Leading an Emergency Operations Center

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Effective managers determine how to handle emergencies or significant events before they happen.An emergency operations center (EOC) acts as a central command during emergencies or disasters. Leading an emergency operations center management team requires organizational skills as well as what the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) calls “an understanding of the authorities, policies, priorities, and capabilities, constraints, and limitations of the organization/jurisdiction you represent.”

An EOC allows a city, county, or other jurisdiction or organization to streamline its response and create a strategic plan to address the needs of the people who may be affected, according to Chris Chambers, public information officer in Ashland, OR.

As he told the Ashland Tidings in a 2020 article, “It’s an organization that helps to prioritize and bring resources as needed and basically just organizes the city in a different mode of response than we normally work in, in our day-to-day jobs.”

Safety workers can learn and refine safety preparedness and emergency management skills through online emergency management degree programs such as Eastern Kentucky University’s Safety, Security & Emergency Management Master of Science.

Eastern Kentucky offers courses including “Emergency Prep/Response” and “Safety, Security, and Emergency Research/Planning” that help students pursuing occupational health and safety careers understand the in-depth planning processes, training methods, and other responses necessary to help mitigate emergencies and disasters.

What Does an Emergency Operations Center Do?

EOCs are the “pulse of the community” and “the place that the government centralizes” when disaster happens, Flagler County Florida Emergency Management Director Jonathan Lord told the Daytona Beach News Journal. It’s the “one place where we can coordinate together and work as a team,” he said.

Some operation centers, like the EOC for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), operate with staff on an ongoing basis. Government safety officials use the Incident Management System (IMS) to decide when to activate the CDC’s emergency operation center.

Other emergency centers are set up for large events such as the Boston Marathon or New York City’s New Year’s Eve celebration, according to Fire Rescue 1, a news website for firefighters. EOC management requires a “continuous process of planning, training, exercising, and evaluation,” according to the CDC.

Components of an Effective Emergency Operations Center

When disaster strikes, EOCs respond with a plan of action, according to Ready, the U.S. government’s public service emergency response campaign. Proper space, security, operations, and logistics are all part of a successful emergency operations center.

Emergency managers create an effective operations center by taking a broad-minded approach in planning for an emergency before it happens, according to FEMA. The agency recommends that managers work with emergency operations planning committees to build effective EOCs through:

  • Taking the proper security measures including:
    • Conducting a hazard and vulnerability analysis
    • Identifying the risks from natural, technological, and national security hazards
    • Assessing the frequency and intensity of the risks
    • Using risks and hazards to build an emergency operations plan
    • Securing the building and protecting staff from events such as severe weather and terrorist attacks
  • Enough facility space for:
    • Operations area
    • Conference rooms
    • Communications center
    • Secure communications room
    • Multi-use space
  • Written policies and procedures should be in place to address:
    • Communications
    • Life support
    • Equipment and supplies
    • Documents and records retention
  • Coordinating resources and logistics from all agencies before, during, and after an emergency including:
    • Civil defense efforts
    • Fire and police services
    • Emergency medical services
    • Public works
    • Volunteers
    • Other groups involved in emergency activities

Bruce Spence, an agro-terrorism response master trainer, told Farm Journal’s PORK, a business publication about the pork food industry, that emergency operations centers should have a “meeting room big enough to hold your key personnel with a table, chairs, a TV (for current news), and a white board or flipchart.”

EOCs, he added, also should “have a scribe to keep track of things done and the time completed, as well as tracking pending tasks, time requested and the point of contact for each task, especially for shift changes.”

Job Outlook for Occupational Health and Safety Careers

The demand for occupational health and safety specialists and technicians, including emergency managers, is expected to increase 6% from 2018 through 2028, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). As of 2018, the median pay for occupational health and safety careers was $69,370.

While the tasks and responsibilities for emergency operations management may vary by city or state, the general role of an emergency manager, according to FEMA, includes these responsibilities:

  • Ensuring that all participants in the system know of threats to the community
  • Participating in mitigation and prevention activities
  • Coordinating planning activities for emergencies using an all-hazards approach
  • Coordinating operations during emergency situations
  • Coordinating and assisting in recovery operations after disasters

About Eastern Kentucky University’s Online Master of Science in Safety, Security and Emergency Management Program

Students in EKU’s online emergency management degree program can learn the essential components of safety, security, and emergency management. The program allows students to customize their experience through a Multidisciplinary Track or with concentrations in Corporate Security Operations, Occupational Safety, or Emergency Management and Disaster Resilience.

The concentrations are also available as stand-alone graduate certificates, independent of a master’s degree. Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission accredits EKU. For more information, contact Eastern Kentucky University now.

Recommended Reading

Social Media in Emergency Management: Tools and Applications for Disaster Response

Push-to-Talk App Emergency Communication Apps

Preparing for and Responding to Energy Emergencies


Emergency Operations Center (EOC) Skillset: Policy Group: Federal Emergency Management Agency

Ashland opens Emergency Operations Center: Ashland Tidings

Graduate Course Descriptions: Eastern Kentucky University

Flagler seeks $3.7M to ‘harden’ Emergency Operations Center: Daytona Beach News-Journal

What you need to know to participate in an emergency operations center: Fire Rescue 1

Incident Management: Ready

The EOC’s Role in Community Preparedness, Response and Recovery Activities: Federal Emergency Management Agency

5 Steps to Build Your Own Emergency Operations Center: Farm Journal’s PORK

Occupational Health and Safety Specialists and Technicians: U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics