Emergency operations centers are a vital resource for state and local governments, and they are starting to expand to their next logical iteration: virtual EOCs. These online, often cloud-based centers allow remote stakeholders to see what’s happening at a brick-and-mortar EOC. Virtual centers can also serve as EOCs in their own right, providing a virtual space for stakeholders to coordinate and share information.
Like other types of next-generation work centers — such as real-time crime centers and transportation centers — EOCs bring together stakeholders so they can more effectively leverage information and resources to achieve better, faster outcomes. EOCs often have a secondary objective of sharing information, whether with citizens or other agencies. Both goals make virtualization solutions a natural fit for EOC operations.
Interest in virtual EOCs and virtual access to EOCs predates the pandemic. However, the events of the past year have reaffirmed the importance of being able to bring stakeholders together remotely, as well as the value of collaborative, real-time data analysis. In addition, virtualization enables participants to maintain social distancing without compromising their ability to work together to manage a crisis.
Virtual EOCs Expand Stakeholder Access and Information Sharing
Virtualization in emergency management provides the same type of “anytime, anywhere” access that drives transformation in other fields. In the types of events to which EOCs respond, such as natural disasters, remote access must be flexible, and virtualization makes that possible. Stakeholders may be in their offices; onsite at a different location, using a laptop or mobile device; or with a field team reporting data back to the EOC.
For example, a state-level EOC may want to provide the governor’s office with remote access to everything that’s happening in the center, including the information being correlated and depicted for decision-making. A city police force may need to share data and activity from a joint operation command with other law enforcement agencies.
Virtualization gives EOCs greater flexibility to adapt their crisis response to specific circumstances. The University of Washington, for example, shifted its EOC to virtual-only staffing in early 2020 to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Even before the pandemic, UW maintained a virtual EOC. The online system, housed on Google and secured via password-protected access, lets EOC responders, stakeholders and other partners coordinate through an online incident management system.
Build a Unified Crisis Response Around the Right Virtual Supports
Establishing a virtual EOC starts with the necessary technological solutions. Having many resources in the cloud has undoubtedly contributed to the shift toward virtualization, making it easier to create a virtual experience and to share data in depth. Networking, videoconferencing, collaboration tools and cybersecurity are integral.
It’s also essential to address governance and operations, developing appropriate strategies to support effective remote collaboration. Interoperability comes into play too, and that encompasses more than simply making it possible for one group to talk to another group. Cultural alignment is key to ensure that EOC activities yield the most unified, effective response.
EOCs and other next-generation work centers improve outcomes by ensuring they are driven by data and by collaboration. Virtualization extends these processes to include more stakeholders and to share information more quickly.