EOC Renovation Improves UCLA’s Earthquake Preparedness
A recent full-scale earthquake exercise highlighted the need for this West Coast university to update its emergency operations center. Here are the developments and tools campus officials used to determine what they required.
When the Northridge 6.7 magnitude earthquake struck the greater Los Angeles area on Jan. 17, 1994, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) established an emergency operations center (EOC) in the campus facilities management building. At that time, it took up to two hours to bring the facility completely online because it was a shared (or “cold”) multi-purpose facility, used primarily for departmental personnel and computer training. It had backup power and linkage to many campus public safety departments.
Fast forward to 2006 when I joined UCLA. I found its EOC to be pretty standard stuff for a smaller municipality or university. It was cramped, had four walls, some whiteboards, few resources and no windows. We relied on hand-carried notes, whiteboards and E-mail to communicate. This took a good amount of time (up to an hour) to configure, revise and document in each department facility. We were for the most part, a paper and pencil operation, but it was better than nothing.
Prior to our recent renovation, our EOC was much like those on many other campuses. It was built as an afterthought. We made use of the space available and adapted. Many universities currently use a shared or multi-use EOC facility concept. Dedicated EOC space is too valuable a commodity to be committed full-time to something that is rarely used (emergency operations), and where demand is high for staffing or storage. Campuses that have dedicated EOC facilities are rare indeed.
Earthquake Exercise Identifies Weaknesses
Fast forward again to Jan. 13, 2010 when UCLA hosted the Quake 2010 Functional EOC Exercise. Quake 2010 was designed to establish a learning environment for players to exercise emergency response plans, policies and procedures as they pertain to response, coordination and recovery to a significant earthquake. The UCLA EOC facility had experienced some minor renovations in 2008 (new white boards, two television display monitors, and increased cabinetry to improve storage and readiness). The phone lines were in the middle of the floor, as well as the power outlets. Long cord runs and hookups were required and then taped down to avoid trip hazards. It was less than ideal.
The campus had also developed the third generation of its Disaster Initial Response (DIRT) Plan, used to manage a large-scale earthquake disaster on the UCLA campus. DIRT directed about 150 facilities staff to pre-designated assignments and rapid assessment of the campus following an earthquake. The plan was exercised in December 2009, and the 2010 EOC exercise would simulate a major quake about eight hours after the event; a very busy period.
Participants in the exercise represented key officials and staff assigned to the campus EOC, the public information unit and the emergency management policy group (EMPG).
The Quake 2010 exercise was developed to evaluate the following target capabilities used under the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) process:
- EOC management
- Emergency public information
- Critical resource logistics and distribution
A new exercise design team created the most realistic exercise experience ever conducted and planned to date for UCLA. We utilized a simulation unit and manager to guide the exercise. This exercise was a bigger challenge compared to previous ones and identified many correctable weaknesses in the university’s existing structure (EOC layout and configuration), situational assessment and sectional/branch communications. The exercise lasted three hours.
After-Action Reports are Valuable Tools
After the exercise, a hot-wash critique was conducted. Over the next 90 days, a formal after-action report (AAR) was developed, focusing on situational awareness, communication, EOC coordination and corrective actions. UCLA had not used the AAR process in past events. Having a full-time, dedicated emergency manager brought in new components of standards that are now hard-wired into our emergency management program.