Emergency Operation Centre (EOC)

What is an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC

“A place where uncomfortable officials meet in unaccustomed surroundings to play unfamiliar roles making

unpopular decisions based on inadequate information in insufficient time”

The Role/Purpose of an EOC is to establish a recognized point of authority and is the facility that serves as a focal point for those with the responsibility of emergency/disaster management to direct, control, co-ordinate and support emergency operations effectively. The EOC is a central location for supporting emergency operations, which optimizes inter/intra agency activities and coordinating resources allocation during major emergencies and disasters.

The EOC is usually a specially designed office/work space allowing for specific managers the space, tools and communication network to facilitate team directed decision making efforts to manage an emergency response effectively. The EOC is pre-stocked with pre-positioned supplies and resources to effect rapid set up and operation

THE EOC FUNCTIONS

The need for direction, co-ordination, and support actions represent the functions of an EOC. The EOC’s main functions are; resource support, coordination of resources, and communication linkages to internal and external partners and stakeholders The EOC becomes a central point for obtaining additional resources and authorities while the Incident Commander maintains authority over the emergency site and employs any existing resources. The Incident Commander reports to the EOC Team Leader who will advise and direct based on known factors at the time.

The EOC is an information centre. Information is collected, analyzed, coordinated, and shared so that a clear picture of the emergency emerges.  The flow of information is critical in order that the decision makers can view the EOC as a “One Stop Shopping Centre” for the information they require to make sound decisions.

The Incident Commander’s team focuses on immediate responses and short term planning while the EOC focus is on the long term planning and the continuance of appropriate services in the non-affected areas. The EOC provides the facility where emergency managers can coordinate their actions so that the left hand knows what the right hand is doing. This is critical when more than one Incident Command zones are established and the EOC is used to coordinate information brokerage between all Incident Command zones.

The EOC coordinates and shares information in a “Business Cycle” where each department updates the others of significant events.  This provides an opportunity for re-assessment, anticipating upcoming events, detailing strategies and contingency planning so that coordinated plans can be relayed to the Incident Commander who has very little time to perform this function at a 30,000 foot level.

It is generally accepted that an EOC’s function is to provide inter-agency coordination and executive decision making in times of crisis. A common misinterpretation of the EOC is that it manages the disaster when in fact it facilitates successful management of the disaster from the site and in multi-site, multi-agency or wide geographical area events, acts as a coordinating, information brokerage and resource supporting entity.

 EMERGENCY OPERATION CENTRE GROUP (EOCG)

The EOC staff is referred to as the Emergency Operations Centre Group, (EOCG) and is comprised of those individuals with the expertise and authorities to make managerial decisions in relationship to their area of operation and authority. The role and function of the EOC is to identify and use all available resources including Human. Because disasters tend to strike at inopportune and inconvenient times it is imperative that the EOCG personnel are pre-selected. These individuals should be trained in EOC procedures and have had some practical exercise experience. This group is prepared to assemble as rapidly as possible in the event of a disaster or major event. All members should be aware of the EOC’s accessibility, assembly procedures, and functionality. Each member should be knowledgeable and proficient in their assigned positions and ensure that all of the resources that they will require during a disaster are stored on-site or within the appropriate storage containers.

As a member of the EOCG, you will be responsible for gathering, recording, displaying, and sharing information. Continually ask yourself; “who has the information I need, and who needs the information that I have?” Remember it is important not to become too operational, try to avoid running the disaster site but rather be a broker of information and a facilitator of ideas.

 EOC OPERATIONS

The ultimate EOC goal is to successfully and cooperatively manage a disaster with the site Incident Commander, and return operations back to normal as expeditiously as possible. The EOC goals consist of positive experiences in gathering and sharing information, making informed decisions, and briefing the media, all without undue stress, confusion, and frustration.

The EOCG is responsible to direct, control, coordinate and support all emergency operations during the disaster. To accomplish these tasks, the EOCG MUST work together as a team with effective group dynamics, communications skills, and training.

In order for the EOC to function effectively, information is required. The EOC’s eyes and ears are the site management team. The Incident Commander is the primary information point and contact for the EOCG for information directly from the site.  Other resources, on-site and off-site, have contacts that will deal directly with each of the team members pertaining to each member’s discipline. All pertinent information is received, documented, circulated, posted on a chronological log, and discussed with the entire team so that informed decisions and short / long term plans can be formulated.

NO EOCG MEMBER CAN WORK IN ISOLATION

DECISION MAKING

All EOC staff members make decisions within their normal authority and qualifications, in accordance with the operational priorities.  All other decisions are referred to the EOC Team Leader. For problems beyond the qualifications and/or experience of the EOC staff members, the team members will discuss the matter to resolve the issue or to develop recommendations for the EOC Team Leader.  Decisions will be made using the following guidelines:

1)         for requirements and/or issues within the EOC’s authority and capability, decisions will be made by consensus (Note: The EOC Team Leader  retains final authority); and

2)         for issues that cannot be resolved by the EOC staff or when additional authority is required, the matter will be referred to the Community’s Executive Group, along with recommended options.

BUSINESS CYCLE

For efficient situation analysis, clear communication / understanding, and strategic planning the EOC must convene a forum of information sharing and decision making.  This usually takes the form of a BUSINESS CYCLE and is called by and chaired by the EOC Team Leader. The purpose of the Business cycle is to periodically gather all the key EOC members in a forum of information sharing, brain storming, decision making, and plan development.

The business cycle consists of the EOCG reviewing their operations to identify progress, issues and requirements, and reporting their findings during operational briefings.  The findings are recorded and reviewed against the response objectives and priorities.  From the review, operational instructions are issued to address the issues and requirements.

The timing of the business cycle is the responsibility of the EOC Team Leader. A two hour business cycle is recommended.  However, depending on the intensity of the operations and the situation the cycle may be lengthened or shortened.  For example, during the initial stages of an emergency, when information is sketchy, it may be necessary to conduct the process more frequently.  In the latter stages of the emergency, the business cycle may be lengthened.  To avoid disruption, the business cycle should not be conducted more frequently than once an hour, and to avoid losing track of the operation it should be completed at least every four hours.

<cycle diagram >

Back up sites

In the case of an EOC failure or accessibility issues it is recommended that there is a pre-planned redundancy for the EOC, a back up EOC or emergency management process. This can be either a similar instillation as the original or it can be less formal  such as an appropriate emergency management process. An example of the latter would be a ‘working from home’ process.  Before an appropriate back up can be operationalized, thought into Who, What, Where and How must be considered. Who needs to be working, what will they be doing / responsible for, where will they be working from and how will they be able to work.

Who – this list should reflect the minimum number of employees that are required to maintain appropriate Emergency Management of the community and those responsible for the emergency response, business continuity and mission critical activities (MCAs) of the community, the rest of the employees should be on stand by with an appropriate notification process in place so that they are available when required and out of harms way when not. At a minimum the community’s Crisis Management Team (CMT) should have triple redundancy, i) normal work environment in emergency mode, ii) main EOC, iii) back up EOC or management process.

What – is the Mission Critical Activities of the community with the support of a Community BCM Team and the CMT. If the community is responsible for or has an emergency response component or is responsible for any identified critical dependencies to external partners, stakeholders or communities, this must be included in the What discussion.

Where – A back up EOC can be either a similar instillation as the original in a different location, preferably far enough away from the original EOC, critical community buildings and on different electrical power and telecommunications grids, or it can be less formal by preparing an appropriate emergency management process and establishing the required infrastructure and training in advance. A structured EOC can be either a HOT, WARM or COLD site depending on the level of management complexity, required response time and amount of investment the community wishes to commit to.

A HOT site is a pre-established, owned/leased or rented fully functioning location that has been stocked and operational, in essence a mirror of the original EOC that is operational at the flick of a switch. It is a site that has supplied electrical power and telecommunications that is operationally configured. All appropriately identified offices/work stations/desks, computers, telephones, files, equipment and staff support components (food, water, respite areas or arrangements) have been pre-installed and maintained, this includes all pertinent data back ups or some access arrangement to the data ie data warehousing services, mirror sites or tape/CD back ups to be loaded. Hot sites are generally very expensive to lease or establish and maintain.

A WARM site is a pre-determined contracted location that has some of the infrastructures in placed that are operational in a short period of time, usually much longer than a hot site. There may not be defined work areas, complete furniture or computers and telecommunications in place immediately but Contracts and or Service Level Agreements (SLAs) or Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs)  are in place with defined time lines and deliverables. This option is usually more affordable than a hot site but requires much more of a commitment from the community to ready the site for operations during an emergency event.

A COLD site is the most affordable of the options. It basically is a location that offers shelter (4 walls, floor and a roof), basic electricity, heat and possibly some telecommunications. Everything else must be either; stored elsewhere and transported in, contracted for or procured as required when needed during an emergency event. While this option offers an economical entry it is intensive in management during very stressful and taxing times.

It should be noted that when planning any additional sites for use, comprehensive Hazard, Vulnerability, Risk and Site Assessments are required to determine the viability of working from these sites. You would not want to either re-locate the disaster to your back up site or complicate your response and continuance management by inheriting additional risks and issues of another site to an already overwhelming event

RECORD KEEPING

Each EOCG member will be assigned an EOC manual which will contain all of the various forms and logs that are required to be completed. In conjunction with the individual logs, a MAIN EVENT LOG will be maintained by the Duty Officer.  The Administrative Support person will be responsible to assist in the maintenance of this log.  A Chronological log will be maintained so that all important information, contacts, events, and responses are detailed so that a progressive view of the disaster is available at all times.

In order for the EOC to function effectively, for the EOC’s performance and so that the disaster can be re-constructed in a post debriefing, complete records must be kept in a logical and comprehensible fashion. The details in all of the EOCG’s log books will compile the following;

  • a complete record of the emergency operation
  • a means of evaluating plans, procedures, and performance
  • a record of expenditures and cost of the operation
  • a possible means of determining liabilities (if required)

Detailed information (including, but not limited to, critical times, information received/sent, critical decisions, instructions received/sent and actions planned/implemented) about the following items is recorded during an emergency:

a.         receipt of information about an actual or potential emergency;

b.         activation of the Emergency or Business Continuity Plan(s);

c.         notification of the general public and other emergency organizations;

e.         public inquiries;

f.          requests for assistance;

g.         acquisition of materials/services;

h.         media announcements;

j.          financial records.

 Information must be recorded and distributed on the forms provided in the EOC

            No scrap paper, foolscap, personal notebooks, computer data or any other means are to be used for information retention of information pertaining to the emergency or EOC operation.  All information is vital to the re-construction of the disaster in the Post-Event phase.  Any written material deemed to be irrelevant or waste is to be only discarded in the provided secure receptacles.