Information Management Issues in an EOC

Information Management Issues in an EOC

During any activation, the most critical function performedat an EOC is information management. Planning, coordinating, requestingresources, documenting operations, keeping decision makers informed and otheractivities all rely on an accurate understanding of the situation, and thatunderstanding can only be achieved if the right information is collected,analyzed, and understood.

In fact, during emergencies or disasters, emergency mangers couldreally be called information managers, since the primary function of the EOC isto develop and share an accurate common operational picture (COP).

To create an accurate COP, every EOC needs an effectiveinformation management system which can collect information from a variety ofsources, ensure that it gets to the right persons in the EOC, document vitalinformation, and analyze and display critical information is user-friendlyways. An efficient information management system will enable emergency managersto quickly determine the geographic scope of the incident, identify any injuriesor damage, understand the potential impact on critical infrastructure, estimatethe need for evacuation or sheltering, and identify the need for additionalresources.

But efficiently processing incoming information takes timeand planning. While technology can help in collecting, sorting, and displayinginformation, the increasing use of communications technologies cansignificantly increase the amount of information that flows into an EOC. Havingtoo much information can prevent careful analysis of data and can make itharder to recognize critical information.

Here are ten things to keep in mind while designing andimplementing an information management system for your EOC.

1. The first reportsof any disaster or emergency will probably be wrong. Keep in mind that responderswill need some time to accurately assess the situation. Do not pass earlyinformation to policymakers, other agencies, or the public without emphasizingthat this data is preliminary and has not been confirmed.

2. You need aninformation management plan. Managing the flood of incoming information is acomplex and challenging task that is the foundation for everything else thatgoes on in the EOC. You aren’t going to be able to manage the flow unless youhave planned and prepared to do so. At a minimum you need to know what specificinformation you need, who can provide it, how often you need it, how you cancontact them 24/7, how it will be provided, who in the EOC will be responsiblefor obtaining the information, how it can be confirmed, who will analyze it,how it will be displayed, and how it will be shared. Your informationmanagement plan, whether it is an appendix to an existing plan (EOP, EOCOperations Plan, etc.) or is organized as a stand-alone plan, should be sharedwith every agency that has a role in providing or receiving information fromthe EOC.

3. Frequently exerciseand update your information management plan.  Because information management is critical toeverything that is done in the EOC, it is especially important to ensure thatyour information management plan is up-to-date and that everyone who will useit is prepared to do so. Special care must be taken to keep contact informationfor various associated agencies current.

4. You need a way todisplay critical information in real time. Everyone in the EOC should beable to access the current situation at any time. The EOC manager especiallyneeds to have immediate access to the latest reports from the IncidentCommander, responding agencies, supporting agencies, and other informationsources. Accurate injury and fatality information, critical infrastructurestatus, transportation system impacts, hospital capacity status, and shelterstatus are among the critical information items that should be updated anddisplayed in real time. Information can be displayed on an automated informationsystem dashboard, on whiteboards, on wall-mounted monitors, on projectionscreens, or on specially designed status boards.

5. Reduce the numberof ways information can be transmitted to the EOC. As much as possible,develop information processes that reduce the ways information can betransmitted to the EOC. The fewer information channels you have to monitor, themore effective your information management system will be. Identify preferredchannels for information sharing with supporting agencies. Possible channelsinclude shared incident management systems (WebEOC, etc.), designated chatrooms, designated e-mail addresses, and special telephone numbers. Planning forcritical information to be transmitted to the EOC through a small number of pre-designatedchannels can

6. Limit the amountof information that is transmitted to the EOC. Determine the type andamount of information you need from the various reporting agencies and ask themto report only the details that you need. If possible, ask them to reportsummarized information rather than raw data. Limiting the amount of incominginformation that EOC staff members need to evaluate will make their jobseasier. If you need additional details, you can always reach back to thereporting agencies.

7. Push out criticalinformation. Don’t wait for someone to ask. Be proactive, push out significantinformation rather than waiting for other agencies to request it. Keeppolicy-makers and any agencies that are providing resources fully informed ofthe current situation. Keep in mind that decision-makers need to understandemerging patterns rather than extreme details.

8. Assign a team or a capableindividual to maintain the Common Operational Picture (COP). Their mainduties will be to collect, evaluate, analyze and consolidate information intoan accurate and coherent picture of the current situation. The team should haveno other significant responsibilities, so they can respond quickly to changesin the situation.

9. Plan for untrainedpersonnel in your EOC. Expect that some people in your EOC from supportingagencies will be unfamiliar with EOC processes and have a plan to provideimmediate assistance to help them understand their role and the EOC informationprocesses. No matter how often you exercise your EOC support staff, someagencies will be forced to send untrained personnel to the EOC because trained areunavailable. If possible, assign an EOC staff member to assist supportingagency representatives who are having trouble.

10. Prepare abriefing template for briefing senior policymakers and other agencies. Preparea briefing template to speed the process of preparing and presentingshort-notice briefings to decision-makers and resource providers. Identify themost critical items of information that decision-makers need and be prepared topresent it at any time upon request.