Disaster Zone

Command Vs. Coordination--In the EOC

When it comes to operating from the EOC, it is about coordination and not command.

by Eric Holdeman / July 4, 2013

There is a definite desire to have someone be in charge during a disaster.  This has led to much misunderstanding of the role of emergency management and the role of the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) specifically.  


Let's debunk one fallacy that most people outside of emergency management have.  Some may acknowledge that coordination rules before a disaster, but there is this intense desire by it seems "everyone" to have someone be "in charge" during a disaster.  Perhaps it is that they want to have a single individual to blame.  That is why when you mention the concept of an EOC to people outside of emergency management they will often substitute the words Command Center when describing what happens there during disasters.  It is one of the reasons that I prefer the term Emergency Coordination Center (ECC) over EOC.  It more appropriately describes the activities that occur at that location. 


One of the ways we feed the above thinking is that many people are using the Incident Command System (ICS) and directly inserting it into the EOC structure.  Again, I think this is not helpful in people understanding the coordination function of the EOC.  It’s not just ex-military people who can get confused by using this terminology.  If you have an Incident Commander in the EOC, what is he or she "commanding?"  I believe you need to use the principles of ICS in operating a EOC, but command resides on scene.  The EOC is in reality a place to coordinate the support to field operations.  It may set community level priorities and certainly during the recovery phase may have more of a "direction and control" function once the response phase is completed.  People will learn to appreciate the coordination and facilitation role you have. 


Coordination is after all a higher skill level requirement than that of just “commanding.”