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


Strenghtening 9-1-1 Systems

Tim RieckerThis morning, Government Security News (GSN) published an article regarding the FCC‘s examination of last June’s derecho storms that severely impacted Virginia, Maryland, West Virginia, DC, and Ohio.  The FCC looked into the long-lasting down time of 9-1-1 call centers in these impacted areas, provided comment, as well as recommendations – which largely are pretty sound.

If you’ve read earlier blog posts of mine, you’ll know that I more-often-than-not tend to defend utility companies.  Yes, we can all be better prepared, but I believe that sometimes the expectations are unreasonably high, especially with wide-spread disasters.   Also, utility companies are just that – companies – their primary goal is to be profitable.  With this in mind, there comes a point when the cost of mitigation may, at least in the short-term, make them unprofitable.  While in theory I would say ‘suck it up’, share holders tend not to see things that way.  So that does leave us with a bit of a quandary.

9-1-1 is an absolutely critical service.  Outages and disturbances in these systems occur every day throughout the nation, but are typically short in duration.  The derecho left 3.6 million people with interrupted 9-1-1 service, some for many days.  While there are general infrastructure issues that result from storms that can impact a utility system, this was compounded after the derecho by continued high winds for a few days, making many repairs impossible.  The FCC report cites, however, a few easy fixes that could have greatly reduced both the number of outages and the duration of many of these outages – including emergency power generators at central offices and distribution hubs.  There were also planning gaps that were discovered, that, once addressed should help reduce impacts by both number and duration.  I believe we also need to harness the technology we have to discover redundancies and back-ups that can be implemented in the even of future system failures.

Every incident is a learning experience for all involved – and hopefully even for those fortunate enough to not be involved.  The challenge is accepting these lessons learned and applying them to improve our measure of preparedness, increasing our awareness, and better enabling us to respond more effectively the next time around.

What lessons have you learned from disasters???