The Case for an Emergency Operation Center, or EOC

Written by Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes of Tigard PD/FBINAA #220

Patrick Cudahy Meatpacking Fire

In 2009, in a small town in WI, a man at a Fourth of July party accidentally launched a military flare onto the roof of a meatpacking plant. By the time the blaze was put out, over $200 million in damage had been done, hundreds of people had been evacuated and the fire had the distinction of being the largest structure fire in Wisconsin history.

The City of Cudahy, WI, thanks to having an EOC and having done relevant training exercises, were able to effectively manage 140 police officers, firefighters and paramedics and ensured that not a single person was injured or killed.

With the number of large-scale incidents, both natural and man-made, occurring around the country these days, agencies are using their EOCs at an unprecedented rate. EOC training and education have also gone through a lot of review and advancement since the 9/11 attacks (the New York City EOC was located in one of the World Trade Center towers which was destroyed), and they’ve been further refined following the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.

EOCs are designed to allow for centralized emergency management.

What Are EOCs

To step back for a second, let’s look at what an EOC is. EOC stands for Emergency Operation Center. They are designed to allow for centralized emergency management.

Whether you are dealing with an earthquake, a terrorist attack, an Ebola outbreak or a wildfire, chances are that your police agency isn’t going to be acting alone in dealing with it. You will be working hand-in-hand with other first responders such as firefighters and paramedics, and depending on the severity of the situation, even the National Guard. EOC s allow for better multi-agency collaboration during an emergency.

Why Are They So Important

During an emergency, quick and clear communication are of the essence. EOCs help the information and communication flow quickly between the necessary agencies and departments. When multiple agencies are involved in responding to an emergency they help make sure that they are working together, not getting in each other’s way, and that there is a solid line of communication between on-site and off-site officers.

Why Should You Have One?

Having an established EOC, with trained staff as well, will help prevent communication failures, equipment shortages and breakdowns in the chain of command during an emergency.

NYC EOC 2

New York City EOC

One of the central purposes of having an EOC is to help manage the available resources during an emergency event. For many jurisdictions, this means not only tracking their own employees and equipment, but also tracking the employees and equipment from outside sources when the event, through either severity or duration, requires the need for mutual aid.

EOCs are also in charge of reporting, after the fact, the financial impact of the event to state and federal agencies for reimbursement of costs.

What’s Involved In Setting One Up?

As shown by the events of 9/11, choosing where to locate the EOC is very important. So is the type of equipment that is going to be installed, such as back-up generators, displays, and communications systems. The most critical component of an EOC, however, is the staffing. Staff need to be properly trained and have the necessary tools to act quickly and decisively.

The staff are the most critical component of an EOC.

One such tool is a robust resource management system. When staff need to schedule personnel and equipment, across multiple departments, sometimes over the course of several days, it becomes imperative that they have the right tool which allows them to keep track of personnel hours, rest periods, necessary assets, and more.

Questions to Ask of Your Resource Management System

If your EOC manager is looking to purchase a program what will handle the resource management of an event, they should consider the following:

  1. Does the program require data to be manually entered prior to the event?
  2. Does the program take into account your current scheduling configuration and staffing?
  3. Can you easily add outside agency employees to your event and track their hours and activities as well?
  4. Can it provide precise reporting on who worked what hours, where they worked, and what they were doing?

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EOCs Are All About Sharing

Many cities and counties are moving towards having a shared program that manages all individual agencies during non-emergency times as well. This way, when the situation arises, they are able to quickly move people from any agency to work on strike teams or cover another jurisdiction.

Fireman and Police Officer helping each other

All of this is possible while still maintaining accurate payroll tracking, and providing the ability to pull real-time reporting directly from the system.

If you want your agency, and your city to be prepared for an impending disaster, and you don’t currently have an EOC set up, it’s important to start thinking of these things. Budgeting for an EOC is no easy task, but it’s something worth budgeting for.

About Retired Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ret. Lt. Ricky Rhodes

Ricky has over 30 years of experience serving in the police force and is an active member of the FBINAA community, so lets just say he may know a thing or two. Currently he works at InTime helping police departments solve their complex scheduling requirements.