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5 Steps to Build Your Own Emergency Operations Center

When it comes to preparing for an on-farm emergency, experts say you can't rely solely on other people to mitigate the problem. [Source: Farm Journal's Pork 23 Jan 2020, by Jennifer Shike]

"Most emergency responders are very competent and will do a great job, but they sometimes do not fully understand the nature of the problem or the best course of action for containing and mitigate the problem," says Bruce Spence, Ag Terrorism Response master trainer.

That's one reason why Spence encourages producers to build their own emergency operations center on site. An emergency operations center is a central command and control facility that is responsible for carrying out the principles of emergency preparedness and emergency management, or disaster management functions at a strategic level during an emergency.

Spence and Patrick Webb, National Pork Board director of swine health programs, led a foreign animal disease outbreak simulation during the Pig Welfare Symposium in Minneapolis, Minn.

Emergency operations centers ensure the continuity of operation when a crisis hits. Although it's hard to plan ahead for an emergency event, Spence said the process is critical. Consider the positions you'd need to fill in case of a major emergency, he advises, and create your own emergency operations center on the farm.

"It doesn't have to be a $5-million building," he says. "A meeting room big enough to hold your key personnel with table, chairs, a TV (for current news), and a white board or flip chart are the basic things you need. It's also good to have a scribe to keep track of things done and the time completed as well as tracking pending tasks, time requested and the point of contact for each task, especially for shift changes."

When building your own emergency operations center, Spence offers five tips to help producers and business leaders get started.

  1. Develop an action plan.
    Preplan your response and identify key response positions.
  2. Determine and name a point of contact (POC).
    Not only do you need to figure out your farm's POC, but it's important to identify the POC at your county's emergency operations center and discuss what they would expect from your POC if an emergency strikes.
  3. Communicate how you will communicate.
    It may seem redundant, but Spence says clarify the communication network that will be used to contact the other responders in an emergency - phones, email or face-to-face contact.
  4. Know your chain of command.
    In most major events of any kind, the emergency response uses the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS is a tool that helps manage multiple agencies' responses to major events and coordinates their efforts.
    ICS is not a democracy; it is a para-military type of structure. If you are going to work within the structured response, you need to learn to give and take orders, and make suggestions, but in the end, just do it, Spence says.
  5. Learn how the Incident Command System (ICS) works.
    Spend time learning how ICS works so you are prepared to follow the system in the event of a crisis. Here are a few things to consider:
    1. Who's your boss in the ICS system?
    2. In the ICS system, who works for you?
    3. Understand your mission and help make sure the entire team knows their mission, too.
    4. Make sure your ICS boss approves your action plan and resource list before you start.
    5. Do not freelance. Stay in your lane of command. Don't be telling those that do not work directly for you what to do, have your boss tell them.

"It's important to understand what your mission is - if you start down the wrong road, it's really tough to change," Spence says.

He says it's important to have your own emergency operations center and an action plan with clearly defined positions for your team to take if disaster strikes.

Having a face-to-face sit-down with the county emergency manager is an important step, he says. Not only does this show how important the topic is to you, but it also shows you are a business that cares about the best interest of your community.

"In the heat of the battle is not the time to start wondering what you should do or who you should talk to," Spence says.

For more information on setting up an emergency operations center, contact Patrick Webb at the National Pork Board at