Blog Posts

Emergency Operations Center

The Incident Command System and the Incident Action Plan provide guidance to the management of an incident. It is necessary that the staff who manage and create the ICS and IAP have a centralized location. This location is called the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). The purpose of the EOC is to provide a space for teams to collaborate, consolidate, and communicate with each other. Like an ICS, EOCs are scalable depending on the incident. They could be the back of a van for a simple missing person search, or they could be a massive warehouse with many departments and resources. The ability to house all the different emergency services in one, centralized area is critical to mission success.

Many Emergency Operations Centers use an ICS-like structure. Because the ICS structure and standards are familiar to many different agencies, it is common to manage an EOC with an ICS layout. Another common structure for the EOC is the Incident Support Model (ISM). The ISM structure is often during substantial incidents, where high-level guidance is necessary. Often, a centralized Emergency Operations Center will be created according to the ISM structure, which then commands smaller, more specific EOCs.

ICS-like EOC Structure

ISM EOC Structure

Another structure that is used, albeit not as often, is the Departmental Structure. This structure focuses on a department-based approach. It is used during the incident where many different sectors are impacted, like a natural disaster.

As the scope, size, and complexity of an incident grows, the EOC changes activation levels. The activation levels provide information to everyone on-scene about the needs of the EOC. The three different EOC activation levels are:

  • Normal activation occurs when no specific risk is occurring at the scene, and the scene is constant in size

  • Partial activation occurs when there is a threat to the scene or the scene is increasing in complexity

  • Full activation occurs when the EOC commander requests all available resources for the incident/EOC

The Emergency Operations Center is a critical component of the ICS process and structure. It allows for a successful outcome of an incident.

Incident Action Planning Process

The Incident Command Structure (ICS) is the broad classification of individuals at a scene. Those individuals create and execute the Incident Action Plan (IAP). The incident action plan helps to synchronize the different resources at a scene, to achieve the best outcome. The IAP dictates the incident objectives and who completes what. The IAP, " provides a consistent rhythm and structure to incident management". The goals of the IAP are:

  • To inform incident personnel of the incident objectives

  • To inform partner agencies and other cooperating personnel about incident objectives and progress

  • To identify work assignments and provide information to personnel about how their effort helps the operation

  • To show how various personal and sectors fit into the organization of the incident

The diagram to the left provides a visual explanation of the IAP. The first gray blocks, show the initial steps of an incident. This part involves the first resources arriving at the scene and determining that the particular incident is upgraded to a major incident. Once that occurs, the Incident Command Structure is established. The personnel that is part of the ICS begin to create the IAP. The Core Command staff starts by creating incident objectives. These objectives could be a variety of activities, such as a wilderness search for a person or an excavation of a collapsed building. Once the objectives have been established, the command staff meet to discuss strategy and provide directions to the various branches of the ICS.

The next phase of the Incident Action Plan involves the operations branch of the ICS. The operations command determines what the sector can complete to further the incident objectives. Once the decision is made about what the operations sector can complete, that information is sent over to the planning sector. The planning sector meets and approves the incident action plan. They assign specific resources to objectives and communicate with incident command, the logistics sector, and the administration sector.

Once the IAP has been approved, all of the resources gather at incident command. A member from the planning sector or the incident commander briefs the entire group of resources about the operational period's goals and the specific assignments of each resource. After the briefing, all the resources execute their respective assignments. Throughout the period, the command staff and planning sector continuously reassess the incident and conditions to determine if any changes to the IAP are necessary.

This entire process is repeated for every operational period. An operational period is traditionally defined as a 24-hour period. This is often adjusted for different incidents. A new group of resources is assigned for every operational period.

The IAP is part of FEMA's ICS 300 framework. There are many documents that get completed during the various stages of the IAP. The Incident Action Plan continues with the overall goal of creating the best outcome possible through the use of a systematic Incident Command System.

The diagram above shows the process for creating and exectuting an Incident Action Plan

During the briefing phases of the IAP, the incident objectives are clearly communicated to the incident staff

Organizational Structure of Incident Command Systems

The most critical portion of a successful outcome of any major incident is an organized and efficient incident command. An incident's response must be conducted clearly and cohesively. The FEMA ICS-100 and ICS-300 standards dictate guidelines for creating an incident command structure. The following diagram shows the different sectors within the ICS-100 and ICS-300 guidelines.

The strategy of the Incident command systems is to have no, one person managing more than six other people. This allows everyone at the scene to stay focused on creating the best outcome.

The primary position in the incident command system is the Incident Commander. Under the Incident Commander, there are three other positions. These four people make up the core Command Staff.

  • The Incident Commander establishes the incident and coordinates the different resources necessary for the particular incident

  • The Public Information Officer manages media coverage of the incident. They speak directly with the media and approve what information is allowed to be released to the public and what should be withheld

  • The Safety Officer identifies any immediate hazards intrinsic to the scene. They ensure that safety messages are released and safety briefings are conducted

  • The Liaison Officer acts as a conduit between all the different emergency agencies working on the incident. Due to varying standards, they make sure that the various agencies work together toward the common goal

Under the Command Staff, there is the General Staff. The General Staff is responsible for the functional aspects of the Incident Command System. The commander of each sector reports directly to the primary Incident Commander. The General Staff is separated into four different sectors.

  • The Operations Sector is responsible for all the tactical operations during the incident. This sector includes different teams assigned to complete missions that are vital to the success of the incident. The majority of the resources at an incident work in the operations sector. This sector is the workforce of any incident

  • The Planning Sector is responsible for planning every aspect of an incident. They work on creating formal briefings, digrams, and action plans for the rest of the sectors. The planning sector also keeps track of what resources are on scene, as well as requests more resources. The planning sector is also tasked with closing out an incident when it has been resolved

  • The Logistics Sector is responsible for managing all the needs of an incident. Because incidents often involve hundreds of people, working for multiple days, the logistic sector often acts as a city. They create and manage the services that are necessary for the success of the other sectors

  • The Finance and Administration Sector is responsible for managing and tracking all the financial aspects of an incident. Often, a finance and administration sector is only created at substantial incidents where many agencies are involved

All of these various sectors need to work together to create a successful outcome for the incident. In future posts, I'll explore each sector more thoroughly as well as the Incident Action Plan (IAP). The IAP creates a framework for the planning of an incident and the successful control of the Incident Command System

Having a well organized system of command is essential for a succseful outcome

At a major incident like this, it is critical that every team knows their mission

An incident commander with the UK's Hazardous Area Response Team

FEMA's ICS-100 command diagram

An Introduction to Incident Command Systems

Every day major emergency incidents occur throughout the world. These range from substantial vehicle collisions to major terrorist incidents. People expect events like these to be managed properly, resulting in the best outcome possible. Often, when a major emergency occurs many agencies are involved in the event. In a vehicle collision, the agencies involved could be relatively simple, like the fire service and the police. In a terrorist incident, over 40 agencies could be involved, ranging from local emergency medical services to strategic military command. Many countries, including the United States, have standards on how these incidents should be controlled and managed. These protocols combined are called the Incident Command System (ICS).

The Incident Command System is a completely standardized approach to command, control, and coordination of emergency services and their response to an incident. The first Incident Command System was created by the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (Cal Fire) in the 1970s. This system for fire management was quickly observed to be extremely effective and was adapted to function in any sort of emergency. Currently, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) manages and updates the ICS in the United States. After seeing the success of the Incident Command System in the United States, many countries began creating their emergency command systems.

The Incident Command System is comprised of different units under the main incident commander. FEMA’s ICS-100 dictates the basic organization of incident command. Under the incident commander, four separate departments work to manage the incident. These are:

  • Operations Section

  • Planning Section

  • Logistics Section

  • Finance / Admin Section

In future posts, I will dive deeper into what each of these unique sections does and how they cooperate to increase the efficiency and success rate of the Incident Command System.

The United Kingdom uses a very similar system for incident management as the United States uses. The video to the right shows the efficiency and organization of a proper ICS. At this fatal motor vehicle collision, there is a central incident commander who is in control of the ambulance service, the fire service, and the police service. The incident commander focuses on the overall situation at the scene. They can determine what resources are needed and when changes to the situation need to occur. The efficiency and control that a proper Incident Command System provides are crucial for saving lives.

The poster I made about MSAR when I was in first grade

An Introduction to Marin Search and Rescue and the Application

Ever since first grade I’ve wanted to join Marin Search and Rescue. For my school project, I chose to interview Marin Search and Rescue to learn about the organization. Since then I’ve had the poster I made hanging on my wall. Even at that age, I knew that I wanted to join Marin Search and Rescue.

Marin Search and Rescue (MSAR) is a special unit of the Marin County Sheriff’s Office. The unit provides the county of Marin services, including lost/missing person searches, high altitude mountain rescue, cliff rescue, and evidentiary searches. MSAR is the only SAR agency in the country that allows teenagers to join. They are well regarded as one of the best, volunteer search and rescue (SAR) units in the country.

In the fall of 2021, I learned that Marin Search and Rescue was holding a Spring 2022 Application cycle. I immediately applied for all three orientation meetings that were going to be held. These meetings went over various topics that informed prospective members about the team.

  • November 2021 Meeting - Covered various topics regarding the team (such as the time commitment and example missions) and a tour of the SAR facilities within the Sheriff’s office.

  • December 2021 Meeting - Covered an introduction to mapping used in SAR. Marin Search and Rescue primarily uses a mapping software called SARTopo, but they also often use physical maps and navigation aids.

  • February 2022 Meeting - Covered what technical rescue and medical training you receive when you join the team. Another, more detailed, tour of the facilities was also completed.

After attending all the meetings, I was even more excited about the prospect of joining the team. In January, the application for MSAR was released. The application included questions ranging from questions regarding physical fitness to what cellular plan you have. The primary part of the application was the essay. The prompt was

“Please tell us a little more about yourself, your background, what skills or volunteer experience you bring to the team, and why you want to join Marin County Search and Rescue”.

This prompt was relatively easy for me since I have so much passion for joining the team. After the application was submitted, 50% of the applicants were invited for an interview.

When I went for my interview, I was excited. The interview was conducted by a panel of four search and rescue members. I introduced myself and we started to go through some basic questions. Most of the questions were scenario-based. After the interview, I felt like I did well. The next morning, I received an email from Marin Search and Rescue. They said that I, unfortunately, didn’t get in. Although I was saddened and surprised, I took it as an opportunity. Now, I'll have more time to explore topics that will help me achieve my end goal of becoming a doctor.

I’m still passionate about search and rescue and still want to learn as much as I can. In future blog posts, I'll be taking a deep dive into incident command systems, a crucial part of any pre-hospital emergency service.