Characteristics of Good Section Chiefs

Many times, clients struggle with organizing their Emergency Operations Center, or EOC.  At first, it seems difficult to assign roles to personnel when they themselves aren’t quite sure how ICS works or what the EOC is for. Once they understand the function and organization of an EOC, though, they typically know exactly who in their organization should fill each role.

Recently, I wrote up a short paper on EOC organization and assignment of responsibilities for a client. I hoped to simplify EOC positions so that they could take a first stab at staffing their facility for an upcoming exercise. A short paper also makes a good blog post, so I’m reprinting it here in hopes of helping readers out, as well as getting input from other emergency management professionals.

So, first: What is an EOC? An EOC is a central location from which an organization can coordinate its activities, resources, objectives, and decision making in support of any incident response and recovery operations. The purpose of the EOC is to centralize planning and response activities and to provide a single location to which other agencies and organizations can direct their requests and support.

The EOC does not “command or control” on-scene response efforts, but does carry out organization functions by:

  • Collecting, evaluating, and disseminating incident information
  • Analyzing impacts and setting priority actions for the organization
  • Managing requests for, procurement of, and utilization of resources.

The EOC serves as a coordinated link between organizational leadership and elected officials, response organizations, and the field personnel coordinating the execution of event priorities.

EOC activities are organized using the Incident Command System. Sections are headed by “Chiefs.”

For an EOC, the “Incident Command” function can be filled by an Incident Commander or an EOC Manager. At the risk of oversimplifying the distinction: for complex organizations,  “EOC Manager” is a useful title as it seems to be the most straightforward, considering that each major incident likely has an Incident Commander from another agency, and this can be confusing for organizations who don’t conduct emergency response in the course of their regular business. Heads of organizations, such as CEOs, Superintendents, and Principals-in-Charge, are often needed as Agency Representatives rather than Incident Commanders, but the IC title often proves too attractive to make this an easy assignment for senior leadership personnel! In the graphic below, consider that “EOC Manager” can effectively replace the “Incident Commander” in EOCs of most non-response-oriented organizations.


The following are the General Staff positions for Emergency Operations Centers:

Operations Section Chief

The Operations Section Chief is responsible for the management of all activities directly applicable to the primary mission of the EOC. The Operations Section Chief works with the Planning Section Chief to create each Incident Action Plan.

The EOC does not conduct emergency response operations such as fire and law enforcement activities, but it may help coordinate those actions with other agencies. It is important to note that the Operations Section of an EOC has a distinctively different mission than would the Operations Section Chief in an on-scene environment. Since the purpose of an EOC is to support rather than carry out tactical missions, this is a key delineation.

The Operations Section Chief accomplishes her or his mission by delegating tasks to other personnel, who are divided into Branches, Units, Teams, or Single Resources.

Ideal Ops Chief Characteristics

The Operations Section Chief should have a full understanding of the organization’s mission and resources, as well as being organized, decisive, and in possession of substantial leadership abilities. The Ops Chief must understand both what has to be done, and how it should be done. Her role is not only to determine actions that should be taken, but the strategies and tactics best applied to achieve the incident Objectives.


Planning Section Chief

The Planning Section Chief is responsible for monitoring the incident status, developing the Incident Action Plan, and for the collection, evaluation, management, and dissemination of all operational incident information. This information is used to assess the information and coordinate available resources and to predict the likely course of incident events to assist with response planning for upcoming incident activities. On a practical level, the planning section will assemble maps, develop incident status illustrations, and anticipate likely scenarios given the best available information.

The Planning Section is typically divided into:

  • Resource Status Unit
  • Situation Status Unit
  • Documentation Unit
  • Demobilization Unit
  • Technical Specialists

Which of these units, or any additional ones, are applicable to the organizational mission should be discussed by the planning team.

Ideal Planning Section Chief Characteristics:

The Planning Chief must be able to consider the many possibilities that may be presented by the incident and choose the best course of future actions based on the most likely scenario. The Planning Chief should be a person who is flexible, decisive, and focused on incident objectives.


Logistics Section Chief

The Logistics Section is responsible for obtaining and delivering resources requested by field resources and the EOC, as well as providing all service and support functions for the incident. It is important to note that Logistics Section functions support incident personnel, not victims. The Logistics Section procures and delivers critical resources, and is vital to the ability of the EOC to respond to the incident. The Logistics Section provides all incident facilities such as the EOC and associated supplies. Logistics also approves, orders, and allocates resources when delegated to the Logistics Section Chief.

Ideal Logistics Section Chief Characteristics

The Logistics Section is the part of the EOC that obtains resources, and ensures that the EOC and incident personnel have what they need to respond to the incident. The Logistics Chief should understand what those supplies and resources are likely to be, and be well-versed in how to obtain them. The Logistics Chief should also fully understand the EOC and how it operates, and be able to set up and maintain the facility for responding personnel.


Finance Section Chief

The Finance Section supervises the Time, Procurement, Compensation/Claims, and Cost Units, and is responsible for all financial and cost analysis aspects of the incident. Sometimes the Finance Section is the easiest to staff because most organizations have skilled finance staff that can easily step into this role.

Ideal Finance Section Chief Characteristics

The Finance Chief and associated personnel should be experienced with the organization’s financial procedures and should understand time, cost, and procurement functions. The Finance Chief should have a grasp on vital financial tasks that must be accomplished to support both normal operations and emergency operations. The Finance Chief will be required to conduct cost analysis of the incident and should be capable of developing an operating plan.



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