Command centers, command center software, and the Incident Command System 


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Command Centers

Crisis Event Strategies
Incident Command System 
Event Information Tracking 
Command Center Decision Making 
Information Management Tools 
Command Center Software 
Virtual Emergency Operations Centers

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All Hands Emergency Management Consulting - offers command center and emergency management services.

A critical part of the emergency management or business continuity planning process involves preparing to operate an emergency command center.  Good response and recovery management requires a robust approach to information management.  Command Centers, supported by sound information management systems, hold the key to successfully managing potential problems associated with any disaster.

Crisis Event Strategies

It is important to fully prepare your organization for crisis event management.  Crisis management strategy development should include the entire business continuity management team - you should use brainstorming techniques and help team members "think outside of the box" when determining your crisis event strategies.  Review your information gathering and dissemination requirements and then consider how these will work in a crisis management atmosphere.  Some key point to consider:

  • Use the Incident Command System (ICS) to provide a management structure and system for conducting operations.
  • Educate stakeholders on trigger events and the planned response to them
  • Use your stakeholders to monitor the environment for problems and triggers
  • Plan to implement, manage, and track all contingency. response, and recovery plans
  • Plan to track multiple incidents and resources
  • Prepare to document all actions taken and the related costs

A Command Center should be equipped to perform a number of crisis management functions but also should be able to function as a day-to-day operations resource and to support efforts to test and exercise contingency and response plans.  

Incident Command System

The Incident Command System (ICS) provides a management structure and system for conducting on-site operations. It is applicable to small scale daily operational activities as well as major mobilizations. ICS, provides command center and operational staff with a standardized operational structure and common terminology.  Because of this, ICS provides a useful and flexible management system that is particularly adaptable to incidents involving multi-jurisdictional or multi-disciplinary responses. ICS provides the flexibility needed to rapidly activate and establish an organizational format around the functions that need to be performed.

See information on Incident Command System training. A white paper on the ICS is available in Word format.

Event Information Tracking

Let's consider how you will manage response and recovery operations during a crisis -- there will be a lot of information flowing around the enterprise.  The command center's job is to collect intelligence and to manage and control event information and response activities.  Typically, the information flow will look something like this:

1. Stakeholder notices possible disruption

2. Alert message sent to the Command Center

3. Alert message evaluated by managers

4. Incident Log opened to track each event

5. SOPs implemented using checklists

6. Tasks assigned according to plan

7. Resource allocation tracked in log

8. Task performance tracked in log

9. Status briefings and updates to stakeholders

All of this information will need to be managed and documented.  A strong information management system will be a must. Continuity Managers need to provide a robust command, control, and monitoring function that will:

  • Above all else - be easy and efficient to use
  • Collect failure information to allow rapid and early contingency response
  • Track multiple incidents and resources
  • Communicate activities across the enterprise
  • Provide documentation capability

Command Center Decision Making

Strong oversight will be needed during crisis event operations. Command centers should be activated as soon as possible to ensure that oversight and rapid decision making can occur. During the incident response phase, the real-time tracking of incidents and response resources is critical. It is conceivable that emergency managers and response organizations will be overwhelmed with calls for service. Resources may be in short supply while multiple requests for service pile up. An operations log capability in needed to fulfill the requirement of documenting, tracking, and managing the response to an infinite number of concurrent incidents.

Information Management Tools

Good information management tools can help contingency managers create and organize their plans as well as in exercising and executing them. While contingency plans often end up in binders or files, a good information management system can make plans and supportive materials easily available to everyone.

Of course, in operating our command center, good command center software will make your life much easier.  The software should be able to perform all of the following functions:

  • Event Evaluation 
  • Incident Logging
  • Team Tasking
  • Resource Deployment 
  • Status Boards
  • Executive Briefings
  • Documentation

The Ideal Information System

The ideal command center would be an easy to use and robust information and decision management system that provides:

  • Central command and control
  • Early alert communications 
  • Functionality as a "Virtual EOC".
  • Secure data sharing over the Internet and other networks.
  • Event tracking and logging
  • SOP and contingency plan check-off lists
  • Resource management
  • Documentation of response actions 

Command Center Software

Command Center software can help you effectively manage the vast amount of information that is generated during a crisis.  As mentioned above, a good information management system organizes all of your response and recovery data and should be designed to help you manage your resources more effectively.  Software replaces white boards, black boards, flipcharts, and pads of paper with an electronic data management tool. You can also use command center software to test and validate your plans and to make necessary adjustments.

The ideal information system would create a "virtual command center", turning every desktop in the organization into an intelligence-gathering and reporting workstation. The system should make it easy for individuals from every department to quickly and accurately report on their progress using automated checklists and other time-saving features such as automated reports for incident tracking.

Your event information management system must be able to provide:

Two-way communications…a structured mechanism for receiving and sending information. Standard categorizations will be needed to route reports to the appropriate position in the Command Center.  Emergency managers should be able to centrally receive and evaluate this event information from both inside and outside the enterprise. The system should help manage this information in real-time and keep records of events as they unfold.

Automated response and recovery checklists... for all of their major functions to ensure that the recovery is complete. The key is to put an automated checklist in the hands of the right person anywhere and everywhere in the organization. Make it easy for them to send the checklist results as data and make it easy for managers to see the progress in executive reports.

Alert notifications… with a sophisticated message sorting and distribution capability so managers can track and log multiple and varied notifications and ensure that the right information gets to the right individual.

There are a number of products on the market that can help you automate the command center. See our listing of Command Center Software vendors.

Virtual Emergency Operations Centers

"Virtual EOC" is a concept wherein command center participants can share information, make decisions, and deploy resources without the requirement to be physically present in the command center. Typically using web-enabled software, a Virtual Command Center allows participants to work from their normal workstation, from home, or from the field.  Emergency plans and reports are available from any location.  In fact, all information can be maintained in a central database that is available to command center participants from anywhere in the world. 

There are many commercial command center software products available.  Several meet the needs of the "virtual command center" and can be customized to fit your organization.  

See an article on Virtual Command Centers (Risk Management Magazine)

If you need assistance,  All Hands Consulting provides comprehensive command center services including software selection and implementation services.

Conclusion

You can be certain that taking the necessary planning and preparedness steps ahead of a crisis will limit damages and speed the recovery process.  Having good plans in place, drilling on them and using a robust information management system to implement and track their execution will prove to be invaluable, no matter what the problem.

Need to know more about command center operations and technology?  Contact us for more information.



Books

Exercise Alternatives For Training Emergency Management Command Center Staffs

Our book store the best risk management, computer security, business continuity, and emergency management books and products. 

Articles

Making Your Command Center a Success (Word Document)

Virtual Command Centers (Risk Management Magazine)

The Incident Command System (ICS) in (Word format)

Information Systems for Crisis Management in Areas of Controversy

Command Center Software

Alert Technology offers Ops Center. A complete web-based incident management tool.

Blue292 offers a Emergency Management application and provides personal protection equipment and safety supplies.

Emergency Manager offers a web-based product by the same name.

Emergency Services integrators are the makers of WebEOC - designed to bring real-time emergency information management to any size Emergency Operations Center.

E-team provides an Internet system that runs on Lotus Notes.

Essential Technologies offers Incident Master, another Web-based crisis management application.

SoftRisk touts an incident driven design.

Specialized Disaster Systems International makes a system called EM/2000.

Strohl Systems makes business continuity software including Incident Manager.

Notification Systems

Alertcast - Offers an emergency notification service that facilitates contingency planning, emergency preparedness, and disaster recovery.

Cascade International Technologies offers RapidReach - Automated Notification System. 

Community Alert Network, Inc. (CAN) is a high-speed, telephone emergency notification company that gives you the ability to get critical information to large numbers or a precise number of people in a short period of time. CAN uses the latest in computer, telephone and digitized voice technology.

E-Alert USA - a fee-based service that provides emergency notification messages via any e-mail enabled device. 

The Emergency E-mail Network - a free service that provides notification of an emergency by e-mail, cell phone or pager
from local, regional and national agencies.

Dialogic Communications Corporation 

The  DAPage Notification Server - designed to enable large groups of users carrying a diverse set of wired and wireless devices to receive an alpha message quickly and concisely from a single inbound message. 

3n Emergency Notification System - Automated notification system for emergency and non-emergency communications.

AtHoc Emergency Notification - emergency alerting and warning systems for mass notification, first response and critical communications.

Other Links

All Hands Emergency Management Consulting and Training Services - offers a number of command center and emergency management services including a comprehensive command center evaluation tool: EOC Review.

Emergency Operation Centers (EOCs)

Maptech MapServer - great topographical maps for any location. 



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Last updated: Sunday, October 30, 2005 09:49 AM

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