The Role of Emergency Communications Centers in Managing Disaster Response

Emergency Communications Centers (ECC) have diverse duties and responsibilities dependent on the needs of the local government being served.  Processing 911 calls, dispatching first responders and other emergency personnel, making notifications, and tracking a great deal of data are just some of the responsibilities that an ECC may have.  Additionally, those that work in those centers have skills and knowledge that are very useful in times of emergency.

A few examples of experience employees who work in emergency communication centers have are being familiar with emergency protocol and technology used in response, geographic knowledge, interacting with the public in stressful circumstances, and comfortability with communications with responders.  Regardless of the responsibilities and abilities in an ECC, it is important for emergency managers to understand what an ECC does and how the center can contribute to successful disaster response management.

Emergency communications centers are centralized hubs of information when it comes to daily public safety activities and needs.  These are also some centers that answer and process 911 calls, Public Safety Answering Points (PSAP), are often where a potential disaster or escalation is identified using data received from citizen callers as they call 911. Emergency managers can work with emergency communication staff to make sure necessary information is being collected from citizen callers to inform the emergency management process. 

Centers that provide dispatch services for public safety entities understand very early on when resources are stretched.  ECCs, with proper planning and training, can be a much-needed resource for those managing a disaster. 

A high priority for local counties should be making sure that ECC’s are trained in what to look for to indicate emergency management is necessary in situation. ECC director should work together with local emergency management director and personnel having a response plan in place. Benefits of a response plan when emergency management is quicker large scale response notifying all necessary agencies, less severe injuries and deaths and potentially reduce negative impacts.  Emergency Management and the ECC can work together to determine a smooth sharing of information as a disaster progresses that can help keep Emergency Managers and responders up to date and coordinated at the street level.

Not only can the ECC itself aid when managing a disaster, but the skills and abilities demonstrated by its employees easily translate into filling other roles as needed throughout all the phases of emergency management, if they can be spared.  With very little training, they can be reassigned to working phone banks to provide information to citizens, collecting and managing data, assisting to tweak technology and procedures for the next disaster, collect feedback, track logistical statuses, and many of the other things that need to be done when managing a disaster.

So, when next planning for a disaster or working on overall disaster procedures, make sure to include your local ECCs.  Remember that there may be several in your county or jurisdiction.  Including ECC’s in planning and training can provide an additional partner that adds value in improving the disaster management process.