Many jurisdictions, agencies, and organizations have emergency operations centers (EOCs) identified in their emergency plans to support incident response and recovery operations. Through my career, I’ve seen all manner of EOCs, used to support entire incidents or just specific missions, ranging in size from just a handful of people to well over 100 people, various organizational models, and even varying degrees of successful implementation. I’ve also seen many different locations for EOCs.
An EOC can be established anywhere, but just like any broad statement, there are a number of caveats to that. Here are 10 things to consider in identifying a location for your EOC:
- Out of harm’s way
While it’s difficult to determine where an incident will strike, most jurisdictions have areas that may be less susceptible than others. While it’s certainly convenient to have your EOC off a major highway, consider that a significant accident on that highway will impact access to your facility. Locating your EOC near an industrial district or in a flood plain is just asking for trouble. Be smart about where you locate your EOC relative to your geographic risk profile.
- Plenty of parking and accessibility
Few things are more frustrating than arriving to an EOC and not having a place to park. That’s simply a silly problem to have and reflects greatly on shortsightedness. If you are stuck in a certain location, plan for an overflow lot, signage, and a shuttle. Also make sure your building is accessible. I’ve seen far too many EOCs located either in basements or upper floors without any elevators or other ability for access for people with disabilities.
- Utility services and communications with redundancies
It practically goes without saying in our current age of technology, but we need to ensure full utility service in our EOCs. This includes the basics like electricity, HVAC, and water, but also internet, terrestrial telephone, cellular service, television service (either cable or satellite), and radio communications. The best facilities will have redundancies in these services to the greatest extent possible. Generators (with fuel) are rather essential. Engage your IT staff to ensure maximum flexibility and connectivity with wifi and wireless printing, while still maintaining secure networks. Each work space should also be able to easily access outlets without running an excess of extension cords (but always have some on hand!).
- Meal and break rooms
Constant engagement fuels stress and exhaustion which leads to degradation of our ability to perform. While work in an EOC may not be so physically strenuous, it can be mentally draining and having respite locations are important. Both for respite and the sake of keeping work spaces clean, you want to have a separate dining area that can accommodate seating for everyone (at least in shifts), a place to wash hands, refrigeration of food and beverages, potable water and coffee/tea, and space for prepared food to be delivered and maintained within safe temperatures.
- Seating and tables
It seems odd to have to say this, but adequate seating is quite important. I’ve been in EOCs that simply didn’t have it. While I appreciate the ability of a jurisdiction to set up an ad-hoc EOC, a single six foot table and a few folding chairs aren’t likely to meet your needs. If you don’t have a dedicated EOC (not everyone needs one!), meeting and conference rooms may have plenty of seating, though if they are too small, you will be extremely limited. Thankfully folding tables and chairs are reasonably inexpensive and easy to store. Consider the functional spaces you need to accommodate your EOC’s organization, be it ICS-based, Incident Support Model-based, or Emergency Support Function-based. Functional groups should have their own work spaces and the arrangement and workspaces they need to accommodate and facilitate their functions. Always plan for more people than you expect!
- Away from distractions
Your EOC shouldn’t be in a space that other wise will receive a lot of foot traffic. While co-location of facilities can seem like a great idea before an incident, having your EOC in the same building as a shelter or your fire department is probably a bad idea. It’s not only distracting, but also infringes on utility and communication usage, and even security.
Speaking of security, ensure that access to your EOC is limited only to those who should be there. Generally, personnel not working in or serving the EOC should not have access to it. It’s a pain to have civilians, the media, or other random persons wandering into an EOC, especially when they want immediate answers to complicated questions or feel their needs should be addressed first. Along with ensuring access controls, security procedures should be in place, including a staffed reception desk and sign-in. Personally, I also prefer armed security (law enforcement) for most EOCs.
- Meeting and briefing space
Meetings and briefings are a necessity in incident management. It’s a way in which we share information, work through problems, and make decisions. Of course there is always the danger of personnel getting stuck in a perpetual meeting, but that’s a topic for another blog post. Ideally, your EOC should have adequate breakout space for these meetings and briefings. An open space with a podium may be necessary for media briefings, and meeting rooms with conference call and video conference capabilities may also be required. Having a separate space allows a meeting to take place without distraction from the general EOC activity while also being able to discuss sensitive information.
- Display space
One of the hottest commodities in an EOC is display space. Space to project with an LCD projector, hang chart paper or maps, and write on with a dry-erase marker is pretty essential to helping ensure that people are informed and information is tracked. Higher-tech EOCs may elect to have flat screen monitors mounted on the wall, as well. Easel stands and portable white boards can augment this and make your space more flexible as well.
- A good backup site
One of the best tips I can provide about having a great space for an EOC is to have two! You will be thankful you have that second space identified and planned for in a continuity situation. If you don’t need it, it can always be used for something else, but if you do need and don’t have it, you will be scrambling to find a location, get your personnel there, and ensure you have supplies, equipment, and other needs addressed.
There are certainly a number of other considerations for EOCs, but paying heed to these ten will get you far. Your EOC doesn’t need to be a dedicated facility. It can be any reasonably flexible open space, such as town hall, a large meeting space, a training facility, a hotel conference space, or even a warehouse – your needs should determine your space. Once you have identified your space, make it functional and ensure that you have an EOC plan and procedures. Train staff, develop job aids to support their tasks, and exercise your plans regularly!
© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP