Business Emergency Operation Centers Formalize Public-Private Partnerships that Enhance States’ Emergency Response Operations
April 22nd, 2013 by Sabra Jafarzadeh
Public-private partnerships are vital to enhancing the resilience of our communities against natural and man-made disasters. Working with the private sector enables State Emergency Operations Centers (SEOCs) to expand their jurisdiction’s capacity to prevent, respond to, and recover from major incidents. Public-private partnerships help to increase situational awareness, coordination, and decision-making capabilities during an incident. In addition, such partnerships provide communities with greater resources and capabilities to address incidents. For instance, New Jersey’s Business Operations Center Alliance supported the State’s response to Hurricane Sandy by interfacing with FEMA’s private sector liaisons to insure that donations from Louisiana via AMTRAK reached the hard-hit residents of Hoboken, Bayonne, and Newark. Incorporating public-private partnerships within state emergency response operations can help communities return to normalcy more quickly and efficiently.
Many states have begun to establish Business Operations Centers (BOCs) to formalize new and existing relationships between the public and private sectors. BOCs are organizations consisting of private companies, non-profit organizations, non-governmental organizations, local associations, and other entities that mobilize to assist and support SEOCs before, during, and after an incident by sharing information and resources.
BOCs general fall into three models: independent, virtual, and integrated. The BOC model adopted by a jurisdiction depends largely on the particular risks and vulnerabilities of the region, existing resources and capabilities, and the needs of businesses operating within the area.
Independent BOCs are typically established by a coalition of businesses and/or business associations within a state. They are managed either by representatives from each member organization staffing the BOC or by creating a separate non-profit organization to oversee BOC operations. Using this model, businesses within a community can communicate with the SEOC through a BOC representative.
The Safeguard Iowa Partnership is an example of an independent BOC. It is managed by a non-profit organization, consisting of business entities that support information and resource sharing “to help prevent and reduce the impact of emergencies.” Safeguard Iowa Partnership’s activities have included deploying mobile healthcare facilities and providing Logistical Support Response Teams during the 2008 floods and the 2012 Creston tornado which impacted the region. (For more information on the Safeguard Iowa Partnership, visit http://www.safeguardiowa.org/.)
Virtual BOCs facilitate communication and resource sharing between the public and private sectors using an online web-portal. Because many SEOCs already utilize web-based applications to coordinate their emergency response operations, this model allows BOCs to integrate within existing operations more easily and to receive real time information from the SEOC. In addition, this model encourages private sector participation from smaller businesses and organizations who cannot afford to deploy representatives to a physical BOC during an incident.
The New York City Office of Emergency Management‘s Private Asset and Logistics Management System (PALMS) is an example of a virtual BOC. PALMS includes a registry of private sector resources such as goods and services that companies are capable of providing to the City as well as points of contact and other relevant information.
Finally, integrated BOCs allow private entities to participate directly in SEOC activities by manning one or more seats within the SEOC. These seats may be occupied by a BOC Liaison selected by the state or by an independent BOC, local business association, or unaffiliated organization, such as a university. SEOCs may allow private companies to man seats within the facility; however, this is generally avoided to eliminate concerns regarding competitive advantages.
These three models are not mutually exclusive and many BOCs take a hybrid approach. For example, independent BOCs may provide a representative to the SEOC or include a web-based application component in order to encourage participation from smaller businesses. Jurisdictions considering a BOC should take into consideration their specific needs and vulnerabilities when choosing which model to follow.