for information management, decision-making, and resource allocation. Its primary purpose is to gather and process all of the information required to plan for and respond – quickly and effectively – to emergency incidents. Within the EOC, staff are typically organized according to the Incident Command System. The Communications team is responsible for gathering incoming messages and situation reports and sharing them in order to optimize decision-making. Incident information is posted to an Operations Log. The EOC functions to select or prepare an incident action plan most appropriate to that incident. This plan should be developed with the involvement of all impacted parties and provide the guidance you’ll need to apply appropriate response personnel and resources. The EOC serves as the vehicle for this decision-making.

Outside the EOC, there are several groups who need to be informed of the status of an ongoing incident. These groups should be briefed periodically by a trained communicator who will be tasked to work with the EOC to provide an effective, appropriate message to the outside world. There are two main audiences for these briefings: the organization’s executive group and the organization’s public relations team. Working together, the executive group and public relations will craft the final messages that will leave the organization to be provided to the general public as well as stakeholders in the organization. This last, inside-to-outside, information flow is instrumental in establishing and maintaining the credibility of the organization to manage the emergency event. Timely, accurate information will go a long way toward reassuring interested parties in the success of the organization’s mission that it will indeed be able to as-sure continuity throughout the event.

The primary role of an EOC is to provide strategic direction and support to the response organization at the emergency/incident site(s). Clearly, it is not to address tactical decisions or actions at site level!

To be effective, your EOC should fit the needs of your community, agency or jurisdiction. Despite the existence of many different EOC models, there is no single definitive approach to EOC construction, staffing, resource allocation or operation. If you do not yet have an EOC, research your neighbors’ EOC (and other structures) looking for “best practices”. Chances are that in your next emergency you will have to interact with your neighbors. Therefore, ensure that what you set up will easily function with their EOC facilities (i.e., organization, terminology, management). Then, hold emergency exercises to ensure that your expectations and plans are realistic. 

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Lost in Translation: Getting out of Japan after the Earthquake

I’m sure that the recent earthquake in Japan affected each of us in some way; if for no other reason the loss of life and devastation, as shown in the remarkable video reports from Japan, was mind-blowing.  I think we all understand the power of a tsunami, and we have seen several recent examples, but the pictures from Japan displayed a new level of shock and awe for the world as to the power of natural hazards.

Here is the story of my day and how the quake impacted it.... but more importantly, it is a story of the power of our network.

I saw the earthquake alerts as I read my e-mail while waiting to board a plane.  I did not have much of an idea of the impact; but, since a tsunami was predicted, I certainly started thinking ahead to possible impacts on the US Pacific states and territories.  So with limited situational awareness, I was watching events unfold on my iPhone and wondering if we would be called to help.  As I took a morning flight and disconnected for a few hours, I reflected on the impact of similar events happening here in the states as it is only a matter of time before significant earthquakes and tsunamis impact us again.

When we landed, I had a lot of new e-mail to sort through along with plenty of text alerts.  the number of after shocks over 6.0 was unlike anything I had seen before.  There were lots of e-mails as should be expected.  Many of our team members were asking if we would deploy and let me know that they were available.  As some of you may know, we were eventually alerted for possible deployment under the FEMA Individual Assistance Program (as we manage a cadre of disaster response reservists).  As usual, soon after being asked to “stand up” we were told to “stand down” – an experience we went through with the Samoa and Haiti disasters. Alas, that is our lot as emergency management consultants.

Meanwhile, as I got to the hotel, I got a call from a private sector client that made the rest of my day interesting.  The CEO of the company and other corporate executives, were in Tokyo and trying desperately to get out.  They wanted our help - they were scheduled to fly out but could not get to the airport and security was becoming a concern.  After checking out of their hotel and going to the train station, only to find that they trains were not running, the group was stuck in Japan with no place to go, no place to stay, and no way out.

When I got the call, I was getting ready to attend a family dinner.  Nonetheless, our EOC (my mini Dell) sprung into action in our 4th floor office (my Hilton Garden Inn room). My internet connection was giving me fits so I contacted one of our crisis management consultants who went to work gathering intelligence on the situation. I called one of our security partners, one with international experience in security and executive protection, to see if they could help.  And, having traveled all day, I turned on the TV for the first time to see what the situation was. It was at that point that I started to get the full picture of what was happening in Japan.

Our network is our strength.  Fortunately, the security guy I contacted had worked in Japan, knew the lay of the land and, as is the norm with the large All Hands Consulting network, he “knew a guy” there.  (I think we only have one degree of separation from about 100,000 guys and gals all over the world now.)  Thanks to the growth of our network, we “know a guy” (or gal) to take care of just about any exigency.

In short order, albeit with a lot of e-mail, phone calls, and text messages (when the smart phones failed us), we were able to provide the latest information on the situation including travel advisories, flight status and transportation options.  Despite news reports that everything was shut down, we determined that flights were taking off and trains were running. However, ground transportation was tied up in knots.  We were able to provide the group with up-to-date information, checked their flight status, worked with the on options (helo, ground, train) as we went back and forth by text, e-mail and phone (despite being in meetings and restaurants). 

More importantly we were able to send a local ex-pat security “guy” to their hotel to meet with them and their Japanese hosts to review the options.  This was a small miracle as our security guy was in a two-hour meeting, the guy in Japan already had his hands full, and I was going out to dinner and had little or no signal (thanks AT&T).  Despite all of this, we worked past the distractions (and poor reception) and we were able to get them out of Tokyo safely. I enjoyed the opportunity to help someone out tremendously; however, my family did not feel the same way as I was outside trying to find a place with reception while dinner was being served. 

The good news is that, late last night, our client reported that they would make their flight after taking two trains to the airport.  It was nice to go to sleep knowing that we accomplished something for once! We are, along with our client, indebted to the professionals who dropped everything to help this group out of Japan.