Dispatch Transition to EOC Operations

Within the LinkedIn discussion thread of one of my recent posts on applications of ICS, I was prompted to consider that one more awkward element for an EOC operation can be the transition or integration of dispatch with the EOC.  Consider that during ‘routine’ operations, it is dispatch who is supporting field operations and tracking critical actions.  Many jurisdictions encounter a difficulty when activating an EOC locally to support a growing response – what to do with dispatch?

The EOC’s traditional role as ‘expanded dispatch’ aids a field response by providing a greater level of coordination far beyond the tools normally available to most dispatchers by facilitating direct access to agency representatives who are dedicated to supporting the needs of the incident.  Under routine operations, Command (or Logistics) is contacting dispatch directly (usually via radio) to request resources.  Upon activation of an EOC, these requests must be routed to the EOC.  In some jurisdictions, EOCs are co-located with dispatch (at least in the same building), making this transition a bit easier in regard to technology and people, but some jurisdictions have these buildings separated.

How do you solve this awkward dilemma of ICS/EOC interface?  First of all, it needs to be thought through and planned PRIOR to an incident!  This is when we can do our best work, ideally bringing all relevant stakeholders to the table, mapping out processes and procedures, and identifying equipment and technology issues needed to support it.  With everyone together, talk through what you want to do given the circumstances you have.  Each idea likely has pros and cons that have to be weighed.

Some possibilities… Keep all resource orders going through dispatch. In doing so, you are not interrupting the ‘normal’ communications link with field operations.  In this circumstance, though, you need to consider how the dispatcher will transfer the resource request to EOC Logistics.  Since you likely do not want Logistics to be accessing the PSAP system, the dispatcher will likely have to enter the request into another system, such as EOC management software (something they likely don’t use often).  This can be time consuming so it will likely require the dispatcher to be solely dedicated to this incident.  The scope of resources (or ideally missions) is also beyond what a dispatcher usually deals with (thus the reason for activating the EOC), so it would likely require some additional training and use of dispatchers with greater experience.

Another option is to bring the dispatcher into the EOC.  Sometimes physical separation, despite technology, can make things awkward.  If the jurisdiction has the technological ability to bring a dispatcher into the EOC as part of the Communications Unit, they can interact with field operations and facilitate communication better.  The need to enter the resource/mission request into a formal system which is assignable and trackable still exists.

Another option is to pull dispatch out of the incident.  This can cause significant disruption to the incident but is manageable if pre-planned, trained, and exercised.  At this point in an expanded incident the need to use radio communications beyond field operations may be exceeded.  Field Logistics can interface directly with EOC Logistics via phone or other technology to communicate resource requests.  This methodology gets the request directly to EOC Logistics for them to handle.

There are certainly other models and possibilities that exist.  What experiences do you have?  What have you seen work?  What have you seen fail?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


2 thoughts on “Dispatch Transition to EOC Operations

  1. Hello Tim,
    I’m brand new to WP and was just browsing around when I came across your post. I haven’t even set up a profile yet. Your observations regarding the utilization of dispatchers as EOC support is interesting. Each jurisdiction has different requirements for dispatchers, and depending on how they are trained, they may or may not be a hindrance to emergency operations. A certain authority must accompany EOC members to make things happen. In addition, there is a level of decision-making that a dispatcher may not feel confident in performing. Receiving and relaying information is a big job in and of itself. Supplementing EOC ops may become overwhelming. Additional training and competency requirements may be beyond the classification of the position, leading to potential personnel challenges. You are absolutely correct that the IC may require additional support on the scene, but dispatch can be expected to do nothing more than contact resource leads in accordance with checklists. Anything more than that requires authorities that the AHJ may not have granted them. When activating an EOC you have two options. First, have a watch officer on standby to respond when called. Second, keep the EOC in a warm status with a single watch officer. When the incident meets the criteria established by the AHJ or upon request of the IC, designate a tactical channel and funnel all requests directly to the EOC. Then, the EOC can divert information to dispatch, leaving dispatch available to deal with other calls. Clearly defined roles established in advance, as you pointed out. I have have no doubt dispatchers can multitask and provide support to the IC probably better than the watch officers themselves due to experience. The question is whether the AHJ is willing to allow them, and if so, will they be compensated accordingly. Look. At that, you just got my first comment on WP. I look forward to reading more from you.

    1. Thank you very much for your comment and ideas – and welcome to WP!

      You are correct, there are a number of factors involved in how, if, and when dispatchers are integrated into EOC ops and how the transition takes place.

      Thanks again,

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