The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many emergency managers to reevaluate their processes and plans around these types of events. As social distancing continues to be the norm, it can be challenging and dangerous to congregate in an EOC as part of a pandemic plan.
Veoci’s latest webinar “The Virtual Emergency Operations Center (EOC): Long Term Pandemic Management” tackles this issue, focusing on Virtual Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) and how they can be used for long term crisis management. A team of Veoci practitioners spoke about their experiences in the field of emergency management and working with physical and virtual EOCs.
Below is a summary of the webinar.
The webinar described below was originally recorded on Thursday, April 16th, 2020. You can request a recording of the webinar by emailing email@example.com.
A Look Into the Solution
In the first portion of the webinar Anthony DeGeorge, Solutions Engineer at Veoci gave a demo of Veoci’s virtual EOC showing how Veoci can be used to achieve a common operating picture during crisis situations, like the COVID-19 pandemic, and normal operating periods.
Veoci is fully customizable and can meet the needs of any organization. Many people who have activated for COVID-19 using Veoci’s virtual EOC have started with a basic template but have flexed, changed things, and made forms up on the fly to meet their specific needs around this response.
When an organization is ready to activate their plan, they can launch a pre-populated Room in Veoci with the click of a button. When the room is launched, administrators are able to name it based on the specific incident and send a notification to all room members.
The room is already set up with tiles that represent specific processes such as activity log, resource requests, pending tasks, incident reports, and shelter status. All of these tiles can be interacted with. For example, if you click into resource requests it prompts you for more information such as what type, location, and incident it’s related to. All of these entries can be edited, assigned, and approved.
The cockpit is the communication hub of the virtual EOC. It keeps all communication related to the incident in one place and helps prevent communication issues. The cockpit consists of a chat feed where you can directly insert web links, images, files, and videos.
It displays everyone who’s been invited to the room, who’s present, and who’s absent. It also provides the capability to add people into the conversation. Each person has a role assignment. Tasks can be assigned to a specific role and roles can also be designated as owners in a process.
The cockpit has a tagging feature that allows you to alert others if they are mentioned in a message. If someone is tagged, they will receive an alert email, a pop-up notification in Veoci, and a push notification on their mobile device (if enabled).
People can reply directly from the alert email and their message will go back to the cockpit where it is threaded with the original message. Threads are a way to group similar chats to to help direct people if they’re looking for a specific conversation.
Veoci’s virtual EOC also has mapping features. Any Form or Workflow that has a location field can be overlaid onto the map. There is also the capability to change icons and the color of icons based on the input to Form, Workflow, or Task. With Veoci, an end user has the same ability to create Forms, Workflows, and Tasks as our solutions experts.
The goal of Veoci’s virtual EOC is to collect data, make it actionable, and disseminate it back out. Veoci helps achieve a common operating picture and puts everybody on the same page.
During the COVID pandemic, Veoci administrators have built about 400 forms and workflows created; since the start of February, over 100 forms have been exposed to the public.
Perspective from the Experts
In the second half of the webinar, a panel of Veoci practitioners answered questions about their experiences with physical and virtual EOCs. This is a sampling of their responses.
You can request the recording of the webinar by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
Can you tell us about your past experiences with EOC’s both physical and virtual? Can you compare it with your current use of a virtual EOC?
Panelist: Most of my experience has been with a physical EOC. In my previous jobs I had access to a tool that was provided by the state. It was marketed as a virtual EOC, but it was mostly a place where you could collect data. It wasn’t actionable, and it wasn’t adjusted to meet the needs of the incident, so we weren’t equipped or prepared to take on operations virtually.
We did pen and paper, sticky notes all over the walls, and a lot of hard copies of 214’s. Comparing that to what I use now, because I use Veoci in my daily operations, it is night and day. I think all EM’s know that the very first thing to break down in an incident is communication. You would think that’s something that we would be very good at, because humans communicate all the time, but any incident I’ve been a part of has had problems with communications.
This virtual EOC allows people who need access to the information to have it in real time. If everyone is communicating in the virtual EOC you will have the common operating picture that Anthony was talking about. It helps lessen that period of organized chaos that we’ve all been a part of.
What did a virtual EOC mean to you before and what does it mean to you now after the COVID-19 pandemic?
Mark Demski: Anytime you may not be able to reach the EOC you still have accessibility to the system and operations from your phone and your tablet. With this, you’re able to start functioning immediately instead of having to wait until you’re in a specific physical location. You’re able to activate quicker and get information and supplies to the public faster. In a pandemic no one should be together in a close proximity of the EOC. With a virtual EOC you can activate and contribute to the response from your home or any other remote location.
What would you say is the most important aspect of activating and managing a quick and efficient response?
John Duddy: One of the most important things about activating with Veoci is that the platform is quickly learned â€“ it’s very user friendly. I have experience with this in a smaller town, where the training was almost immediate. Personnel obviously changes from time to time, but if you put someone in a seat that they’re not used to, Veoci can still be easily picked up.
Anthony DeGeorge: Across all of the healthcare EM trainings I’ve delivered or attended, there’s always a statement that is made: emergencies don’t happen Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00 when the people who know what to do are in the building. They’re overnight, they’re weekends, they’re off hours typically, and that’s when we’re most vulnerable.
You need a process to quickly activate a plan, like I showed during the brief demo, and have tasks that are produced to give guidance and provide the first steps to control chaos and lay out what we have to do in the immediate response. Without this you have someone running around a building looking for a binder to find a page that will tell them what to do.
Is there anything else you’d like to add for our listeners?
Panelist: I’ve always had the motto “It’s better to anticipate and plan for change than to hope it will not arrive.” One of my other favorite sayings is “Failing to plan is planning to fail.” So I think while you’re going through this that you have to pay close attention to the lessons learned throughout this period of working remotely. What works? What doesn’t work? I imagine many of you are struggling right now. Many of us have drastically under-utilized or under-valued virtual EOCs. The ability to work remotely is essential.
Achieving a Common Operating Picture
A common thread throughout this webinar was the importance of open and effective communication. Although the panelists don’t suggest completely eliminating your physical EOC, a virtual EOC can help supplement the weak areas in current operations.
Achieving a common operating picture, especially during times of crisis like with the COVID-19 pandemic, is essential to success. Veoci’s virtual EOC software can help you to accomplish this.
Learn more about the panelists: