What Happens in the State Operations Center, Part 2 Increasing the Readiness Level of the State Operations Center
This is part two of a series of articles about the State Operations Center, the professionals who staff it and its role in protecting Texans before and during disasters.
Increasing the readiness level of the State Operations Center (SOC) refers to a scalable system that generally correlates with the level of support needed by local governments, the number of agencies and organizations that are required to provide said support, and the size of an event. As identified in part one of this article series, there are four readiness levels used by the SOC:
As the readiness levels indicate, the SOC usually operates at Readiness Level IV - Normal Conditions. Daily Operations staff conduct situational monitoring, perform daily responsibilities and keep management and TDEM staff updated on any situation that could cause a readiness level escalation. Any requests from local governments are processed through the appropriate Disaster District Coordinator (DC) to the SOC and, if approved, Daily Operations staff distribute the request to the most appropriate state agency or organization for fulfillment.
When a situation or incident escalates to a point where local governments or state agencies require more assistance to respond than can be easily managed by Daily Operations, a decision is made to increase the readiness level. At times, the decision is based upon knowledge of an impending event, such as an extreme weather forecast, that will most likely require local governments to request state assistance. In both of these situations, the readiness level may take a gradual increase from Readiness Level IV to III, a level at which only selected state agencies or organizations will respond. However, the occurrence of a catastrophic emergency, such as a tornado affecting a large population or a large hazardous materials spill, may cause the readiness level to immediately escalate to Readiness Level II or I. This could include activation of the full Emergency Management Council (EMC).
The EMC operates under an executive order by the Governor and provides assistance in identifying, mobilizing and deploying state resources to respond to major emergencies and disasters. It is composed of 32 state agencies and 2 voluntary organizations. Their specific duties and responsibilities are outlined in the State Emergency Management Plan and Annexes. Several other organizations and private sector partners, such as public utility companies, fuel providers, higher education partners, contractors, volunteers, and local government representatives, also provide assistance during a response.
The type and extent of the emergency response or disaster, drives the selection of EMC agencies for activation and response. Agencies are unique to each response and a full activation of the EMC rarely occurs, with the exception of major events like a hurricane.
The EMC is organized under a modified Incident Management System (ICS) structure with five sections: Operations, Plans, Logistics, Finance, and Technology. Members of the Texas Division of Emergency Management (TDEM) State Management Team and Critical Information Services staff direct each section. These individuals are employees of TDEM and have considerable experience and expertise in ICS and technology. The majority of the state agencies and organizations are grouped into branches under the Operations Section.
To date in 2016, the SOC increased its readiness level 7 times for a total of 33 days. This included 6 times for a total of 29 days at Readiness Level III, 3 days at Readiness Level II for widespread severe weather and flooding, and 1 day at Readiness Level III for the Papal Visit to Juárez, Mexico.
The SOC and TDEM rely heavily upon our state agencies and partner organizations to enable us to assist local governments. These agencies and their employees provide excellent service to the citizens of Texas during emergency events.
Technology is very important to our ability to respond effectively and efficiently. Part III will include more detail related to our technology capabilities including satellite communications, real-time media, emergency management software (WebEOC) and global information system applications.