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EOC Versus ECC

Which term do you use -- and why?

This is my June 2020 IAEM Bulletin Disaster Zone column:


If there is an emergency management organization in government at the state and local levels, there is likely to be a place that is called the Emergency Operations Center (EOC). It might be a dedicated space that has that primary responsibility as being the response center during emergencies and disasters. Or, in many cases it is a "designated" location that has another every-day purpose but can be converted to be the EOC when there is a need. There are many EOCs that reside in conference rooms that perhaps have been modified to have additional telephone and computer connections.

The term "Emergency Operations Center" came out of military applications. Just as any military person will recognize the Incident Command System (ICS) as having its origins in how the military operates, so too there was an adoption of the term "EOC" as a place where people gather to respond to disasters.

It was a natural progression, because in the early years of emergency management the term used was "Civil Defense." Up until the establishment of the Department of Homeland Security, there were many state and local "emergency management" offices that still had "civil defense" in their titles. The last significant one to change a few years ago was the state of Hawaii.

Military personnel who had retired from active duty were many times selected to be the local civil defense director. They came to their positions and brought much of their military training with them. They also brought their military terminology and manner of operating. It was these early emergency management pioneers who brought the term "EOC" into the emergency management lexicon.

My point in writing today is to suggest that there is a better term that aptly describes the function and the activities that take place in the EOC. I would like to suggest that the term "Emergency Coordination Center" (ECC) is more descriptive for what happens at the EOC. A military EOC is a command center. It is the location where the commander and his staff direct military operations for the units assigned to his command. Operational plans are drawn up at the EOC and then passed to military units for them to execute exactly as they are prepared.

In the vast majority of situations, this is not what happens at a civilian government’s EOC. While there can be planning and priority setting, the actual "command" of any situation exists in the field with the Incident Commander (IC). There are in fact many an Incident Commander, who chafes at the idea of the government’s EOC directing their activities. Many a news reporter, and even the governor of Washington state in a recent news conference, referred to his EOC as the "command center." In most cases, it is not a command center.

What really happens at an EOC is coordination. There can be a multitude of organizations represented at the EOC that are not under the direct control of the parent organization that hosts the physical location of the EOC. There can be private-sector representatives there representing utilities or major business interests. They are not being commanded or ordered to do anything. They are there to get the scoop on what is going on and to "coordinate" their activities with government officials.

Adopting the term "Emergency Coordination Center" can be very beneficial to a host of people who are unfamiliar with emergencies and disasters. When they are directed to go to an ECC, they immediately will understand that they are there to coordinate with others. If someone in government is assigned to work at the ECC, they immediately understand that they "don’t command anyone."

As for who leads the functions of the ECC, I am not hung up on what terms you might use. Once the function of coordination is established for the facility itself, then you can call the person in charge the ECC Director or Incident Manager for the ECC. I would just not call him or her "commander" since the majority of people arriving at an ECC are not going to be under their direct authority.

To show you that my opinion and ideas don’t count for much, the two locations that I had the authority to re-designate from being called an EOC and became an ECC have both reverted back to be called an EOC after my departure. Perhaps I’m rowing against the current, but I’ll keep rowing!


by Eric E. Holdeman, Senior Fellow, Emergency Management magazine. He blogs at


Eric Holdeman is a contributing writer for Emergency Management magazine and is the former director of the King County, Wash., Office of Emergency Management.