Hurricanes cause more death and destruction than any other weather disaster in the United States. Last year set a record for weather and climate disasters with 22 events that cost $95 billion. Of those, seven were hurricanes. With each storm averaging $21.5 billion in damages, hurricanes devastate communities and local economies.
Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) play a critical role in protecting lives and property during major storms. The centers are responsible for managing crisis communications activities, supporting emergency response, and ensuring business continuity. Communities in the path of a storm will activate their local EOC. Corporations with people or property at risk will also task their company EOC to respond. In an ideal world, your EOC is ready to handle major storms from June through November each year.
While we can see hurricanes coming, they can be unpredictable. Your EOC is not prepared until it has prepared for the worst. With many potential points of failure, EOCs must pay special attention to two best practices—preparation and redundancy. These two factors can make or break the response to a major storm.
Preparation saves time, and time is everything in an emergency. Good preparation involves training personnel on responsibilities, testing equipment and technology, storm-proofing your EOC facility and pre-staging supplies.
Before hurricane season, train your personnel and assign their roles. Establish a clear chain of command and communicate that out to all staff, the community and any other emergency agencies your center will interact with during a storm. Confusion during an emergency will slow down your response.
Make sure equipment and technologies are tested and functional before a crisis occurs. As the hub for critical updates to on-the-ground response teams, communication methods should be effective and clearly defined.
Your EOC facility should also take into consideration emergency supplies and protocols for center staff. This includes the safe transportation of staff to the facility, supplies needed for staff to stay on site for an extended period, and the tools required to keep the EOC operational should local infrastructure fail. In addition, EOCs must ensure all emergency staff in the field have access to the equipment and supplies they may need during their rescue and recovery efforts.
Scalability is essential during a storm that can quickly escalate from a tropical cyclone to a category 5 hurricane. The only way to scale during a crisis is to have options in place beforehand. Be sure your pre-storm preparation includes plans for the ability to scale up or down as needed.
Creating redundancies doesn’t come naturally to most organizations. They are often perceived as inefficient, and subsequently eliminated. However, you can’t plan on everything going perfect 100% of the time during a crisis.
I recommend the P.A.C.E. acronym. It stands for Primary, Alternate, Contingency, and Emergency. In action, it ensures we’re never counting on one specific thing because that one thing will fail you at some point.
As part of your preparation, identify “single points of failure” and mitigate those with redundancy in people and capabilities. This is especially important in the area of communications. Redundancy in people or staffing involves cross-training or identifying alternates to perform key roles. For capabilities, “two is one, and one is none.” Always have a backup in place for each piece of equipment and service, such as power or water.
An overreliance on technology can be an EOC’s undoing. Technology can and will fail. Maintain the latest tech but also have old-school emergency management methods available. Your EOC must be able to operate manually with minimal notice if needed.
EOCs may be destroyed or become inoperable during a crisis like a hurricane. Create a fully stocked backup EOC where you only have to come in and turn the lights on.
If you try to build redundancies right before a major storm, it may be too late.
With so much at stake, EOCs can’t afford to ignore these critical best practices. Centers that prepare and create redundancies will successfully lead their organizations and communities through major storms and hurricanes.