Types of Emergency Operation Centers (EOC)

Physical Emergency Operation Center (EOC)

A traditional EOC is a physical location where staff members gather to manage an emergency. There can be a lot of people in the EOC during an emergency, so it tends to be a large room with a lot of computers and telephones.

Advantages of a Physical EOC

  • A physical EOC allows staff members to interact directly. Looking another person in the face allows a host of non-verbal cues to come through giving you a clearer understanding of what they are telling you.

  • It is easier to know where everyone is with a physical EOC. They are all in the EOC. This makes it easier to find another staff member when necessary.

Disadvantage of a Physical EOC

  • The EOC is staffed by a skeleton crew or not at all between emergencies. Since emergencies can be infrequent, the EOC is minimally staffed most of the time. It is difficult to justify a large room with lots of technology that will be empty most of the time.
  • Transportation gets disrupted during emergencies. It can be difficult, and at times impossible, for all staff members to get to a physical EOC.
  • A physical EOC does not scale well. An organization has to estimate how many staff members will be in the EOC. What if the estimate is wrong? What if a particularly large emergency requires twice as many staff members as projected?

  • A physical EOC is hard to relocate. If the emergency impacts the EOC itself, it will likely have to be abandoned. An alternate location can always be established, but that is more space and technology that has to be available during an emergency.

  • The technology in a physical EOC can atrophy. If the technology is used infrequently it may not be working and up to date when it is needed.

Virtual Emergency Operation Center (Virtual EOC)

Today’s technologies allow the emergency response staff to meet electronically instead of physically. This concept is called a Virtual EOC. The staff uses networks, software and video conferencing to exchange information that they normally would have shared face to face.

Advantages of a Virtual EOC

  • A virtual EOC does not require a large room to host the staff. This reduces facility costs.

  • In a virtual EOC everyone is performing their response function from their normal work area. That means it is much more likely their technology will work. They are using it every day.

  • A Virtual EOC scales very well. Normally all that is necessary to add a staff member is to give them an account on the emergency management software. It is important to ensure that the Virtual EOC software can support the largest staff imaginable. So, if the largest staff you could imagine needing in your worst nightmare is 200, make sure the Virtual EOC software can support 500. You do not need to buy licenses for that many, just make sure it can handle it if necessary.

  • Virtual EOCs have good survivability. If the normal work area of a staff members is impacted by the emergency, they can relocate to any other facility that has computer and network access. The relocated staff member is already used to working remotely.

Disadvantage of a Virtual EOC

  • Staff members working in a Virtual EOC will lose the non-verbal cues available when talking in person. Video conferencing can be used to mitigate this issue.

  • It is harder to be certain who is involved in the response with a Virtual EOC since everyone is not in the same room. The Virtual EOC software can minimize this issue with Staffing Reports.

Hybrid Emergency Operation Center (Hybrid EOC)

As you can see, the advantages and disadvantages of a Physical and Virtual EOC are very similar. The advantages of a Virtual EOC addresses the disadvantages of a physical EOC and vice versa. So, the logical question is why not use both and get the advantages of both? Alert Technologies refers to these types of solutions as Hybrid EOCs. A Hybrid EOC has a physical EOC for core staff members and everyone else is participating virtually.

Advantages of a Hybrid EOC

  • The physical room required for a Hybrid EOC is much smaller than a traditional physical EOC. The smaller room is easier to justify and maintain.

  • A Hybrid EOC scales well. Additional staff members can be added virtually merely by give them an account on the emergency management software.

  • Hybrid EOCs have fair survivability. Only the physical aspects of the EOC is difficult to relocate since the rest of the EOC is virtual anyway. It is important to ensure the server for the emergency management software has a robust failover mechanism established.

  • Key staff members are working in the physical EOC so they benefit from non-verbal cues available when talking in person.