Query: What is an "Operational Area"?
Response: An Operational Area (OA) is an organization for emergency management. It is more or less synonymous with a county, yet different. The OA is a functional organization, and NOT a jurisdiction. Its boundaries are normally those of a county (Sec 8559 CA Gov. Code). An OA is not necessarily a county government; it could be several cities, or a city and a county, a county government; or several county governments that undertake to coordinate the flow of mutual aid and information within the defined area. The OA is the backbone of a statewide emergency management system. Operational Areas in California serve 58 counties and geographical sub-units such as the Tahoe Basin.
A STATEWIDE EMERGENCY MANAGEMENT system is the means of adjusting flow of resources (both human and material) and information BETWEEN JURISDICTIONS of all levels of government in a state. It speaks to what resources and information are needed, how these resources and information are requested; from whom, by whom, using what forms, what terms. This is called a Mutual Aid system in some states and in California. More about that system in part two of this series, next week.
Query: In the context of the OA, define Mutual Aid.
Response: Mutual Aid is a statewide system to ensure that adequate resources are provided to jurisdictions whenever their own resources prove to be inadequate to cope with a disaster. In most states, as in California, the local jurisdiction is the one that is responsible for the emergency response. In the mode of neighbor helping neighbor, cities and counties, and then the state and federal governments, assist one another through an incremental and progressive system of resource mobilization. Mutual Aid is activated in an ascending order: local, county (operational area), region, ending with state and federal governments.
In recent years the mutual aid system has developed beyond the traditional law and fire functional areas. This extension of mutual aid beyond its discipline-specific (traditional) areas is an outgrowth of experience in a variety of disasters. Cities and counties may activate Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs) in response to disasters. Depending on the nature and magnitude of the event, a countywide response may be needed to mobilize assets from the county and its component cities. In some states, in addition to cities and counties, special districts are a form of local government that provides specific services, such as water, regional transportation, waste disposal, etc. In an emergency several such districts may support other similar districts adversely affected by an event. On the county-wide level the OA facilitates this coordination - as a single point of contact - for the special districts which may be represented in the city and/or county EOCs.
Are the new EMCOMM Bulletins being filed on your BBS?? If not, Please ask your Sysop to create an EMCOMM file section for them so we can change the "RACES" Bulletins to EMCOMM. Thanks!! Cary.
Query: Illustrate how the OA and Mutual Aid work together.
Response: The Mutual Aid system developed from hundreds of experiences over many years with a wide range of disasters. Here's how an OA situation invokes the Mutual Aid system.
During a conflagration the OA receives a request from City A. The OA calls its jurisdictions (cities and special districts). City B and the county report they have resources but the county has used most of its available stocks and wishes to keep the rest in reserve (a reasonable request for its own needs). The OA then requests resources from City B, which makes five (5) of Resource I and five (5) of Resource II available to City A through the OA. However, City A needs additional units, so the OA - as the central point of contact - requests additional units from the State Office of Emergency Services (OES) or, as in California, one of its six OES Mutual Aid Regions. In this instance it would be to its Fire Mutual Aid Coordinator. That coordinator then procures four (4) of Resource I and six (6) of Resource II from OTHER jurisdictions OUTSIDE of the impacted OA. These resources, which may be from adjacent counties, cities in other counties, or from some distance away, respond to City A through the OA. This is Mutual Aid in action based on a statewide emergency Mutual Aid plan. At the incident site the responders will operate under the Incident Command System, which is reviewed next week.
Question: Give a brief explanation of ICS.
Response: The ICS (Incident Command System) is a system of coordinated management at the INCIDENT that evolved out of real on-the-scene experience. It has been used for years in many states by law agencies and fire departments. It is, however, new to many communications responders.
With ICS, responders at the scene of the incident coordinate their efforts with a highly effective standardized form of management, a common organization and common terminology.
The basic ICS organization exists for the specific INCIDENT and consists of five functions: Incident Command, tactical or field Operations, Planning, Logistics and Finance. The interesting part of the system is its flexibility. One person can handle all five of these components in a small incident, yet as the event increases in complexity, the ICS provides the means of expansion for the organization needed to handle the worsening situation. When the situation reaches that of a disaster it may consist of one or more incidents, each of which may require a particular ICS for that incident.
In most states, local jurisdictions are in charge of and respond to most disasters. Thus the local fire chief is in charge of response in that jurisdiction. But what happens when resources from outside of the area are required, via mutual aid. What if fire crews from 26 different jurisdictions respond? How can they coordinate their activities? What if it is worse? In a single incident in CA resources from 105 jurisdictions with over 500 engines and related equipment were needed. Imagine the chaos without an INCIDENT management system. Well, that is the purpose of the ICS.
For those familiar with the Civil Air Patrol (CAP), a CAP mission is the same as an Incident in the above explanation.
Query: What is OASIS and where does it fit into the system?
Response: The OASIS project, or Operational Area Satellite Information System, evolved out of lessons learned from the Loma Prieta earthquake and various exercises.
Those events underscored the need for STREAMLINED, STANDARDIZED DISASTER INFORMATION and RESOURCE MANAGEMENT SYSTEMS throughout the state at all levels; along with the need for reliable and efficient communications systems to support data transmission.
Additionally, those events highlighted the need to develop the Operational Area concept at the local level as the responsible point of local effort and focus. State OES then provided state funding to purchase communications hardware, including HIGH HIGH FREQUENCY (HF) Automatic Link Establishment (ALE) radios, and a SATELLITE SYSTEM. FEMA, the Federal Emergency Management Agency, provided funding to aid in development of a statewide emergency information management system.
Interim guidelines were published in l993 and the component parts of the system began to be put in place that same year. First came the master Satellite terminals at Sacramento and Los Alamitos and remote terminals at county (OA) EOC's, along with portable units. These components were used in the Northridge earthquake and in the recent floods.
The HF ALE radio network that resulted is the largest known one of its kind in the world, requiring modification of the capability of the radios to handle the number of "addressable" locations. When the system is complete it will link a network of one-hundred and twelve radio addresses linked over a ten channel, multiple net system that automatically seeks the best radio link and maintains that data in the radio.
Query: Where does SEMS fit in with the OA, OASIS and Mutual Aid?
Under OASIS (and later SEMS) each "function" (of management in and of an emergency) operates within and out of an OA. A "function" could be communications, coroners, sheriff, etc.
Representatives from all functions meet first as planning teams, and/or exercises. Then, during emergencies or disasters, they become the emergency organization of the area (OA) - one might say this their horizontal function. In addition, when it comes to the use of mutual aid, they share a vertical function; that is, from the OA to other support structures, such as the State.
This might be thought of as similar to elements of the ICS, for it includes common terminology to identify resources and provides guidelines for transmitting information from one level to another, who reports to whom and when. It also results in common forms for disaster intelligence and resource requests to embody minimum essential information.
SEMS - an acronym for the Standardized Emergency Management System - combines the best of what has been described in the preceding bulletins, on ICS, Mutual Aid, Operational Areas, and OASIS; with the addition of a component we've not covered.
SEMS integrates into one framework these five major elements:
- The Incident Command System (ICS)
- The State's Mutual Aid Program
- Operational Areas
- Multi-agency or inter-agency coordination (Agencies and disciplines working together in a coordinated effort to facilitate decisions. Required in all EOCs.)
These elements were codified into law following the 1991 East Bay Hills Fire. In 1993 the State Legislature passed a law (Sec 8607 Gov. Code) that directed the establishment of a Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) no later than December 1996.
While the Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS) may currently apply to only one state, the management concepts in it seem to offer tools to consider for other areas.
In review, SEMS has five levels of application:
- Field (on scene at incidents)
- Local Government (includes Special Districts, such as water, levee, which may be impacted by an emergency)
- Operational Area (a 'county' boundaries generally)
- Region (an area defined level of state OES)
The legislative act that created SEMS requires its use by all state agencies in responding to emergencies involving multiple jurisdictions or multiple agencies. In addition, local governments must use SEMS in emergencies involving multiple jurisdictions or multiple agencies in order to be eligible for state funding of response-related personnel costs.
A draft copy of the SEMS plan is on the ACS BBS, see below. The final plan will be posted on the WEB page as available. Training in SEMS is now being done with materials provided by CSTI (California Specialized Training Institute.)
Recap: the Operational Area (OA) is a response management organization based on county lines. It, along with OASIS and SEMS, is an integral aspect of the Mutual Aid response system - a statewide system ensuring adequate resources are provided to jurisdictions whenever their own resources are inadequate to cope with a disaster. Cities and counties, then state and federal government, assist one another through an incremental and progressive system of resource mobilization. This occurs in an ascending order: local, county (OA), region, state, federal. SEMS legislation put all of the components into one overall system.