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The critical role of our Emergency Operations Centres

As our COVID-19 response evolves, we've been gathering stories of the different teams and people from across our organization working to protect each other and the communities we serve.
BCCDC Emergency Operations Centre meets while observing physical distance protocols
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During emergency responses like the one we are currently facing, the role Health Emergency Management BC (HEMBC) is actively playing is not only more evident via newly-activated protocols, it is essential to the continuity of health services across our province.

“HEMBC has been actively working to prepare our health system for the active response we are all part of today,” said Linda Lupini, executive vice president, Commercial Services, PHSA, and PHSA Corporate Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) director. 

“Here in British Columbia, we know that a functioning emergency operations centre is an effective means of coordinating partners responding to public health events and emergencies. This is happening now across our health system and beyond.”

The critical role of Emergency Operations Centres

“While it has been ten years since the last influenza pandemic, there have been four public health emergencies of international concern declared in that time. Also, more than 100 years have passed since the 1918 influenza pandemic that resulted in the death of millions around the world. These events occur periodically and it is a matter of a time before another global pandemic.” - Paul Cox, team lead, Public Health Emergency Operations Centre Network (November 2018)

Aware that the next pandemic or health emergency could take place at any moment, HEMBC has been coordinating emergency preparedness like the Lower Mainland Code Orange exercise “Sudden Impact” and BC Children’s Code Orange exercise “Pumpkin Patch” as well as regular emergency operations centre (EOC) scenarios across all health authorities.

What is an Emergency Operations Centre (EOC)?

An EOC describes the structures and processes that are activated to respond to an emergency. It brings together key decision makers and experts in a consistent structure to guide the response, and ensure integration with the EOCs of other organizations, including the Ministry of Health. 

EOCs may work out of a physical location, or operate virtually to manage and support the response.

An EOC is responsible for:
  • Providing policy and strategic direction 
  • Providing site support and consequence management 
  • Collecting, evaluating and distributing information 
  • Coordinating agencies and/or departments 
  • Managing resources 
  • Providing both internal and external communications regarding the situation
In our current response, individual site EOCs report into regional or corporate EOCs, which then report into the Provincial Health Emergency Coordination Centre (HECC), as outlined in our Pandemic Provincial Coordination Plan.

HEMBC teams have been actively supporting EOCs and the healthcare operations for PHSA, Northern Health, Interior Health, Vancouver Island Health and across all Lower Mainland health authorities. The team is also supporting the Provincial HECC, which sits at the Ministry of Health.

Leaders and experts from across our health system come together regularly to make decisions and track the resolution of issues based on situational updates moving quickly up and down the EOC reporting structure.

“The EOC structure allows for one common language to be used during our response as well as timely coordination across the health system, decision making and issue resolution,” said John Lavery, executive director, HEMBC and PHSA EOC liaison. “All of these elements support the critical work and safety of our frontline health care workers and patients.”

Ita Hyland, HEMBC coordinator, is currently supporting the BCCDC and BC Cancer EOCs as well as PHSA Corporate EOC sections. On a daily basis, Ita fills the liaison function for EOCs, providing a link to external (non-health authority) partners, and supports PHSA Corporate EOC section meetings with issue tracking, reporting and more. 

“As we all know, our current situation continues to evolve on a daily, if not hourly, basis,” said Ita, who, like most of her colleagues, is following the province’s physical distancing directive and doing all her work from home. “My role is there to ensure that EOCs are working as designed: to support programs and sites as they plan and respond to this pandemic.”

“I solve problems by connecting the right people or by recommending the best process to find solutions,” added Ita. “We are grateful to all the staff who, in addition to their day-to-day roles, are filling EOC functions. I would like to highlight and thank our documentation units, who ensure decisions and new issues are captured and shared with the right stakeholders in a timely fashion. This is critical to make sure our system is coordinated in the response.”

Responding to an event and supporting an EOC is a team effort and one that involves staff from across our health system. In PHSA’s EOC, HEMBC and staff from the PHSA Transformation Leadership Office (TLO) are working together closely to support each section chief and respective documentation units.

“TLO is made up of a diverse and talented team of strategic planning and project management professionals,” said Kendra McPherson, vice president, transformation and sustainability, PHSA, and PHSA Corporate EOC planning section chief. 

“We are honoured to have a contributing role as part of our health system’s response to the emergency we currently face. Our partnership with HEMBC and all EOC members is especially meaningful as we know the timely decision-making and issue resolution that takes place daily is supporting our heroic colleagues in the front lines.”

Emily Fukumoto joined PHSA a little less than one month ago as a TLO project coordinator. After a short stint in her new role, she quickly adjusted to the COVID-19 response role of EOC planning section coordinator.

“I am in awe of the courage and dedication our front-line health care workers continue to exemplify each and every day. In my current EOC role, I support our section chief and members with daily planning and documentation needs, ensuring decisions and issue development is tracked in alignment with my fellow section coordinators,” said Emily, who is also doing all of her work from home. “It’s nice to feel like you’re contributing to the response in whatever way you can.”

Additional areas of support

In addition to EOCs and other emergency response protocols, HEMBC is actively providing:
  • Psychosocial support via HEMBC’s provincial disaster psychosocial team. This has included: 
    • Development of COVID-19 psychosocial guidance and resources. 
    • Coordination and facilitation to enhance the development and dissemination of better practices and information. 
    • Continued support to community services and frontline staff through the Mobile Crisis Team (MRT). 
    • Support to emergency responders and related community services through the DPS network of psychosocial and mental health professionals. 
    • Early recovery planning to address the longer-term psychosocial consequences of COVID-19.
  • Critical operational support via the BC Mobile Medical Unit (MMU). The MMU team is supporting the planning and implementation of alternate care sites across health authorities.

A chronology of HEMBC’s COVID-19 response support

Prior to B.C.’s state of emergency declaration, our health emergency management professionals were working around the clock to support our provincial, regional and international health systems in their response. This includes:

February:

  • Coordinating with the Public Health Agency of Canada in the preparation of the landing/refueling of two Canadian repatriation flights from Wuhan, China en route to Canadian Air Force (CAF) base in Trenton, Ontario. 
  • Planning out scenarios with all partner programs and agencies of possible scenarios occurring at YVR and impact to agencies: 
    • Sick passenger off-load and handoff to local health authority
    • Offload aircraft & delay less than 24 hours
    • Offload aircraft & delay greater than 24 Hours

February/March:

  • Activation and support to health authority EOCs and Provincial HECC.

March:

  • Ongoing support to health authority EOCs, including liaising with emergency management partners—municipal governments and essential services agencies—across the communities we serve.
While in response mode, our health emergency professionals continue to provide leadership in effective response management. In doing so, they continue to bring order to chaos in the critical situation our province and the world currently face.

“We will continue to be there for our entire system as the situation evolves. And our team will be there to provide tools and resources to help build resiliency during and long after we have overcome this pandemic,” added John.

Messages of thanks

Join the conversation and share your appreciation for HEMBC or any of our health care colleagues on Twitter and Facebook with the hashtag #healthcareheroes. Make sure to tag @PHSAofBC.
 
 
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