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State EOC changes way it does activation levels


The state Emergency Operations Center, as seen during an exercise earlier this year.

State EOC changes way it does activation levels

The state Emergency Operations Center is changing the descriptions of its activation levels, replacing a model that has been in place for at least the past decade.

The change will allow a better common operating picture for not just the state Emergency Operations Center, but its local and federal partners, according to Chris Utzinger, the response section manager for the Washington Emergency Management Division.

 “First, we are using the term activation ‘level’ as opposed to ‘phase,’ as the word phase implies a defined sequence, which is not the case with activation levels,” Utzinger said. “Second, we are reversing the numbering. In accordance with incident complexity and resource typing numbering, the highest activation level will be level 1.”

So, the old model had a separate activation for a catastrophic incident as a Phase 4, which would have included a major disaster such as a volcanic eruption or a Cascadia Earthquake. Most major disasters have been at a Phase 3, including recent wildfires and the Oso landslide that happened in 2014. Floods and minor wildfires have typically been at a Phase 2 and the center was also run on a Phase 1.

The new model ditches the catastrophic activation level entirely and reverses the numbers. Now, a full activation is Level 1 – which would be anything from a major, threatening wildfire to a Cascadia earthquake. Level 2 is partial activation, such as last winter’s flood events. The state Emergency Operations Center will always remain at a Level 3 because the adjoining Alert & Warning Center is staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The change comes about as the state Emergency Operations Center adopts new standards put in place by the National Incident Management System. The change is also in line with the other standards. For instance, a Type 1 Incident Management Team responding to wildfires has a larger capacity and is more capable than a Type 3 Incident Management Team. Thus, it would make sense that a Level 1 activation should be more extensive than a Level 3 activation.

With the new adoption from the state, the hope is that local governments will also follow suit to make sure everyone is on the same page.

“Right now, local emergency operation centers around the state are all using different models,” Utzinger said. “Since we’re in line with federal guidance, we’re encouraging our local jurisdictions to follow suit.”

Utzinger gave a presentation to local emergency managers about the change during a preparedness conference in Tacoma this past April. It’s an idea that has been batted about for several years, Utzinger said.

“We had seasoned emergency managers say that this is a much needed change,” Utzinger said.