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Getting to Know Your Emergency Operations Center

by Mark Christie , Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management Manager
 “The Emergency Operation Center (EOC) is activated” is a phrase commonly heard during emergencies, but not necessarily understood. To many outside the public safety community, the concept of an EOC and what it means when it’s activated may be unfamiliar. To truly understand the purpose and function of an EOC, it’s helpful to start with a cursory knowledge of how emergency management works.

The guiding principal of emergency management is that all emergencies begin and end locally. In other words, when a city experiences an emergency or disaster, the local government retains ownership and control of the response throughout the duration of the incident. Assistance may be provided from external sources, but the impacted city always maintains its authority. When an emergency overwhelms a city’s capabilities, local officials can request county-level support to augment their response efforts. This support is ultimately coordinated through an EOC.

In its simplest form, an EOC is a coordination hub that facilitates resource requests and information-sharing in support of a response. To accomplish this, EOCs are staffed by pre-identified personnel from multiple agencies and organizations that possess emergency management expertise and assets. A large fire that occurred in East Cleveland serves as a recent example of an EOC’s purpose and value.

In late October of this year, the Arco Recycling Facility in East Cleveland caught fire. Due to the fire’s size and complexity, the incident quickly exceeded the city’s capabilities. The Cuyahoga County EOC was activated and staffed by fire, public health, and emergency management professionals who provided critical support to the on-scene response. The EOC remained activated for 3 days to assist with the coordination of responding personnel from 18 fire departments and to facilitate numerous resource requests, ranging from infrared drones to a mobile command bus.

More commonly, the EOC is activated for the severe weather incidents that regularly occur in Northeast Ohio. For instance, several communities in southern Cuyahoga County experienced significant damage resulting from the straight-line wind event last month. In response to this incident, the County EOC was activated to coordinate damage assessments and mass care activities necessary for the recovery process within the impacted communities.

EOCs are an integral part of the public safety system. Not only are they the central location that ensures response efforts are coordinated during large-scale emergencies, they also serve as the conduit to State and Federal-level assistance. As such, EOCs must be resilient structures with advanced technological capabilities. Cuyahoga County has taken efforts to ensure that the County EOC can withstand the very emergencies that might prompt its activation. Cuyahoga County’s EOC is equipped with an array of state-of-the-art audio/visual and communications capabilities - all supported by a robust network of redundant power generation and HVAC systems.

To learn more about the Cuyahoga County EOC or emergency management, contact the Cuyahoga County Office of Emergency Management at ema@cuyahogacounty.us or visit ready.cuyahogacounty.us.