Sept 95 Level of Govt: Local, State

Function: Emergency Response

Problem/Situation: Emergency Response Centers are vital in times of disaster, but are often ill-equipped for handling such emergencies

Solution: The use of groupware can often ease communications between agencies in a disaster, allowing them to focus on the tasks at hand

Jurisdiction: Los Angeles, Calif

Vendors: Lotus, MultiMation Inc., VSP Associates

Contact: Los Angeles Police Department Sergeant Rob Gandy, 213/847-1653

By David Aden Contributing Writer

6:30 a.m.: An earthquake hits Los Angeles. The epicenter is somewhere near the Port of Los Angeles. At least one building is reported collapsed and several fires have broken out. Fire personnel, police, building inspectors, the Red Cross, the Mayor's office and other municipal and state agencies need to be informed. Personnel deployments need to be monitored

6:45 a.m.: Information starts to come in from rescue workers on site. The situation, while bad, is not as grim as originally feared. Firemen are bringing the worst of the fires under control. Additional rescue personnel will be needed soon to dig out several small, apparently empty, structures that collapsed. A water main has ruptured and is flooding one local street. Water commission engineers need to be dispatched to get the situation under control. Extra police are needed to control traffic on a nearby thoroughfare where the traffic lights are out and rush hour is beginning. 7:15 a.m.: Rescue workers have confirmed no one was caught in the collapsed structures. The street flooding has been stopped, but 500 households and several businesses are without water. A plan for a temporary solution has been proposed by the engineer on site. Building inspectors have begun to report in on damage to local bridges and public facilities. One bridge has been closed. A new traffic pattern needs to be worked out and posted with signs and personnel. Seismographic information has come in from several agencies. The Red Cross has asked for an okay to occupy the local high school gym. The Mayor's office is calling for an updated report on the extent of the damage, and the rescue and containment actions, for a press briefing in five minutes

Although the above scenario is fictional, there is a key element of truth in it: disasters of any type or size require thorough, quick and effective coordination between numerous local, state and federal agencies. The effectiveness of that coordination directly affects how well a business, city, state or nation responds to the emergency. Good coordination saves lives

EMERGENCY OPERATIONS CENTERS Most large cities and many businesses have a designated Emergency Operations Center (EOC). This may be as simple as a conference room with extra phone and power lines, or as sophisticated as a dedicated building specifically designed as a command center for use in disaster situations

Whatever the form, the EOC serves as the focal point for disaster response and recovery

Prior to the Los Angeles Northridge earthquake, the Los Angeles EOC was poorly equipped. According to Bob Olson, president of VSP Associates Inc., a consulting firm brought in to evaluate Los Angeles' EOC in 1991, Los Angeles "had an EOC probably outfitted in the late 60s or early 70s that served primarily as the police department [disaster] center. The equipment was old and the internal operations were an old manual system. The map displays were hard to maintain and hard to see - they were posted with grease pencils," he said

VSP suggested three alternatives to the city, ranging from minimal improvements of the existing space to construction of an entirely new facility. The city took the middle course by opting to make major improvements to the existing EOC. The floorspace was completely reorganized, new workstations were designed and specially constructed, the lighting and air conditioning

David Aden  | 
David Aden is a writer from Washington, D.C.