How to Create a Cost-Effective Emergency Operations Center

4 minute read
Emergency Operations Center

An Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is a critical tool that allows effective, efficient and economical management of any event that could (or does) impact business operations. While some organizations request inordinate resources to extensively equip an EOC, it does not have to be a large, expensive and high-tech room to be viable. To establish a useful EOC without requiring a large expense at your organization, you may want to think about the following topics.

What is an Emergency Operations Center?

An Emergency Operations Center is a central physical location of decision-makers who are responsible for the overall management and direction of a disruptive event. It should be noted that several decision-makers can participate remotely; especially in today’s distributed world.

What is an Incident Management Team? 

The decision-makers in an Emergency Operations Center are typically an organizations' Incident Management Team (IMT). This team primarily has three main responsibilities:

    • Collect all the incident-related information

    • Coordinating all the response, recovery and restoration activity

    • Communicate appropriate information to all stakeholders

To ensure the Emergency Operations Center is successful and the Incident Management Team accomplishes these tasks, your organization should think about following these three key steps.

1. Develop a minimum resource and activation checklist

In today's distributed world, several members of an IMT are geographically separated. However, to apply a best practice, there is a necessity for a central physical location for certain resources. Many organizations that have a successful, mature business continuity and disaster recovery (BC/DR) program use a standard conference room for their EOC by provisioning a few essential tools and capabilities that are needed for successful incident management.  Some of the most critical tools are the following:

  • A few phones

  • A high-quality speaker phone

  • An audio-conference bridge line dedicated for incident management purposes

  • Plenty of whiteboard space

  • Access to a corporate phone directory and the internet

  • Easy access to restrooms

  • Full coverage by the building's generator

Also, it is critical is that if a conference room is used, it is used for the entire duration of the incident, regardless of previously scheduled room bookings.

While some of these essential tools and capabilities are required to be installed in advance (e.g., phone lines, network connections, generator coverage), some resources can be stored in a cabinet or closet nearby. For example, it is common practice to store the additional phones in a cabinet and plug them in at the time of a crisis. An additional best practice is for these phones have plain old telephone service (POTS) that enables them to have direct lines to the phone company instead of being wired through your company phone system.

At a minimum, maintain an EOC activation checklist of the tasks necessary to convert the standard conference room to a functional EOC. Minimum resource items on the checklist would include but are not limited to: functionally arranging tables and chairs, setting up and testing communications (voice and data) and taking out supplies (log forms, paper, recovery plans, etc.).

2. Identify and secure other desirable resources

There are other resources that will further enhance the functionality and effectiveness of the EOC but do not require an investment with multiple commas in the price tag. Depending on the size of your Incident Management Team, the following resources could come in handy:

  • More phones. Unless you can afford a separate phone line for every seat in your EOC, I would also suggest each phone be marked as either "incoming only" or "outgoing only."

  • A projector or two. These are extremely useful for displaying status boards, action plans, status call agendas and other relevant information.

  • Office tools such as laptops, printers, faxes and copiers. These are likely close by and probably don’t need to be purchased just for EOC use. Having both wired and wireless access provides access alternatives.

  • A larger conference room. This provides your Incident Management Team with flexibility when you need it and offers necessary space for food service for extended events—though it is best to keep the food off the main EOC table where people have their notes and computers.

  • A television. Depending on the incident, a television is useful to monitor news reports.

3.    Explore the possibility of using incident management software

Incident Management software is also a valuable asset, especially in the geographically separated environments we work in today. Most of the higher-quality BC/DR software packages today have incident management modules. There are also some decent home-grown databases for recording and tracking incident information. However, it does take some time, effort and expertise to design, code, test and maintain these home-grown systems.

Some important items to remember

How your organization utilizes the resources is a significant factor in determining your success. Managing disruptive events effectively and efficiently does require specific skills and experience. In an effort to concentrate on the challenge at hand—the business disruption—here are five important items to remember:

  • Focus on the basic functions of an Emergency Operations Center and the key responsibilities of an Incident Management Team

  • The three C’s: Collect, coordinate and communicate

  • Everybody has ideas as to how things can be improved—document these lessons learned and set them aside for now

  • You will need documentation on who was involved, what actions and decision were made and when they were made

  • Communication is king and record keeping is queen

While your organization will need a certain amount of resources to ensure your EOC is viable, it doesn’t mean you need to break the piggy bank to install those resources and create a suitable Emergency Operations Center.

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