| Normally disasters are short term events with longer term recovery. A train collision, a tornado, earthquake or even 9/11. All happened within one day but took weeks to months to over a year to recovery from.
During a Pandemic the Emergency Operations center EOC will operate for weeks or months - not just days or hours. Rolling black outs, overwhelmed hospitals, school closures, business closures, having a third or more of city and public safety staff not show up and dealing with a public that was kept in the dark will be a challenge. A challenge the local leaders can make easier or worse starting
Its unclear which cities will and which will not activate their EOCs. Some EOCs may open early to monitor H5N1 in surrounding cities, airports, farms and hospitals. The EOC may also start laying in supplies and calling in people. The EOC may end up as fall back position.
How ever the EOC itself should be a help - not a hindrance. It should facilitate the use of information not be pressure cooker that wears down EOC personnel. What is hard is that the EOC should not help spread H5N1.
In September 2008 news crews Covering hurricane Ike showed several EOCs from several states. Unfortunately they had many things in common. They where small rooms temporally set up for two reasons. 1) To gather and distribute information while coordinating relief efforts amongst local authorities. 2) Send reports up to state and federal authorities and wait for help to arrive.
The rooms themselves had folding desks with names tapped on portable laptops while wires and cables snaked around the floor. A few had large screen projectors. None had large comfy office chairs one could spend hours or days in without becoming fatigued. I'm not sure what the vending machine and cafeteria where like.
None of rooms looked like mission control or the CIC center of an aircraft carrier or a war room. Granted most emergencies are quick and unpredictable. A hurricane, a riot, a flood or terrorist attack. Each disaster has little warning, an disaster that lasts hours and is followed by a few months of relief that tapers off from chaos to an organized relief solution.
What if the emergency had years of warning. The disaster would grow slowly and then start taking out parts of the city. What if no relief was coming but the state, federal government and world health organization all need accurate and timely reports. Then what if the recovery also took months.
Temporary EOC that becomes a temporary pressure cooker would become a long term pressure cooker. Also think about 40% of the staff not showing up. Worse the makeshift room is not much different from a densely packed school room. How will they do social distancing? How will surfaces be cleaned? Can the EOC store and prepare its own food? Restaurants and such will be closed.
Most EOCs have their own power, their own communications to fire, police ham radio and the news media. Now they are adding pager and telephone alerts. Hopefully all of these systems have a designated and trained staff with backup or alternate staff. That if 40% of the people do not show up things will continue to run and be repaired. Remember - business can shut down during an emergency; an EOC can not.
What would make a good EOC? Information and comfort. Even the Spartan seating of a war room does not bear down on the human. It is there to provide information and comfort. There is room to walk around. The consoles are ergonomicly designed, not temporally thrown together.
Comfort is one part. Information is another. Both NASA's mission control center and those demolishing a building with implosion have situational awareness, contacts with other agencies and a plan. It is the lack of awareness that leads to failure - not how big the screen is nor how fancy the office.
For NASA not listening that an O-Ring could fail in cold weather and not knowing a tile had
been damaged lead to failure. Imploding a building or stadium can go wrong when undocumented supports or reinforcement keep a section from falling.
For an EOC not to know what is going on is just as bad. Here things happen at a much slower pace but over a much wider range. Power, sewer, water, schools, hospitals, restaurants, grocery stores, people who need help, jails, the list is huge. It all becomes one very large interconnected puzzle where people need to know ahead of time what to do. Plans have to be made hours in advance.
What do you want your EOC to be?
EOC - 101 - Emergency Operations Centers are to run even when other systems departments and business have failed. They are often seen as short term temporary activations for a passing disturbance.
A pandemic is a totally different animal. It lasts for weeks to months in an area creating problems few know how to deal with.
Who shows up?
Fire - Police - Mayor - City Council - EOC manager - GIS - Public health School board - Ham Radio (ARRL) - Tech support - Public Utilities Public works - Public communications - Call intake - Water treatment
A pandemic might need CERT, flu bloggers, an onsite power representative onsite telephone representative, onsite cable representative, an onsite natural gas, business people, social and mental health, construction electrical, HVAC, and plumbing companies. For during a pandemic it is unclear which business can stay open and which can not. It is clear that things will need to be repaired.
"Failure is not an option" - failure is always a possibility. "Even the best laid plans of mice and men often go astray" - "Of Mice and Men"
Next is "What do have to work with and what is our situation" Will the EOC know who to call on for fuel, power, road clearing, water problems, food shipments, food preparation, etc. Of the people the city calls on for services to itself and its citizens who has left town, who is sick, who is still factional. IMO many cities do not have a call list nor have they notified the business to be prepared. Oh yea they have the list in the form of business licence file.
The three support questions are:
How many cities have talked with local supply & service companies and know their current level of preparation
How many of the companies know their suppliers level of preparation? What good is a working company that can not get supplies? How many companies have tested their teleworking and pandemic plans?
In case of gas or diesel shortage - how many fuel tanker trucks are in the city that they could call on?
In case of a power outage how many gas stations have backup generators so they can still function and do business?
In case of water treatment plant failure how many potable water tankers can the city use? Please do not count the national guard. They are a great group of people but respond and function at the state level. The national guard may be called upon to help a city in even worse shape.
In case of water main break, how many backhoes do people own? In the country people do own this kind of thing.
In case of an emergency who can be called upon to run a food distribution site? First shift, second shift and third shift. Also how well trained are they at their job? The jobs of material handler, storage, logistics, security, traffic control, etc require practice. How will distribution be handled? Can a person pick up their share and get right back in line for another? Can a person pick up three shares, one for them and two shut in neighbors? If stuff is to be delivered have they practiced this? How do citizens report a missed delivery?
For the second part - who is here?
How many situations need help? How many need oxygen, diabetic medicine, ADHD meds, antidepressants? The list goes on. Without violating peoples privacy - how many need services and what are those services?
In conclusion the EOC is command and control to mitigate a disaster. This can not happen with out tools to work with, an idea of what needs to be done and a list of who to call on. For those working in the EOC will not do the work. Others distribute food, fight fires and clear streets. Those working in the EOC are the brains of the project, not the hands nor the eyes nor ears. They need others sending in reports to be the eyes, ears and hands of the EOC to protect the people of the city: the heart of the city.
It is the pain and suffering of those people, or the lack of it by which an EOC is judged.Those in charge can follow all the rules and make all the right calls - but only if maningful change takes place can it be deemed a success.
Last thought - those who are prepared put far less of a strain on city services. EOC folks need not wait for the alarm to sound. Let lose and encourage the many in your city who wish to prepare for a pandemic.