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Section 7: Emergency operations centre (EOC) and additional incident management locations

7.1 What is an emergency operations centre (EOC)?

An emergency operations centre (EOC) is a place where incident response personnel and the communities and organizations they represent come together to:

  • support incident response activities and responders at the site as well as other EOCs (when applicable)
  • coordinate incident resources as well as inter-organizational activities and internal operations relating to an incident
  • coordinate plans and planning for short and long-term needs
  • coordinate and command incident response directly from an EOC (usually in non-site-based incidents)
  • coordinate collaboration between incident response organizations and additional EOCs
  • share the responsibility with incident responders at the site and manage certain operations such as emergency shelters or points of distribution

An EOC may also be the site of area command.

An EOC is a place where a set of functions are carried out.

Incident responders may request resources or guidance from an EOC. The functions of an EOC can also be performed virtually, either by choice or due to circumstances such as poor weather conditions where travelling is not safe.

Staffing an EOC will depend on the size and nature of the community and/or organization. Where possible, it is encouraged that all EOC personnel take emergency management training and education in order to perform their assigned duties in an EOC effectively and efficiently.

It is also important that EOC personnel participate in training and exercises so that they are prepared to quickly set up an EOC and work together effectively and efficiently in an incident.

7.2 When to open an EOC

A municipality, government ministry or an organization such as a police service may decide to open their EOC for various reasons.

They may require additional resources to support an incident response or use the facility where an EOC is located to prepare for an emerging threat such as an infectious disease outbreak. An EOC may also be opened to manage a planned event.footnote 5

Below are some instances where opening an EOC may be needed:

  • a complex incident outside of normal operations occurs which requires the involvement of many incident responders representing various communities and/or organizations or crosses boundaries into neighbouring jurisdictions
  • a potentially high-risk incident is about to occur such as a flood or a winter stormfootnote 6
  • the incident commander believes an incident could grow rapidly with the potential to cause a chain of effects and/or require additional resources
  • the EOC director and/or a senior or elected official requests the opening of an EOC
  • an incident that is non-site-specific, such as a health emergency
  • a planned event

Just as IMS is scalable at the site, it is also scalable in an EOC. However, an EOC may only consist of an EOC director providing support to the site or have some or all functional sections stood up.

7.3 EOC options

The role of an EOC may vary due to the nature of the response and the incident response organization. EOCs often provide support to the site(s). However, in some responses, they may play a coordination or, more rarely, a command role.

EOCs vary in size and staffing. Some EOCs are smaller and are staffed by personnel that are called upon. Others are larger and have permanently staffed positions. It is important that all EOC personnel have taken necessary training and participate in regular testing and exercises to ensure that the EOC option used by the community and/or organization works effectively during an incident.

This section outlines three EOC options. All EOC options are interoperable with the site and with one another. The EOC option chosen should be based on what works best for the community and/or organization.

In some communities and organizations, the layout of an EOC is similar to the site. The EOC option that best matches this layout is option 1 – site-based EOC. In this option, the functional sections are site-based and have the same names (see Section 7.9 – Option 1 – Site-based EOC).

In other communities and organizations, there is greater emphasis for an EOC to gather situational awareness and provide support to the site. The EOC option that best matches this layout is option 2 – incident support EOC (see Section 7.11 – Option 2 – Incident support EOC). Option 2 may be highly useful in EOCs that mostly focus on gathering information. When obtaining and sharing information is the primary role of an EOC, the liaison officer and incident response personnel may take on a central role within an EOC.

The third EOC option, option 3 – incident support hybrid EOC, places greater emphasis on providing support to the site and has functional section names similar to those used at the site (see Section 7.12 – Option 3 – Incident support hybrid EOC).

Using IMS is also recommended at additional incident management locations. Additional incident management locations are places that coordinate and support incident response activities such as family and friends assistance centres or general reception centres. Using IMS at all locations involved in an incident response promotes interoperability and allows all incident responders and the communities and organizations they represent to work together effectively and efficiently.

7.4 Standard EOC roles and responsibilities

EOCs have standard roles and responsibilities. The EOC director decides which roles must be staffed and which sections are required to manage the incident effectively and efficiently.

EOC roles

EOC director: In most incidents, the main responsibility of an EOC director is to coordinate support (resources and information) for an incident response. EOC directors may also coordinate other aspects of an incident response such as traffic control operations or flood mitigation efforts. In rare circumstances, the EOC director may be in command of an incident response and take on the title of EOC commander.

Health and safety officer: This is the EOC equivalent of the safety officer. The health and safety officer is concerned with the physical and mental well-being of the incident response personnel within an EOC.footnote 7

Liaison officer: The primary contact for outside communities and organizations involved in supporting an incident response. Communities and organizations may include all levels of government, NGOs and private sector organizations. The liaison officer advises the EOC director on any matters relating to outside support for an incident response, including any requests for assistance.

Emergency information officer (EIO): The emergency information officer acts as the public information lead. The EIO (or a designate) may be deployed to the site or sit within coordination and command at an EOC. The EIO should brief the EOC director and other incident responders on matters relating to public information. It is important to note that all internal information management is the responsibility of all incident responders but in particular, the planning section in a site-based EOC option. In a large incident response with a greater need for communications, a public information management section may be stood up with the EIO acting as the section chief (see Section 7.10 – EOC public information management section (led by the EIO)).

Scribe: The primary responsibility of scribes is incident record-keeping. Scribes take and collect notes throughout the duration of an incident. They should also take notes during meetings and teleconference calls as well as record key activities, events, agreements and any matters of potential legal significance. In many organizations such as police services, the scribe is responsible for following the incident commander at all times, taking notes at all command meetings and documenting decisions made. Incident record keeping is everyone’s responsibility and all incident responders should take notes.

Additional roles

Scientific/Technical: The scientist or technical specialist provides expertise, monitors various activities and may recommend mitigation or protective actions if needed. The scientist or technical specialist may sit within coordination and command. If needed, a dedicated scientific/technical section can be stood up.

Deputy EOC director: In the absence of an EOC director, the deputy EOC director may be given the authority to manage a function or coordinate tasks. In some cases, the deputy EOC director may step in when an EOC director is handling other duties such as briefing senior and elected officials.

Executive assistant to EOC director: The primary responsibility of the executive assistant role is to support the work of an EOC director. The executive assistant often coordinates the “briefing up” of incident information to senior and elected officials, which includes managing correspondence, preparing briefing decks and other documents as needed.

Legal advisor: The legal advisor may be needed to provide advice and to identify and manage legal matters relating to an incident.

Other roles within an EOC are usually carried out within specific sections. The roles and responsibilities of each section are described in Sections 7.5 – 7.9 and in Sections 7.10 – 7.13.

7.5 EOC operations section and variations

Unless an EOC has a command responsibility, an EOC operations section does not carry out tactical activities needed to directly respond to an incident. This is the responsibility of the site operations team.

The EOC operations section may focus on supporting the response or directly coordinating aspects of an incident. If the operations section is staffed by more than one person, the operations section chief should organize the section to meet the incident’s needs and make efficient use of resources. The EOC operations section should include incident response personnel from other communities and organizations that have a role in the incident response.

IMS offers three EOC options to reflect the different communities and organizations as well as the roles of EOCs in various incidents (see Sections 7.9 – 7.12 for information on the EOC options):

  • EOC option 1 uses a site-based EOC operations section that helps support site operations. The EOC operations section is responsible for communication and coordination with the site.
  • EOC option 2 combines the responsibilities of the operations section with the situation unit and is referred to as the situational awareness section.
  • EOC option 3 refers the operations section as the operational awareness section and includes both the responsibilities of the operations section and those carried out by the situation unit.

Regardless of the EOC options, an EOC operations section should coordinate with other EOCs and incident response organizations throughout the planning cycle. This may include meetings, teleconference calls and other regularly scheduled check-ins. This section may work with the logistics section to gather resources for the site or with the planning section to develop short-term plans.

The primary responsibilities of the EOC operations section include:

  • coordinating day-to-day support and EOC coordination activities on behalf of the EOC director
  • communicating with the EOC director and other functional sections to keep them informed of the current situation
  • supporting the development of the incident action plan, including the development of objectives, strategies and tactics
  • implementing the IAP and making adjustments if necessary as the incident develops
    • the operations section chief is responsible for determining whether any changes require the EOC director’s approval
  • managing the operation of all resources assigned to an incident

If an incident involves a large number of casualties, a victim services or emergency social services branch may also be required within an EOC operations section.

7.6 EOC planning section

The EOC planning section is responsible for managing the incident action plan process, long-term planning and contingency planning. Depending on the EOC option, they may also be responsible for situational awareness. The planning section function can be performed by an EOC director, a single planning section chief or an entire planning section may be stood up and staffed depending on the size of the incident response organization and the nature of the incident.

It is important to note that unlike the site, the situation unit may or may not sit within the EOC planning section. In EOC option 2, the situational awareness section takes on the role of the situation unit and is responsible for gathering, sharing and maintaining situational awareness. In EOC option 3, the operational awareness section takes on the role of the situation unit. Regardless of the EOC option, situational awareness must be clearly assigned and is key to effective and efficient incident management.

Developing plans

The EOC planning section has three main planning functions: incident action planning, long-term planning and contingency planning.

Incident action planning is the first priority for an EOC planning section. The incident action planning process includes:

  • working with other functional sections and the EOC director to prepare the IAP that captures incident objectives, strategies and tactics for the next operational period
  • producing and sharing a written version of the incident action plan

Long-term planning is an ongoing task. The long-term planning process includes:

  • consulting with the other functional sections and the EOC director as well as making use of existing plans such as an emergency response plan
  • considering scenarios for possible situations and resource needs beyond the current operational period based on current situational awareness and risk assessments
  • developing plans for incident response activities beyond the current IAP
  • when needed, beginning to plan for the shift from response to recovery, including demobilization (see Section 8 – Demobilization)

Contingency planning is an important aspect of preparedness both before and during an incident. The contingency planning process includes:

  • Creating plans that incorporate possible risks and outcomes based on the best and worst-case scenarios for possible events that may happen in the future in order to be better prepared.

The situation unit and information management

The EOC planning section may have an information management function if the situation unit is within an EOC planning section. The situation unit is responsible for maintaining situational awareness and record keeping as well as:

  • collecting, confirming, analyzing and sharing information about an incident
  • sharing situation reports and ensuring that current situation information is available to incident response personnel
  • managing incident documentation and records

7.7 EOC logistics section

The EOC logistics section locates, provides and tracks resources to support an incident response. These resources support both the incident and the responders. In EOC option 2, the responsibilities outlined in this section are performed by the resource and operational support section.

The EOC logistics section is responsible for meeting the needs of an EOC and/or additional incident management locations as well as its personnel. This includes ensuring that there is equipment, supplies and food as needed for an EOC and/or additional incident management locations.

Resources at the site or in an EOC may include:

  • personnel
  • equipment
  • supplies
  • services
  • facilities
  • telecommunications and IT support
  • transportation
  • medical services for incident response personnel

The primary responsibilities of the EOC logistics section include:

  • ordering, receiving, storing and housing resources such as supplies and personnel
  • setting up, maintaining and demobilizing facilities such as the EOC and/or additional incident management locations
  • arranging transportation
  • setting up, maintaining and tracking telecommunications and IT equipment
  • providing medical services for incident response personnel
  • arranging food services

The EOC logistics section often works closely with the EOC finance and administration section to coordinate efforts around procurement, tracking and paying for resources and keeping records.

7.8 EOC finance and administration section

In EOC option 2, the responsibilities outlined in this section are divided between the resource and operational support section and the EOC support section as described in Section 7.11 – Option 2 – Incident support EOC. In EOC option 3, the responsibilities outlined in this section are carried out by the EOC support and finance and administration section.

The primary responsibilities of the EOC finance and administration section include:

  • managing financial matters, including leases and vendor contracts
  • tracking and reporting on costs incurred
  • recommending cost-saving measures
  • managing administrative databases
  • tracking timesheets for incident response personnel and other resources
  • tracking, analyzing and reporting on compensation resulting from property damage or injuries
  • tracking mutual assistance arrangements and monitoring their costs
  • tracking disaster recovery assistance arrangements and monitoring their costs
  • tracking fundraising when needed

It is recommended that vendor contracts and mutual assistance/mutual aid arrangements are negotiated in advance to avoid resource shortages and unexpected higher costs during incidents.

7.9 Option 1 – Site-based EOC

For incident response organizations already familiar with IMS at the site, a site-based structure may be the most preferred option. The site-based EOC option matches the incident response structure at the site. Some communities and organizations may modify titles and sections to meet their specific needs. It is important to train incident response personnel to recognize the standard titles so they can work effectively and efficiently with response organizations.

When an EOC is commanding an incident response, the EOC director title may be changed to EOC commander.

Chart 3: Option 1 – site-based EOC

  • EOC director/EOC commander
    • Liaison officer
    • Scribe
    • Health and safety officer
    • Emergency information officer
      • Operations section
      • Planning section
      • Logistics section
      • Finance and administration section

An organizational chart to describe option 1: site-based EOC structure. In green boxes, it consists of an EOC director/commander, liaison officer, health and safety officer, emergency information officer and a scribe. It is divided into functional sections including: an operations section (red box), planning section (blue box), logistics section (yellow box) and finance and administration section (grey box).

7.10 EOC public information management section (led by the EIO)

Depending on what is required, an incident may operate with a single EIO or a section may be stood up and staffed with a team. Some communities and organizations may prefer to keep the EIO as part of the coordination and command staff regardless of whether the EIO has a team reporting to them. Others may have a public information management section stood up with the EIO acting as the section chief.

The primary responsibilities of the public information management section include:

  • preparing and sharing information with the public through public information releases, warnings and alerts
  • monitoring the media and public reaction
  • acting as the media liaison for all media related activities such as press briefings
  • developing media messages for the IAP and all public facing messages
  • advising the EOC director/EOC commander and public information management section personnel on communications issues

Chart 4: Option 1 – site-based EOC with a public information management section

  • EOC director/EOC commander
    • Liaison officer
    • Scribe
    • Health and safety officer
      • Operations section
      • Planning section
      • Logistics section
      • Finance and administration section
      • Public information management section

An organizational chart to describe option 1: site-based EOC structure with a public information management section. In green boxes, it consists of an EOC director/commander, liaison officer, health and safety officer and a scribe. It is divided into functional sections including: an operations section (red box), planning section (blue box), logistics section (yellow box), finance and administration section (grey box) and a public information management section (purple box).

Communicating during complex incidents

During a complex incident, communicating with the public plays an important role in the response effort. As the number of incident response organizations increases and the incident becomes more complex, so does the need for coordination and collaboration.

Coordinated messaging is very important. In complex incidents, a joint-emergency information centre (joint-EIC) may be established to coordinate communication efforts.

At the same time, it is important to note that the approval process in a complex incident may also be subject to change, which can interfere with timely communication. Therefore, pre-approved messaging and pre-planning collaborative communication strategies are important tools to help communicate effectively and efficiently in complex incidents.

When to consider a public information management section

In chaotic circumstances and complex incidents, it is likely that there will be a strong demand for timely information about many topics which must be shared on all platforms ranging from social media to news broadcasts. Under these circumstances, an emergency information officer (EIO) may decide to stand up a public information management section to address the strong demand for information relating to an incident.

7.11 Option 2 – Incident support EOC

EOC option 2 can be useful when an EOC does not have any tactical operational responsibilities. Some EOCs focus exclusively on providing incident support through information, planning and resource support. These EOCs may find that option 2 works best for them.

The incident support EOC also highlights an important function in many EOCs; providing senior and elected officials with situational awareness about an incident. Effective and efficient communication between senior and elected officials as well as the incident responders is important to successful incident management.

In some instances, these options can be combined. For example, an EOC may choose to use a logistics section from EOC option 1 instead of the resource and operational support section in EOC option 2. It is important to ensure that the role of each functional section is fully understood by all personnel in an EOC and that the responsibility for maintaining situational awareness is clearly assigned.

The choice of coordination and command staff (also known as command staff) roles and responsibilities are the same across all three EOC options.

Chart 5: Option 2 – incident support EOC

  • EOC director
    • Liaison officer
    • Scribe
    • Health and safety officer
    • Emergency information officer
      • Situational awareness section
      • Planning support section
      • Resource and operational support section
      • EOC support section

An organizational chart to describe option 2: incident support EOC structure. In green boxes, it consists of an EOC director, liaison officer, health and safety officer, emergency information officer and a scribe. It is divided into functional sections including: a situational awareness section (red box), planning support section (blue box), resource and operational support section (yellow box) and an EOC support section (grey box).

Incident support EOC sections

  • Situational awareness section: Maintains current situational awareness and information tracking through contact with the operations section at the site and other means. It contains the situation unit, which can be found within the planning section in EOC option 1. The situation unit shares situation information with the planning section and incident responders through situation reports.
  • Resource and operational support section: Combines the resource support functions of both the operations and logistics sections into one streamlined section. This section does all sourcing, ordering and tracking of resources including the financial and administrative functions related to those resources.
  • Planning support section: Tasked with long-term, contingency and demobilization planning but without responsibility for situational awareness and information management.
  • EOC support section: Provides resources and support to the EOC facility and its personnel, including the financial and administrative functions directly related to the EOC.
  • Emergency information officer (EIO): A public information management section (see Chart 6 below) can be added if there is a strong demand for information relating to an incident. In this case, the EIO becomes the public information management section chief. The public information management section is responsible for communicating with the public about an incident and the incident response effort.

Chart 6: Option 2 – Incident support EOC with an optional public information management section

  • EOC director
    • Liaison officer
    • Scribe
    • Health and safety officer
      • Situational awareness section
      • Planning support section
      • Resource and operational support section
      • EOC support section
      • Public information management section

An organizational chart to describe option 2: incident support EOC structure with an optional public information management section. In green boxes, it consists of an EOC director, liaison officer, health and safety officer and a scribe. It is divided into functional sections including: a situational awareness section (red box), planning support section (blue box), resource and operational support section (yellow box), EOC support section (grey box) and an optional public information management section (purple box).

7.12 Option 3 – Incident support hybrid EOC

The incident support hybrid EOC option combines features of the site-based option and the incident support EOC option. It uses standard terminology but is slightly modified to better reflect the support and situational awareness roles and responsibilities that are the focus of activities conducted in many EOCs.

Chart 7: Option 3 – incident support hybrid EOC

  • EOC director
    • Liaison officer
    • Scribe
    • Health and safety officer
    • Emergency information officer
      • Operational awareness section
      • Planning support section
      • Logistics support section
      • EOC support and finance and administration section

An organizational chart to describe option 3: incident support hybrid EOC structure. In green boxes, it consists of an EOC director, liaison officer, health and safety officer, emergency information officer and a scribe. It is divided into functional sections including: an operational awareness section (red box), planning support section (blue box), logistics support section (yellow box) and an EOC support and finance and administration section (grey box).

Incident support hybrid EOC sections

  • Operational awareness section: Contains the situation unit. It maintains current situational awareness and information tracking through contact with the operations section at the site and other means. This section is responsible for issuing situation reports and shares all relevant situation information with the planning support section. The operational awareness section may also offer information, support and guidance to the operations section at the site.
  • Logistics support section: Combines the resource support functions of both the operations and logistics sections into one streamlined section. This section does all sourcing, ordering and tracking of resources.
  • Planning support section: Tasked with long-term, contingency and demobilization planning.
  • EOC support and finance and administration section: Provides resources and support to an EOC facility and its personnel, including the financial and administrative functions directly related to the site and the EOC.
  • Emergency information officer (EIO): A public information management section can be added if there is a strong demand for information relating to an incident. In this case, the EIO becomes the public information management section chief. A public information management section is responsible for communicating with the public about an incident and the incident response effort.

Chart 8: Option 3 – incident support hybrid EOC with an optional public information management section

  • EOC director
    • Liaison officer
    • Scribe
    • Health and safety officer
      • Situational awareness section
      • Planning support section
      • Resource and operational support section
      • EOC support and finance and administration section
      • Public information management section

An organizational chart to describe option 3: incident support hybrid EOC structure with an optional public information management section. In green boxes, it consists of an EOC director, liaison officer, health and safety officer and a scribe. It is divided into functional sections including: a situational awareness section (red box), planning support section (blue box), resource and operational support section (yellow box), an EOC support and finance and administration section (grey box) and an optional public information management section (purple box).

7.13 Scientific/Technical section

In an incident such as a nuclear incident, there may be a need to create a scientific/technical section that reports directly to the incident commander or an EOC director. This section should work closely with the operations and planning sections to ensure important information is shared as needed.

Chart 9: EOC option 1 with an optional scientific/technical section

  • EOC director
    • Operations section
    • Planning section
    • Logistics section
    • Finance and administration section
    • Scientific/technical section

An organizational chart to describe option 1: site-based EOC with an optional scientific/technical section. It consists of an EOC director (green box) and is divided into functional sections including: an operations section (red box), planning section (blue box), logistics section (yellow box), finance and administration section (grey box) and an optional scientific/technical section (light blue box).

The primary responsibilities of the scientific/technical section include:

  • performing ongoing monitoring and surveillance of scientific and technical issues
  • performing field-based monitoring and surveillance
  • undertaking field-based sampling when needed
  • analyzing and evaluating scientific and technical data
  • tracking and sharing meteorological data and forecasts
  • making recommendations for mitigation, protective actions and remediation
  • other responsibilities as required

7.14 Other additional IMS functions in an EOC

Other additional IMS functions in an EOC may need to be activated. This may include:

  • intelligence
  • investigations
  • emergency social services
  • continuity of operations

Descriptions of these functions can be found in Section 3.3 – Additional IMS functions. The functions may need to be carried out within existing functional sections or may require dedicated sections for operational reasons.


Footnotes

  • footnote[5] Back to paragraph For example, the Toronto Raptors championship parade in 2019.
  • footnote[6] Back to paragraph For example, the 1998 and 2013 ice storms have led municipalities in Ontario to open their EOCs in anticipation of an ice storm.
  • footnote[7] Back to paragraph In the 2003 SARS response, this included a medical screening for incoming incident response personnel to prevent the spread of infection.
Updated: July 18, 2022
Published: March 24, 2022