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Another Viewpoint on EOC vs. ECC

A reader's contribution with an "informed" opinion.

by Eric Holdeman / July 8, 2020

My June IAEM Bulletin took on the issue of what to call the place that is activated when disasters happen, EOC vs. ECC.

Tom Cox, Canadian Eh! (you will see an alternative spelling for centre) wrote up an excellent piece below that I'm sharing with you here. Tom has extensive experience in training the Incident Command System (ICS), thus the integration with the field is something he addresses.

Late in the piece he gets to the point of suggesting the facility be called by the name of the problem to be solved. My wife just yelled up to me that our "new" stove/oven won't light/heat. So, I guess I need to activate the "Stove Won't Work Centre!" 


Command: “You must do this!”

Coordination: “Will you please do this?” 

Command and Coordination are two sides of the same coin. Anyone who thinks simply barking orders (command) is going to have people willingly follow or to have automatic success is sadly mistaken. But if organizations refuse to allow their efforts to be coordinated, command will invariably be imposed and the ability to say “We won’t do that!” will be removed. It is interesting to me that the most perfect and pure example of coordination is in the box on the organization chart labelled “Command” on the ICS organization chart. If there is Unified Command, no commander has any authority over any of the other commanders and the only way they can succeed is by working through pure coordination or priorities, processes, personnel and timelines.  

The fear that many people have of command (and preference for coordination) is the that someone will tell them to do something they shouldn’t (unsafe/out of scope) and how to do it (uninformed strategies and tactics). A good all-hazards Operation Section Chief should be a great coordinator; they shouldn’t need to tell the various organizations how to do their job when those organizations already know how to do it. The Operations Section Chief, in the all-hazard response, should be a coordinator. They don’t have the expertise to tactically command fire, police, EMS, SAR, utilities, or anyone else who has an Objective to meet.

Which brings us to the ECC and EOC discussion.

For the typical Type 5 or Type 4 incident, the split between the Incident Command Post and ECC is pretty clear. The ICP deals with the threats to life, stability, property and environment while the ECC supports the site, deals with the impacts of the site on the rest of the community, and any non-ICS priorities (such as economy, tourism, culture, business reputation).   

I agree with the Incident Support Model that much of the ECC role is information sharing/management, resource acquisition, and advanced planning. At this point everything in the ECC is coordination.

There is a lot of discussion about EOC and ECC when an incident is jurisdictionwide, like a blizzard or hurricane. As well, there are many times when the ICP decides it is more convenient [note: I specifically did not say “more efficient”] to do the majority of ICS roles such as all the finance, information, logistics, and most planning. The IC essentially becomes a Branch Director because they don’t want all the responsibility of doing proper and complete ICS. Both the jurisdictionwide incident and the transfer of ICS functions make the ECC more of an EOC.  

So, how do I determine whether it is an ECC or an EOC?

Simple. I ask “Who did the 215/215a?” Whether it is verbal or documented, whoever is determining the resources required, tactically assigning them, and is responsible for their safety is acting as an Operations entity. Any EOC that says “We are in charge!” but is not doing the 215s and 215a is likely an ECC. Any ICP that lets someone else do the 215/215a is simply a Branch.   

A final observation:

I find both the ECC and EOC terminology to be a mistake. If you call it an EOC, then everyone tells the EOC to keep their nose out of the field’s business. If you call it an ECC, it sits back and does nothing (figuratively and sometimes literally) because nobody told them what to do. I have always framed the question “Why did you bring everyone in at 4 a.m.? What did you need them to do that couldn’t wait?” That very question can be answered with a variety of problems:

  • We needed a warning issued.
  • We needed to keep the Mayor informed
  • We needed more fire trucks
  • We needed an evacuation centre
  • We needed some legal, risk or HR advice

If any one of those (or combinations) is why you needed to bring people in at 04:00, then why don’t you call it what it really is. If you need warnings issued, it is an Emergency Warning Centre. If you need to keep the Mayor informed, it is the Emergency Politician Heads-Up Centre. If you need legal advice, it is the Emergency Legal Centre. In essence and in fact, it should be called the “Emergency Problem Centre”.  

Not all incidents cause problems that the Incident Commander needs help with. When they identify ANY problem they need help with, they are calling on the Director of Emergency Management who, in turn, activates the Emergency Problem Centre for anything they can’t handle; whether it was operations, coordination, or anything else.

I also find the focus on the “Problem(s)” helps clarify needs, roles, and definitions of what success looks like. If we understand the problem, we can determine when we need to be activated, what we must do, and when we must go home. We can do that either by coordination or by command, but it still has to be done!


Tom Cox

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