Communication and Teamwork Abound in State Emergency Operations Center

Communication and Teamwork Abound in State Emergency Operations Center

Representatives from multiple agencies working in the State Emergency Operations Center - November 2014

PHOENIX – Walk into the Arizona State Emergency Operations Center (SEOC) when it is activated, and the energy of the place—people huddled in conversation and typing on keyboards against the background sights and sounds of multiple televisions and projector screens–may overload your senses.


The SEOC, located at Papago Park Military Reservation in Phoenix (headquarters of the Arizona Department of Emergency and Military Affairs (DEMA)) coordinates the State’s response to emergencies and disasters. When an incident occurs, representatives from multiple agencies staff the SEOC.


“The SEOC must be staffed by a broad spectrum of response disciplines to thoroughly address all of the immediate response needs and longer term consequences,” said Chuck McHugh, recently retired Operations Section Chief at DEMA. “It is not unusual for the SEOC to be staffed by representatives from law enforcement, transportation, health, military, environmental quality, agriculture, and volunteer agencies to name a few, in order to fit the unique needs of the incident.


The personnel in the SEOC work to coordinate the disaster, assisting the jurisdictions in need.


“Three of the most important things we accomplish in the SEOC are to address problems that cannot be resolved at the incident level, provide resource support, and facilitate the sharing of incident information,” said McHugh.


The SEOC establishes a common operating picture with other agencies and jurisdictions involved by conducting regular meetings and conference calls. It allows updates to be shared, questions to be asked and answered, and most importantly, for a large group to get the same information simultaneously. Issues can be resolved quickly in the room or on the call when all parties are involved.


“Multi-disciplinary problem solving is among the most powerful functions we achieve in an SEOC,” said McHugh. “Every emergency response discipline tends to look at a problem through a unique set of binoculars. The SEOC requires experts from several disciplines, working in concert, to come up with comprehensive solutions to complex problems.”


Resource allocation, the processing of and moving personnel, equipment, etc. to support emergency operations also occurs in the SEOC. A jurisdiction in need of certain resources can contact the SEOC resource desk to request assistance.


The Arizona Mutual Aid Compact (AZMAC) expedites the process of its signatories sharing resources. AZMAC allows for fast, controlled movement of people and equipment to jurisdictions that are in need of more resources during an emergency or disaster.


At present, all 15 counties, 59 cities and towns, 8 tribal nations, and 39 other jurisdictions have signed the compact.


“No local, county or state jurisdiction has all the equipment or personnel for every disaster event,” said Robert Rooney, Supply Branch Manager for DEMA. “Mutual aid is designed to assist these jurisdictions during emergency situations, pooling resources, upon request by the affected jurisdiction.”


The state and county EOCs uses a website called WebEOC to share information, make resource requests and maintain situational awareness. Because WebEOC is web-based, users can view the site regardless of their location.


“WebEOC provides real-time information about an incident that multiple jurisdictions have access to,” said Dave Roby, DEMA’s WebEOC Administrator. “It also provides the ability to update key decision makers with the most current information so that they can make timely and informed decisions.”


In an event, Incident Management Teams (IMTs) rely on EOCs for perspective and up-to-date information.


“EOCs support on-scene Incident Management Teams. The IMT is in command of the incident, but they cannot achieve their mission in complex, long-term incidents without effective EOC support,” said McHugh. “For the EOCs to excel in their role, timely, accurate information exchange between EOCs and IMTs is required.”


The SEOC has been fully activated about 40 times in the last 20 years. An activation may only last a day or two, but during large incidents like the Rodeo Chediski Fire (460,000 acres), activations can last longer than a week. Most SEOC activations are related to flooding and wildland fires; however, health emergencies and even a large disaster in another state that forces evacuees into Arizona (i.e., Hurricane Katrina), can cause the SEOC to partially or fully activate.