FEMA recently released a draft Operational Period Shift Brief Template for EOCs, open to public comment. The document is fine, though there was one glaring issue… it assumes an ICS-based model is in use in the EOC.
With the release of the NIMS refresh, we were given some ‘official’ options for EOC management structures. Unfortunately, we aren’t seeing much material that supports anything other than an ICS-based structure. An ICS-based structure may certainly be fine, but every organization should examine their own needs to identify what works best for them. Story time…
We recently completed a contract that included the development of a plan for a departmental operations center for a state agency. The plan had to accommodate several considerations, including interaction with regional offices and operations, interaction with the State EOC, and integration of a call center. When we talked to people, examined form and function, and looked at fundamental needs, the end result was an ICS-based organization. While accommodations had to be made for translating their own agency structure and mission, it fit rather well.
For a contract we are currently working on, we are developing an EOC plan for a private utility. Again, we reviewed documents, talked to people, and identified the fundamental needs of the company and the EOC organization. The end result is shaking out to be something a little different. At a glance, it’s largely ICS-based, but has some aspects of the Incident Support Model, while also having its own unique twists. One particular observation was that their company’s daily structure has functions combined that we would normally break up in traditional ICS. Breaking these functions up for an incident would be awkward, disruptive, and frankly, rather absurd. Not only would personnel be dealing with something out of the ordinary, they would be changing the flow of corporate elements that have been placed together by necessity in their daily operations, which would detract from their efficiency during the incident.
My third example is a contract we are just getting started on. This project involves developing an EOC plan for a municipality. While we’ve had some initial discussions, we aren’t sure what the end result will be just yet. The client isn’t set on any particular structure and is open to the process of discovery that we will be embarking on. As I’ve thought about their circumstances and the recent and current work we’ve done on this topic, there are a few things that have come to mind.
- While NIMS is all about standardization and interoperability, the range of utility of emergency operations centers, in any form, and the mission, organization, an innate bureaucracy of the ‘home agency’ have a heavy influence on what the EOC’s organization will look like.
- While there still should be some standard elements to an EOC’s organization, there is generally less fluidity to the composition of an EOC, especially as it compares to a field-level incident command where the composition of the responding cadre of organizations can radically differ.
- Consider the doctrinal core concepts of ICS as really core concepts of incident management, thus we can apply them to any structure. These concepts are fundamental and should exist regardless of the organization used. Some examples…
- Unity of Command
- Modular organization
- Manageable span of control
- Consolidated action plans
- Comprehensive resource management
- We need to acknowledge that the full benefit of organization standardization, exhibited by the ability of incident management personnel to be assigned to a new EOC and be able to immediately function, is potentially compromised to an extent, but that can be largely mitigated by adherence to the core concepts of ICS as mentioned previous. Why? Because the system and processes of incident management are still largely the same. These new personnel need just a bit of an orientation to the organizational structure being used (particularly if they are to be assigned in a leadership capacity at any level).
The most important consideration is to develop a plan. That will provide extensive benefit, especially when done properly. Follow the CPG 101 guidance, build a team, do some research, and weigh all options. The end goal is to identify an organizational structure that will work for you, not one that you need to be forced into. Bringing this around full circle, we need to know that with whatever system you decide to use, expect that you will need to develop your own training, job aids, and other support mechanisms since they largely don’t exist for anything outside of an ICS-based structure. Note that even for an ICS-based model, there are needs… consider that there is no ‘official’ planning P for EOCs (one that is less tactics-focused), and, of course, that ICS training alone isn’t enough to run your EOC by.
I don’t place any blame for this need… consider that FEMA, with finite resources just like the rest of us, tries to produce things that are of the greatest utility to as much of the nation as possible, and right now, most EOCs are run on an ICS-based model. While I hope this will expand over time, every entity will still be responsible for developing their own training on how they will organize and respond. No training developed by a third party for a mass audience can ever replace the value of training designed specifically to address your plans.
I’m interested in hearing what changes are being made to your EOC organizations and how you are addressing needs.
© 2019 Timothy Riecker, CEDP