Despite their clear benefit, physical EOCs aren’t a cure-all, especially when it comes to effective lifecycle management. The limitations with a solely physical EOC set up are borne out in the case evidence. It turns out that physical EOCs aren’t always effectively used during trainings and exercises, nor is the use of standardized incident command systems always critically evaluated within the EOCi. It’s also not uncommon that organizations don’t have anywhere, anytime access to key resources, such as exercise and debriefing guides produced by national emergency organizations, a key prerequisite for success in an emergency response scenario.
Natural and/or man-made catastrophic events are quickly becoming the norm. Indeed, since the 1970s, the number of weather and climate-related disasters alone has more than quadrupled to around 400 per year.i Unfortunately for responder agencies, few things are more challenging than procuring and deploying the right resources to the right people and places during complex disasters covering wide areas and causing mass casualty and damage. In these scenarios, the imperatives of incident response routinely overwhelm the resources and capabilities of individual agencies acting alone. Meeting the life and property-saving objectives of the disaster response, then, requires an influx of personnel, skills, technologies, facilities, equipment, and/or funding from other organizations. Though the organizations themselves share many of the same functions, the number and weight of those commonalities haven’t been enough to close what’s become an acute incident response performance gap. The gap has been studied carefully in the incident management literature.ii And the consensus seems to be that emergency responses undertaken by clusters of public safety agencies incur a higher likelihood of the following: Extended response times Higher potential for loss of property and life Lack of shared situational awareness on the ground Disputes and competition as to who is in charge, when, and where Difficulties in filtering and validating the flood of information generated during the disaster Difficulties in coordination among response agencies due to incompatible infrastructure iii What’s going on, here? Well, researchers have sought explanations to this pattern of delays in getting assistance and rescue underway, not to mention delays in decision making, and lack of clarity in command and control structures. It turns out there are myriad. Some of the reasons given: individual agencies develop independently of each other, creating heterogeneity in practices. Also cited, inadequate information and knowledge flow between participants, springing either from a lack of trust, confusion on the ground, or competition between agencies. iv Significant challenges, all of them; but not insoluble problems. Indeed, the incident management community has moved aggressively in recent times to correct many of them, foremost the glaring absence of an industrywide command and control structure for facilitating collaboration and interoperability. Those efforts, in particular, culminated in the development of the ISO 22320 standard.
Despite enormous strides in emergency and incident management technology, volunteer disaster and emergency response organizations, when queried, still acknowledge facing stark challenges – none graver than a sharp increase in the volume of emergencies agencies face individually. It’s chiefly this growth in the number and severity of emergencies – usually unaccompanied by an offsetting budgetary and/or staffing increase – that cancels out many of the positive benefits agencies hope to accrue from their advanced, emergency management software buys.