In a major disaster, one of DEM’s primary responsibilities is to open and operate Lexington’s emergency operations center (EOC). The EOC is the place where DEM and other agencies coordinate county-wide response and recovery operations during a disaster.
Not every emergency requires an EOC to support the emergency workers in the field. Responders manage routine events like structure fires and traffic accidents at an incident command post. However, when an incident is so large or complex that it exceeds the capacity of Lexington’s normal staffing and resources, additional support and coordination are necessary. In such an event, the mayor, public safety commissioner, or DEM director can order the EOC’s activation.
Recent incidents that have required EOC activation in Lexington include the 2003 and 2009 ice storms, the 2004 Masterson Station tornado, the reception of Hurricane Rita evacuees in 2005, 2006’s flooding, and the 2007 recovery operations for Comair Flight 5191. The EOC also activates every year for the CSEPP full-scale exercise.
When the EOC activates, representatives of many different agencies report for duty. Each of these EOC coordinators represents a particular emergency support function (ESF), a government or private-sector activity that is critical for effective management of an incident. Not all ESFs are involved in all disasters – for example, ESF-12 (energy and public utilities) is critical in an ice storm but has little role in a plane crash.
The incident commander (IC) and general staff in the field are in charge of response operations, which focus on immediate threats to life, property, and the environment. The EOC supports the responders’ work by handling the “back office” load of information and resource management. This can include such tasks as:
Situational Awareness – A comprehensive picture of everything that’s happening in the emergency and in the surrounding area is critical to effective decision-making. The EOC collates information from many different sources, assembles it into a comprehensive whole, and communicates it to everyone who needs it.
Resource Management – A large event requires a lot of support, from equipment to handle specific hazards, to trained personnel who can operate that equipment, to supplies to keep the equipment and personnel operating. The EOC tracks the IC’s need for all these resources, locates them, and arranges for them to be dispatched to where they’re needed.
Communications – Through redundant communication systems, the EOC maintains the response operation’s connections to the outside world, even when phone lines and Internet routers are down. In a full-scale activation, Lexington’s EOC includes up to four radio operators who can use satellite phones, public safety and amateur radio transceivers, and other equipment to establish contact with anyone the EOC needs to talk to. Even when normal telecommunication systems are fully functional, the EOC is the point of contact between local officials and state and federal agencies.
Public Information – In any disaster, information is one of the public’s greatest needs. The EOC includes a joint information center (JIC), which is where public information officers (PIOs) from all of the responding agencies can collaborate. From broadcast and print news to social media, the JIC ensures that the public receives swift, clear, and consistent messages.
Decision-Making Coordination – Because the EOC has the clearest overall picture of the community’s status and resource needs, it’s a natural location for executive leadership to receive situation briefings and make policy decisions about response and recovery.
Facility and History
Since DEM’s formation in 1988 (then we were “DEEM” – the second “E” stood for “Environmental”), Lexington’s EOC has had several sites. The original location was a conference room on the third floor of the police headquarters building. This wasn’t a permanent facility. Instead, DEM staff set up notebook computers and ran network cables for each incident and training session that required the EOC to be operational.
In addition to the EOC’s management functions, the first site housed a half-dozen volunteer calltakers from other LFUCG divisions. Their phone bank enabled citizens to make non-emergency requests for assistance directly to the EOC, where coordinators would then pass along the requests to the government agencies that were best able to help. The photo to the left shows this facility in operation during the 2003 ice storm.
When DEM moved to its Martin Luther King Boulevard offices in 2007, a permanent EOC was established there. The calltakers were moved out of the main EOC space into their own work area. DEM also was able to establish a communications bay adjacent to the EOC, allowing the installation of multiple radios for direct communication with response agencies and amateur radio volunteers. The conference room at police headquarters became Lexington’s backup EOC, usable if a disaster took the primary facility offline.
The permanent EOC facility followed DEM in the division’s 2012 move to Cisco Road. As part of this transition, DEM established a partnership with LexCall, enabling that agency to serve as the EOC’s call center. The Cisco Road facility offered much more floorspace than our previous sites. This enabled us to add more workstations to the EOC, including those for liaisons from state and federal agencies and private-sector partners. DEM eliminated the calltaker workspace in this move, as a new partnership with LexCall enabled us to open up the city’s 3-1-1 information line for citizens’ needs.
In October 2016, DEM moved back to Cisco Road, which is now be Lexington’s new Public Safety Operations Center (PSOC). The PSOC houses DEM, Enhanced 9-1-1, and LexCall/3-1-1, providing Lexington with unparalleled emergency communication and coordination capabilities. The banner image at the top of the page shows our first coordinator training session in our new EOC.