Recently a well respected social media crisis communications blogger and tweeter Kim Stephens (@kim26stephens, idisaster 2.0) asked her followers ways to improve the interface between incident command posts (ICPs) and emergency operations centers (EOCs), and if technology had a solution. It took me a nanosecond to say….ummm….no.
Having worked in real and simulated EOC and ICP environments on large scale events I don’t think technology will solve the inherent tension between the role and operation of EOC’s and ICP’s. I can’t think of an incident command class I have taught or participated in where the role of the EOC has not been brought up and discussed.
Things get real spicy when class participants are emergency management types. The questions and resulting discussion usually focus on; Who orders stuff? Who gets on T.V.? Who runs the show? Where should all the “important people” go? For those of us who cut our teeth on emergency response, we default to ICS principles and paramilitary structure . Emergency Management types rely on the emergency services function (ESF) concepts and internal EOC guidelines and plans. The problem lies in the cross-over and conflict between ICS and EOC functions. You just can’t have it both ways.
Shortly after 9/11, I traveled to the National Fire Academy in Emmitsburg, Maryland to take the “Executive Analysis of Fire Service Operations in Emergency Management” course, which was hurriedly added to the curriculum of the Executive Fire Officer Program.
I highly encourage taking a class on this beautiful campus (Oh yeah, the Feds cover all your travel and housing). You get a chance to rub elbows and find out that you and your agency is not as unique as you thought, and if it is you get an opportunity to share your experience. FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute is also housed on the campus, with fire and EM courses running at the same time. We played with with our EM partners in managing disaster scenarios, interfacing Command and Emergency Operations Center activities. While we were only on opposite ends of a building, you would have thought we were on different planets, speaking Vulcan and Chinese. The after-action debrief revealed duplication of effort, frustration with lack of coordination, distribution of conflicting information and a general sense of resignation that each group thought the other group didn’t have a clue about how to manage a disaster.
Now, I know this was almost a decade ago, and we’ve spent lots of money and effort training folks on ICS. But, I suspect many still don’t have a practical clue about the roles of EOC, Area Command, Multi-Agency Coordination Center and Incident Command and how they should work together. The higher up the food chain you go, the greater the uncertainty about who does what is revealed. Oh yeah, and don’t forget about the different ICS rules we have to play by when the mess involves haz-mat.
So, how to fix it?
- At the federal level – Reduce the boxes and dotted lines… simplify the org charts for MAC/AC/EOC/JOC/etc….., and they need to quit renaming functions every few years.
- Figure out if ESF functions really belong in local emergency management organizations, or should be maintained primarily at the regional, state or federal level.
- At the local level, EM and first response organizations need to sit down in a room and figure out who does what. In my little corner of the world, emergency management and a stood up EOC provides resource support and regional coordination, and Command and Control functions are separated and the roles respected.
- When teaching ICS 300/400 allow more time for robust discussion on this topic. In the classes I teach, it comes up repeatedly.
I know this is a tall order. But, unless the ESF/EOC and ICS/ICP conundrum is not practically solved and exercised, any technological tool deployed during crisis will simply document how screwed up things were.