Lessons Learned from EOCs & Their IT Support

Whether dealing with a natural disaster, severe weather incident, or the election of the nation’s first African American president, all potential “incidents” require information technology (IT) support and a real-time information portal for first responders.

In 2008, then-Senator Barack Obama was elected as the nation’s 56th president, and on 20 January 2009 he became the first African American to serve in that post. Emergency managers and first-responder agencies in the greater Washington, D.C., area anticipated record crowds – an estimated 2-5 million people – for the three-day program of inaugural events, and recognized that maintaining security from start to finish would be a major challenge. The District’s Homeland Security and Emergency Management Agency (DC HSEMA) served as the lead District agency to plan and coordinate the city’s resources from multiple agencies and jurisdictions.

One of the many challenges that faced emergency managers was how to collaborate and coordinate their response and management efforts both timely and effectively. WebEOC, a Web-enabled crisis information management software tool, was employed by DC HSEMA to distribute information to National Capital Region (NCR) partners through the portals’ message boards. Emergency responders, police officers, and other personnel were able to upload field reports, share important data, and detail real-time information on the Inaugural operations, events, and priorities, all via WebEOC.

Access to the WebEOC portal not only gave NCR partners the tools they needed to stay attuned to all operational activities, but also enabled them to adjust staffing and planning efforts to meet changing situations spelled out in live reports posted on the message boards. By and large, NCR partners found the WebEOC tool both useful and necessary to their efforts. The 2009 Presidential Inauguration Regional After-Action Report – available on Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS.gov) – recommends that standard operating procedures (SOPs) also be developed as an additional improvement for coordinating and communicating important information during future inaugurations and other regional special events.

Weather Disasters & Other Emergencies In addition to national special events, IT support and information sharing would be critical not only in the event of a natural disaster but also, in most cases, during severe weather across neighboring regions. The year 2008 also marked a summer of destruction in Iowa, for example, during which extreme weather produced a series of severe storms – which in turn produced several tornadoes and a large amount of rainfall. By the end of the summer these storms had resulted in 17 fatalities, required the evacuation of 38,000 people, and damaged or destroyed over 21,000 housing units.

One example: After an EF-5 tornado struck Parkersburg, Iowa, on 25 May 2008, the Iowa Homeland Security and Emergency Management Division (HSEMD) activated the state emergency operations center (SEOC). The SEOC, in turn, granted WebEOC access to county and local officials both to facilitate information management and to maintain continued situational awareness through the WebEOC message boards. County EOCs and the SEOC were able to upload information related to property and road damage, county EOC activations, shelter operations, and resource requests.

The grand scale of these storms required greater use and reliance on IT systems and technical support. At times, the technology needs overwhelmed the center’s IT staff, and support personnel had difficulties balancing their official support assignments with their other support tasks. The 2008 Iowa Summer Storms After-Action Report (also available on LLIS.gov), recommends that the SEOC “explore additional opportunities to enhance its IT capabilities for future operations through additional collaboration with the Department of Administrative Services Information Technology Enterprise staff.” Applying this lesson learned from the after-action report will undoubtedly help ensure proper IT staffing for use in future large-scale and/or extended-duration incidents.


For additional information on the after-action reports mentioned, and more documentation on information technology and information sharing in general, log into LLIS.gov at www.llis.dhs.gov.

Sophia Paros

Sophia Paros, a contractor with SAIC, serves as the operations lead for Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS.gov), the DHS/FEMA (Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency) national online network of lessons learned, best practices, and innovative ideas for the nation’s homeland-security and emergency management communities. Paros has received a dual bachelor’s degree in Computer Information Systems and Business from the College of Notre Dame of Maryland, and is currently working on an M.S. in Information Assurance from The George Washington University.



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