Properly Leveraging the EOC Safety Officer

One of my Twitter connections tweeted over the weekend about the importance of the Safety Officer in the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) during the pandemic response.  This is absolutely true, but it’s not the only time the EOC Safety Officer should be engaged.  There is a significant role for them in many EOC activations, but they are historically underutilized, often relegated to monitoring for trip hazards in the EOC and making sure that no one hits their head on the desk when they fall asleep on those long wind-down shifts. 

While the Safety Officer in an Incident Command Post has a great deal of work to do, monitoring tactical hazards and implementing mitigative measures, we often think that with the EOC’s hands-off approach to tactics (something else that is also a myth in incident management) that there is little for an EOC Safety Officer to do.  Obviously, the potential of an EOC Safety Officer depends on the specific circumstances of the incident and the scope of support being provided by the EOC, especially if it’s staffed with the proper personnel. 

Remember that the Safety Officer is a member of the Command (or EOC Management) staff, and therefore can have assistants to support technical needs as well as a volume of work.  While ideally we want people trained as Safety Officers (in accordance with the NIMS position-specific curriculum), let’s face it – most of pool of position-trained personnel come from the fire service.  While on the surface there is obviously nothing wrong with that – fireground safety applications are incredibly detailed and require a very specific know-how – we need to leverage people with the proper background based on the incident we are dealing with.  That could be someone with a fire background, but, for example, a public health incident likely requires a Safety Officer (or advising assistant Safety Officer) to have a public health background; just as an emergency bridge replacement likely requires someone with an engineering background to be the Safety Officer. 

Through my experience, I’ve found that occupational health and safety personnel (either OSHA-proper from the US Dept of Labor or State/Local Occupational Health and Safety personnel) are great for this position, and even better if they have the proper ICS training.  On one hand, I’d call them generalists, because you can utilize them for darn near any incident, but calling them generalists almost feels insulting, as their knowledge of laws, regulations, and guidelines is often very extensive, and if they don’t know, they know where to find the information.  They also work well with hazard-specific specialists who can be integrated as assistants.  They can also call upon a small army of other OSHA-types to support field monitoring of safety matters. 

I will mention a word on using ‘regulators’ as Safety Officers.  Some may be reluctant to do so.  Reflecting again on my experience, I’ll say that Federal/State/Local OSHA-types are great to work with in this regard.  They are often willing to be flexible, developing and implementing an incident safety plan that can be phased, with safety personnel initially providing guidance and correction (when appropriate) and enforcing later. 

In looking at the scope of responsibility for an EOC Safety Officer, we do need to consider the scope of responsibility for any Safety Officers working from Incident Command Posts to ensure the work is complimentary, with minimal duplication of effort, but enough overlap for continuity.  The Safety Officers in an ICP will be primarily focused on the operating area of their ICP.  They are less likely to be concerned with safety matters off-site. 

For an ‘intangible’ incident, such as the current pandemic, we are more apt to find EOCs running the show vs incident command posts.  Obviously, this greatly expands the responsibility of the Safety Officer – in a jurisdiction’s primary EOC, as well as the Safety Officers in departmental operations centers (DOCs) – as many tactical operations are truly being managed from the EOC.  Considerations such as Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and operating guidelines for all areas of operation and all tactics are likely to be coming from the EOC Safety Officer.  If DOCs or other incident management facilities are involved, the Safety Officer of the jurisdiction’s primary EOC may be collaborating with the Safety Officers from these other facilities to ensure a common operating picture in regard to safety, a unified safety plan, and consistent monitoring and enforcement.  A Safety Officer operating in this capacity needs to be comprehensive in their scope, not just looking at the hazards associated with the primary issue (i.e. an infectious disease), but examining all tactics and considerations, ranging from people operating equipment, to emerging weather hazards.

For an incident with more traditional EOC involvement, a Safety Officer still has a full range of responsibilities, though the actual range of these are still dictated by the scope of the incident.  If an EOC is primarily serving as a resource ordering point, the EOC Safety Officer should be communicating with the Safety Officer at the ICP to ensure an understanding of the hazards in general operating area as well as the specific hazards and PPE needs of the application each resource will be assigned to.  The EOC Safety Officer should be ensuring that responding resources are aware of these safety requirements, as well as potential safety concerns while in transit.  The EOC Safety Officer may be providing the ICP Safety Officer with specialized safety support, analysis, and resources, including supplies and equipment (in coordination with EOC Logistics). 

An EOC supporting multiple ICPs (and even coordinating with several DOCs) should have a more involved and proactive Safety Officer, as they need to be coordinating safety matters across each of these incident management structures.  This includes ensuring a common operating picture in regard to safety, a unified safety plan, and consistent monitoring and enforcement.  They are also likely to be involved in working with EOC Logistics to ensure the proper supplies and equipment.  They should be watching for tactical applications or resource movements of each incident management structure to ensure there are no conflicts or impacts in regard to safety. 

An EOC more significantly engaged is likely to be providing mission support (a topic I’ll be writing about in the near future).  In summary, EOC mission support are generally tactical applications which are developed and managed by an EOC to address matters that are beyond the scope of the ICP or those which the Incident Commander can’t presently deal with.  EOC mission support could include things like sheltering, points of distribution, or a family assistance center.  Once up and running, each of these examples should have their own management structure including a Safety Officer to address their specific needs, but the EOC Safety Officer should be heavily involved in the planning and development stages of these missions, as well as coordinating and supporting safety matters to each of them, similar to what has been mentioned previously. 

Lastly, I’ll suggest that an EOC Safety Officer may also be working with third parties, to include non-government organizations, the private sector, and the public.  Depending on the activity of any of these, the EOC Safety Officer should be keeping tabs on what the safety issues are and communicating with these parties.  The role of the EOC Safety Officer could even include public education.  A great example of this was the October 2006 snowstorm in Erie County, NY.  The Safety Officer from the County EOC (staffed by US DOL/OSHA) coordinated several chainsaw safety courses for the public, knowing that despite the number of safety messages distributed via the Public Information Officer, homeowners, who perhaps never used a chainsaw or hadn’t used one in years, would be out in their yards clearing debris from fallen trees.  These courses were incredibly effective and appreciated by the public. 

To be honest, I’m in favor of breaking tradition within EOCs and designating EOC safety matters, such as trip hazards and signage for mopped floors, to those who are managing EOC facility needs (i.e. the Center Support Section if you are using the Incident Support Model).  This assignment more appropriately corresponds with the focus of the Center Support Section and allows the EOC Safety Officer to maintain focus on what’s going on outside the EOC. 

So there is some food for thought on how to properly use an EOC Safety Officer.  Don’t continue to let it be a lame position as so many have in the past.  It has incredible importance when properly utilized and staffed.  I’m interested in hearing about how you have leveraged EOC Safety Officers, or if you are a Safety Officer, what activities you have performed from an EOC. 

Be safe out there. 

© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

EOC Management Organization

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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…
    1. Unity of Command
    2. Modular organization
    3. Manageable span of control
    4. Consolidated action plans
    5. Comprehensive resource management
  4. 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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

A Discussion on Training Needs for the EOC Incident Support Model

Last week I wrote a piece on the Incident Support Model for Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).  The article got a good amount of attention which prompted some dialogue both on and off line with a variety of practitioners.  So for those who might be integrating this model into their plans, let’s consider what training might be needed to support implementation.

First, I’ll say that I feel foundational ICS training (hopefully we’ll eventually have something better than what we have now since ICS training still sucks) is still necessary, even though the Incident Support Model deviates significantly from the traditional ICS model.  A couple of reasons… first, others are still using ICS, be it in EOCs or in the field.  Second, the principles and concepts of ICS still largely apply to the Incident Support Structure, regardless of the differences in organizational composition.  Perhaps only to the ICS 200 level is necessary since those functioning in an Incident Support Model organization only need be aware of it.

Next, I think we then need an overall Incident Support Model course.  I would envision this similar to an ICS-300 course, which has a more in-depth exploration of the entire organizational structure of the Incident Support Model and discusses the processes inherent in the system, such as the planning process, which would see some revisions to at least the positions involved under this model as compared to that for ICS.

Position-specific training is important, be it for an in-house EOC team(s) or for incident management teams which may be deployed to EOCs using this model.  While many of the position-specific courses in existence for a traditional ICS model are analogous to what we see in the Incident Support Model, there are significant enough changes, I think, to require different training specific for this model if we expect a professionally functioning organization (and we do).

One thing currently missing in the position specific courses is an EOC manager course.  While there is an Incident Commander course, which provides a lot of great information, there are significant enough differences between running an EOC and running an incident command post.  That said, I’m not so sure we need an entirely different course.  Given the propensity for incident management teams (IMTs) to work in EOCs, I think an additional module in the IC training may suffice to ensure that ICs are equipped to work in all environments.

Looking at the composition of the general staff of the Incident Support Model, we can first start with the Situational Awareness Section Chief.  From the ICS IMT model, we have great training for Situation Unit Leaders, which can largely apply to this position in the Incident Support Model with just a few changes, mostly addressing the expansion and elevation of the role.

The new Planning Support Section Chief would require very different training from what current exists for the IMTs. While in-depth training on the planning process is still relevant (with changes to make it specific to this model), as is training on demobilization planning, new training is required to address future planning, which doesn’t have as much content in the current Planning Section Chief course as needed.

Center and Staff Support Section Chief training is largely internal logistics, so really just requires a course that is narrowed in scope from the traditional Logistics Section Chief course, with perhaps some additional content on occupational and facility support matters.

Lastly, the Resource Support Section Chief.  This one is a monster.  It’s really an amalgamation of the Operations Section Chief, the Logistics Section Chief, and the Resource Unit Leader, along with Finance/Admin (if you subscribe to putting it in this section).  There is clearly a lot going on here.  Very little of the traditional ICS IMT courses really apply to this in an EOC environment given the difference in scope and mission for an EOC.  This largely requires completely new training based on functional coordination, mission assignments, and support to deployed resources.  This is a course that will require a lot of work to ground it in reality while also providing enough flexibility to allow for how each EOC may organize within this section.  Similar to the Operations Section in a traditional ICS model, this section may have the most variety from facility to facility and incident to incident.

Certainly other training may be needed, but the command and general staff positions are probably the most urgent to address.  In lieu of FEMA providing this training, some are developing their own training to support implementation of this model.  I’d love to hear about what has been done, the challenges faced, and the successes had.  Given my own passion and interest, I’d certainly love an opportunity to develop training for the Incident Support Model.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

The EOC Incident Support Model

Since the release of the NIMS Refresh in October 2017, a number of jurisdictions have made changes to the organizational structure of their emergency operations center.  While many jurisdictions use a traditional Incident Command System (ICS)-based structure, a structure aligned to the emergency support functions (ESFs), or a hybrid thereof, the NIMS Refresh seems to have popularized an alternative structure called the Incident Support Model.  I’ve been working with some clients who recently have, or are currently making a change to the Incident Support Model.  The general model of that structure can be found below.

ISM

The intent of this model is to provide an EOC with an organizational model that better fits what an EOC does… information management, planning, and resource support.  This model, unlike the more traditional ICS-based model or the ESF-based model really focuses on what EOCs do instead of potentially utilizing an organization and mission that are mis-matched.  As stated by the NIMS Refresh document, this model puts the EOC manager in direct contact with those doing situational awareness/information management, and streamlines resource sourcing, ordering, and tracking.

As someone who has worked in and long advocated for an ICS-based model for EOCs, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the Incident Support Model over time.  It certainly makes sense.  Appendix B of the NIMS Refresh document provides some additional detail on this model, but not much.

The Incident Support Model, most prominently, reorganizes some of the major ICS-centered functions we are used to seeing.  It pulls two key functions from the Planning Section, those being situational awareness and resource tracking.  Situational awareness in this model is established as a section.  Those who have managed large and fully staffed Situation Units in an ICS-based model know that the various responsibilities such as information tracking, developing situation reports, addressing requests for information, and information analysis and display can be significant.  Technical specialists, such as meteorologists and other sciences come into the fold of this section, as does Geographic Information Services (GIS).

The function of resource tracking, traditionally from the Resources Unit in the ICS model, is pulled together with all other resource-centered activities in the EOC under the Incident Support Model.  This includes the tasking and assignment of resources, as well as the support of those resources, which functionally has been handled by a combination of Operations and Logistics in the ICS-based model.  Reflecting on how many EOCs have grown comfortable organizing these functions previously, this section may be organized by ESF or other workable function.  The Resource Support Section is also to include Finance/Administration, which I’m not necessarily as keen on.  While I understand it from a contracting and procurement perspective, Finance/Administration is a function that may be best retained as their own section.

Separate from the Resource Support Section is the Center Support Section, which is focused on supporting the EOC itself with IT, admin staff, food, and other needs.  The Center Support Section may also be tasked with providing similar services to other defined facilities, such as a Joint Information Center (JIC) or Family Assistance Center (FAC).  I see this as a smart move as Logistics in the traditional ICS model had to juggle needs internal and external to the EOC.

Lastly is the Planning Support Section.  With information management resource tracking gutted from the Planning Section, you may be left wondering what is left for the Planning Section to do.  The Planning Support Section is still responsible for managing the planning process, which needs a bit of realignment under the Incident Support Model.  With this is overall responsibility to develop the Incident Action Plan (IAP), but there is more.  An astute planning function in an EOC in any sizeable incident should not only be managing the planning process for the next operational period, they should also looking ahead.  They may be pulling together a plan for something like debris management or utility restoration which is expected to be an operational focus in a few days, or perhaps planning for the transition to recovery operations, or even for demobilization.  As such, the Incident Support Model calls for the Planning Support Section to be divided between Current (and next operational period) Planning and Future Planning.  With an organization model underscoring this, we will hopefully see Planning Sections focused on future outcomes as much as they are focused on short-term processes.

The Incident Support Model is certainly a workable structure, which seems to remove some of the awkwardness of the tactically-built ICS-based structure from the EOC.  While we’ve certainly evolved the ICS-based structure to meet our needs in an EOC, I think many, myself included, were reluctant to make the changes needed to make it more functional in an EOC environment and still have it reflect ICS.

Now that jurisdictions are retooling and building this new model into their plans, however, we are in a bit of an awkward position in regard to training and utilization of staff. In the absence of national training program to support this model, jurisdictions are left on their own to train staff how to function in this structure.  Many jurisdictions have invested a great deal of time to have staff trained in the NIMS Position-specific courses.  While I don’t see that training as being wholly wasteful in light of a change to this model, there are obviously some adaptations to be made for those looking to utilize that training in an EOC using the Incident Support Model.  Even established Incident Management Teams (IMTs), which follow the ICS model, will need to determine how they will adjust their deployment to fit EOCs which may use the Incident Support Model.  The functions of this model certainly aren’t foreign, but may require a crosswalk of sorts for personnel who are otherwise trained or qualified to work in an ICS-based environment.

Working with clients who are adopting this model, I’m looking forward to seeing it in action and further identifying pros and cons.  Knowing that some have been using this model for some time, I’m also interested in reviewing their lessons learned, particularly things like operational flow, adaptations to the Planning P, job action sheets, and other things.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC