Realizing that technology alone can’t solve situational awareness, Common Operating Picture (COP), and operational coordination problems, some Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) are starting initiatives to build their process management maturity. This is a welcome development. Many Emergency Operations Centers have documented processes, but few have a comprehensive process map and an integrated big-picture understanding of how processes fit together across organizations and between partners.
Why define EOC processes?
Agencies have various goals for creating process maps and narratives that explain what they do and how they do it. Common goals include:
- To understand processes with a greater degree of fidelity so organizations can change or adjust workflows
- To provide executive crisis decision makers with increased operational and situational awareness
- To gain access to more/better information to support their own operational decision making
- To enable an Operations section to generate new written SOC policies and procedures, as well as to validate those already in existence
- To enhance understanding of how support functions interact and coordinate within the EOC and with their home agencies as they respond to EOC and local requirements
- To enhance and simplify the emergency management software used to enable smooth process management
- To improve response and performance in crisis to include better service to local jurisdictions
- To improve training and performance review, and strengthen accountability for effective information sharing and collaboration
- To improve knowledge retention and reduce the impact of knowledge loss upon employee turnover
Identifying the Key Processes to Map
To start, EOCs should develop a Master Process List of all the processes and sub-processes that are candidates for mapping and improvement. To identify those processes that most urgently need to be better understood, accelerated, and improved, agencies should:
- Review national and state Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs), which normally cover a wide range of terrorist activities, major disasters, catastrophic incidents, and other emergencies, as well as community recovery and mitigation activities, and coordinating structures and processes for incidents
- Talk to colleagues and review internal sources and Lessons Learned Information Sharing (LLIS) databases to find assessments of past disasters, incidents and exercises, relevant lessons-learned documents and AARs
- Try to find out:
- Where have the agency and its partners faced challenges driving processes forward
- Where have operational decision makers lacked access to all of the information needed to execute the process?
- When have officials and decision makers not received adequate situational awareness or incomplete and delayed knowledge products (e.g., IAP, SitRep, Exec Summ) produced by the SEOC?
- Review a list of all the State EOC “customers” (e.g., Governor’s office, executive agency leadership, senior officials) and partner agencies (e.g., Transportation, Health, Police, Fire, Red Cross, Search & Rescue, Hazmat, Public Health, Intelligence) to make sure that no important organization or customer is omitted
Process Mapping and Task Narratives
Processes can be mapped at varying degrees of detail. With deliberative high-fidelity information flow/process mapping, participants can dive deeply into their individual position-specific roles, as well as into the SOC mission set holistically. At a minimum, task narratives should describe key concepts:
- Events that trigger action
- Tasks that are part of processes
- Goals of the processes and tasks
- Individuals, roles and organizations that perform tasks
- Information needed by the person/role/organization performing the task
- Means of communicating the information
- Timing requirements for receiving/sending information
Mapping the flow of information between tasks enables EOC operators to gain a clearer understanding of processes, at a higher degree of fidelity than traditional process mapping techniques. Process documentation should be formatted in checklists that facilitate training and ongoing improvement. The corpus of task narratives can be analyzed and reports can be generated to show leadership which process narratives are incomplete and which policies and procedures need to be written or amended.
Whenever a task narrative mentions other roles/organizations, it is important to ask:
- Do people understand the goals, processes, and tasks and how they are connected and related to the mission?
- Do the people involved in the process require access to more/better operational information in order to satisfy the priority information requirements of various internal and external customers?
- Are any obvious changes or adjustments to the process workflows required to improve response times or the ability to provide better executive support to government decision makers and elected officials?
- Who should be involved in making process changes, when, how, and why?
- Does everyone involved in this process have a clear and documented understanding of the priority and standing information requirements?
- What changes are required in software functionality, if any?
Towards EOC Process Management Maturity
When process management is highly developed it is a way of life and a core part of both strategic and operational management within the EOC. Ideally:
- Every employee understands the process they perform and how they link to other processes (macro perspective).
- EOC operators understand when and how their process definitions need to evolve over time.
- There are deeply embedded process measures, data is systematically used for improvements, and process owners are rewarded on process performance.
- Process management and improvement teams exist and processes are proactively monitored and controlled.
- Benchmarking and mistake avoidance and problem prevention, as well as continuous and innovative improvements, are fostered by change management and innovation initiatives.
- Highly-developed processes are analyzed, optimized, and systematically adjusted to changes in collaboration partner requirements.
In this way, an EOC builds an optimized, integrated, and intelligent network where real-time operational information flows throughout the value chain, supports the needs of decision makers, and enables an effective response.