Emergency Operations Center

What is an EOC?

An Emergency Operations Center-EOC is a concept , designated location, and a function which “…brings together essential personnel involved in overseeing the response to and mitigation of [an] emergency”. [1]

EOCs differ from the Incident Command System-ICS. ICS can be considered the ‘on the ground’ leadership, management, and control of an emergency incident. Whereas, the EOC is a coordinating entity (not a command entity).

What does an EOC do?

The primary function of an EOC is to coordinate resources in support of field operations, be an interface point for external agencies, organizations, and communicate information to the public. For the EOC to exist, there must be a reason to use it, a chief administrative officer or designated emergency manager to lead it, and an equipped facility designed to function as a central hub. An EOC is only needed when the agencies managing an incident run out of resources. [2]

The EOC provides critical support functions (ESFs [3]) at a designated physical location (although it may and can be a VEOC-Virtual Emergency Operations Center) [4]. Those functions, by FEMA designation are:

  • ESF #1 – Transportation
  • ESF #2 – Communications
  • ESF #3 – Public Works and Engineering
  • ESF #4 – Firefighting
  • ESF #5 – Emergency Management
  • ESF #6 – Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services
  • ESF #7 – Logistics Management and Resource Support
  • ESF #8 – Public Health and Medical Services
  • ESF #9 – Search and Rescue
  • ESF #10 – Oil and Hazardous Materials Response
  • ESF #11 – Agriculture and Natural Resources
  • ESF #12 – Energy
  • ESF #13 – Public Safety and Security
  • ESF #14 – Long-Term Community Recovery
  • ESF #15 – External Affairs [3]

How is the EOC organized and managed?

During a disaster, the EOC gathers, processes, and shares information, manages resources, and brings together policy makers in a coordinated fashion.  FEMA offers guidance on four typical ways of organizing an EOC..

  1. Major Management Activities
  2. ICS Structure
  3. ESF Structure
  4. MAC Group Structure [5]

Each EOC may be managed in a slightly different manner depending upon agreed to guiding principles, FEMA guidance through the national response framework, and available resources. For example, the State of North Carolina uses the following structure:

  • Command and Control
  • Operations
  • Planning
  • Logistics
  • Finance [6]

What roles are necessary for a successful EOC?

The Chief Administrator (CAO or CEO) of a jurisdiction is may and often calls on the individual responsible for the Office of Emergency Management in the affected area. This person may be the actively operating ‘leader’ of the EOC, while essentially reporting to the CAO.

The type of structure will dictate some of the roles to be filled including:

  • Policy Group – chief elected official
  • Resource Group – representatives from participating agencies
  • Operations Group – law, fire, public works, EMS and others
  • Coordination Group – GIS, assessment analyst [5]

References

[1] Larson, Randall, 2006. “EOCs for the 21st Century”, Homeland1 News. Source accessed 2-6-10: http://www.homeland1.com/homeland-security-columnists/randall-larson/articles/350122-eocs-for-the-21st-century/

[2] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 10, pgs. 327-330.

[2] FEMA. 2010. “Emergency Support Function Annexes“. Source accessed 2-7-10: http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nrf/nrf-esf-intro.pdf

[3]  Stephen Davis. (2002). Virtual Emergency Operations Centers. Risk Management Magazine, 49(7), 6 pp. Source accessed on 2-6-10: http://proquest.umi.com.library.norwich.edu/pqdweb?did=132744341&VName=PQD&clientId=55007&sid=1&Fmt=3&RQT=309&cfc=1

[5] FEMA. 2010. “IS-775 EOC Management and Operations – Lesson 3: EOC Staffing and Organization“. Source accessed 2-7-10: http://training.fema.gov/EMILMS/IS775/EOC0103000.htm

[6] NC Division of Emergency Management, 2007. “Emergency Operations Center – Standard Operating Guide”. Source accessed 2-7-10: http://www.dem.dcc.state.nc.us/ARCHIVES/EOC-SOG.pdf

Emergency Plans Should Contain How to Communicate Effectively

Timely, accurate and honest information is vital to manage the emergency response to any incident. Even when responding to a small crisis, data is necessary to be translated into useful information. This information can help decision-makers save lives and property, convey reassurance to victims, citizens, and other stakeholders, and when documented, serve as a foundation for lessons learned.

Generally, information contained in emergency response plans would include access to the Continuity of Operations-COOP or Business Continuity plans which should have all the necessary. Specifically:

  • The plans
  • Crisis communication guidelines and standard procedures
  • Likely occurrence event messages
  • Vital records and personnel contact information ( see COOP and BC plans)
  • How to initiate crisis communications team

A comprehensive communications plan should be prepared well in advance of any crisis or disaster. The people responsible for communications would benefit from developing a standard set of operating guidelines, practicing those procedures, and implementing according to plan during the crisis. Of course, a crisis or disaster by definition indicates a sometimes chaotic situation with continually changing dynamics. Therefore the plan must be flexible and broad in some areas and specific in other, more tactical areas. [1]

Messages can be prearranged for the types of risks most likely to occur. Both the messages and the operating procedures should be documented. Where that documentation is stored is not as important as how it is accessed. Today, modern electronic systems provide many choices. By using a software tool,(like WebEOC [2], Intergraph,[3] and many others) or simple desktop software, all documents, contacts and procedures can be accessible anywhere where there is internet access. It helpful to have some redundancy in case the internet is not accessible. Therefore, hard copies stored in safe places is a good idea.

Reference

[1] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 4, 92-103.

[2] “WebEOC Software Tool“. Source accessed 1-31-10: http://www.esi911.com/esi/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=14&Itemid=30

[3] Intergraph. “Emergency Response Software“, Source accessed 1-31-10: http://www.intergraph.com/learnmore/sgi/public-safety/emergency-response-software.aspx

CEO Needs Crisis Communications Planning

The CEO or president is quite often the spokesperson for a company or organization, even in times of crisis. That is confirmed in a recent study by Forrester Research and the Disaster Recovery Journal regarding crisis communications where senior executives being very involved or leading the effort accounted for more than half. [1]

Are these senior executives the best choice to represent the organization during a time of crisis? If we ask the C-level people I’m acquainted with I think, to a person, they would say ‘yes’. I agree, many of them are very good in the spotlight, especially if they are speaking about a topic they know well.

Rose, in the MMW white paper suggests that placing the CEO or company president as the prime communicator during the crisis has both intended and unintended repercussions. On the one hand, it’s very reassuring when the leader makes a statement of what is being done about the disaster. On the other hand, the broad audience of listeners may interpret that fact that the president her/him self is speaking that things must be worse than they thought. “Where is the corporate communications representative” them may be asking. [2]

I believe an organization should pick the right person (trained, poised and informed) for the task regardless of position.

  1. Poised comes naturally and exudes confidence.
  2. Informed comes with a team of skilled professionals who respond quickly to provide accurate and up to the minute, real and honest data.
  3. Trained must come with practice and adherence to communications principles, particularly with media relations.

Every spokesperson requires media training of some kind. That training should include the basics of live interviewing skills and techniques [3]:

  • Being prompt and able to provide meaningful communications
  • What to do and not do, say and not say
  • Being honest with a clear message and preparing that message
  • Not promising what cannot be delivered
  • Admitting when they don’t know something, and will find out
  • Understanding the huge role of body language in conveying the message(s)

I think there remains a significant role for the public relations person or team and the business continuity/emergency planner. That role is in the preparation and training of the C-level leader(s).

When the organization does pre-planning for crisis communications, it can be decided what operating principles are in place well before a disaster occurs. With everyone understanding their role there is a higher likelihood that the right person will represent the organization to the media and the proper messages will be conveyed in the most meaningful ways.

Reference

[1] Balaouras, Stephanie. 2010. “Crisis Communication and Risk Management in Business Continuity Preparedness”, Disaster Recovery Journal, Winter 2010 Vol. 23 Number 1, pg 40

[2]  Rose, Matthew, 2008. “CEO as Crisis Spokesperson? Think Twice“. MWW Group White Paper. Source accessed 1-31-10: http://www.mwwpr.com/images/thought_leadership/CEOasCrisisSpokesperson.pdf

[3] The Association of Research Libraries. 2001. “Media Map: Charting a Media Relations Strategy”. Source accessed 1-30-10: http://www.arl.org/sparc/bm~doc/MediaMap.pdf

Training Helpful for Crisis Communications

Becoming trained to stand in front of a reporter’s camera is very handy and I highly recommend it.

It’s five minutes before the live interview. As you walk up to the microphone, you wonder if you have the messages clear and ready. You wonder if there will be too many tough questions or questions worded in tricky ways. Your palms might sweat, you clear your throat, you’re ready to make a statement. You think, ‘Gee, I wish I had more training on how to do this’. Lights, camera, action….you begin.

For people in public relations, public information officers, and other organization spokespersons, this may be common place. From observation, a trained, practiced, experienced person seems always more prepared, briefed, and ready. We don’t all have the luxury of being that ready. In my experience with many years of volunteer search and rescue, interviews are rarely easy.

It’s 3:30 am, we’ve (rescue team) just finished rescuing two victims from a pickup truck that careened off the road into the fast moving water of Boulder Creek. The patients are safely on their way to the hospital. I’m tired, it’s dark, cold, and there is still lots to do before we go home. Instantly, I must be again alert, with carefully chosen words as several cameras with lights, and microphones are randomly thrust in my direction. The questions begin. When I see the evening news the next day, the three to five seconds are rarely flattering (my view). However, others say that I did a good job, but I’m not convinced.

We were asked to describe situations when we might have been the spokesperson for an organization. I have been interviewed for TV news while on rescue calls, for national fire ground training films (Train derailment 1991), by phone for radio broadcasts, and for TV shows (Rescue 9-1-1, Real TV), news magazines, and the local newspapers (see most recent PIO release). In most of these situations I was representing the Boulder Emergency Squad as Chief (several years ago). On a few occasions, I was simply interviewed for print media articles in the training world of high tech, totally unrelated to disasters. In all of these situations, and despite the little training I did have, I always wished I had more; more coaching and practice.

It’s true that some people have a knack for public speaking. However, I still believe that providing useful, helpful, reassuring, accurate, timely and non-damaging information during a crisis is best done by an experience, practiced, trained individual.

General References

Boulder Emergency Squad, http//:www.bes-rescue.org

Feinberg, Joshua, 8-13-2006. “Publicity – Get Reporters on Your Side:, Source accessed 1-31-10: http://www.buzzle.com/editorials/8-12-2006-105298.asp

Hoffman, Judith C., 2008. “Keeping Cool on the Hot Seat-Dealing Effectively with the Media in Times of Crisis”, 4th edition, chapter 3.

Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 4, 92-103.

Disaster Response Ends and Recovery Begins

Most experts agree that there is no definitive line between when disaster response ends and recovery begins. The importance of making this distinction may sound academic, however, it does influence people’s attitudes, outlook of the future (hope), and in many cases, funding source availability. Lindell, Prater, and Perry [1] suggest that at the point in time when the emergency is stabilized (life and property are no longer impacted), that the recovery phase begins.

In my experience with small-scale disasters, there is an overlap of all phases of an incident. Often times one part of a geographic area is still receiving response for example to a wildland fire, (there is still fire to be put out, and people are still evacuating), while an area very close by is more quiet and homeowners have returned and are beginning the process of contacting insurance and surveying their property damage. In the case of flooding, this too varies because often different parts of an area are flooded to varying degrees.

When the disaster is related directly to a business crisis, for example, the current situation with Toyota [2]. The response is a massive recall of vehicles with accelerator pedal problems, educate the public on the safety issue, and stop selling all cars of a certain group of models (reduced the threat to safety). The recovery process is happening simultaneously  and begins almost immediately with investigation of the manufacturing and design issues that might be the cause problem.

Reference

[1] Lindell, Michael K., Prater, Carla, Perry, Ronald W. 2007. “Introduction to Emergency Management”, Chapter 11, 345-346.

[2] 25-JAN 2010. “Toyota gas pedal recall could affect 2 million European-market vehicles“. Source accessed 1-27-10: http://content.usatoday.com/communities/driveon/post/2010/01/toyota-pedal-recall-spreads-to-europe/1

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