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. 

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