Just-in-Time Training Considerations for Rural Emergency Operations Centers

Tiffany Brown


A county emergency operations center (EOC) is an integral component of local disaster management as it serves several critical functions essential to saving lives, protecting property, and helping communities respond to and recover from an event. Trained EOC personnel are vital to maintaining operational continuity during a large disaster, yet the same large disaster can render trained personnel unavailable, thus threatening operational continuity.

In disasters, it is common for loss of life and property to result in shortages of staff for first-responder agencies and EOCs alike.[1] Immediately following a catastrophic event such as an earthquake and tsunami, it is unlikely that all trained EOC staff will be able to respond since family and personal emergencies have historically prevented emergency workers from responding during other large-scale disasters.[2] Conversely, untrained staff may show up at the EOC in the form of spontaneous volunteers. While federal training guidance for EOCs does not explicitly prohibit using untrained staff, Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) key guidance tacitly discourages using unaffiliated volunteers in its Guideline for the Credentialing of Personnel.[3] Training in advance is a best practice supported in principle by the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and encouraged by FEMA, butalternative training methods warrant consideration for times when an EOC finds itself without trained staff.

This thesis suggests that current federal training guidance for EOCs fails to adequately address the challenges of rural communities. The research puts practicality before protocol to consider the use of Incident Command Systems (ICS) in rural EOCs in regions prone to severe weather events and natural hazards, and it suggests that a redundant training system can increase resilience by asking the following questions: How can operational continuity of the ICS be maintained in rural EOCs during large-scale activations? How can a redundant just-in-time training (JITT) system serve to maintain continuity, and what are the considerations for implementing it?

The thesis uses a case study method to examine ways in which rural counties can implement a redundant training system consistent with ICS principles to maintain operational continuity despite the absence of previously trained personnel. It encourages rural EOCs to recognize their vulnerability and consider implementing redundant training components to address inadequate staffing and untrained personnel during disasters. It hypothesizes that, by implementing a JITT program for times when traditional ICS training is not a practical solution, an EOC manager can maintain continuity for the ICS while utilizing personnel resources effectively.

Redundancy is one of the tenets of emergency management because it helps to promote resilience. Agencies create redundant plans, communication methods, power systems, and locations with which to manage emergencies, mitigate natural hazards and plan for catastrophic threats. Even though ICS training guidance indirectly discourages implementing JITT for the ICS by exclusively encouraging advanced training, this thesis suggests that a redundant training system can increase resilience. By implementing a JITT training program for times when traditional ICS training is not a practical solution, an EOC manager can maintain continuity for the ICS while utilizing personnel resources effectively. A carefully considered JITT program can effectively augment traditional ICS training within EOCs to increase resilience, particularly for rural emergency operation centers prone to catastrophic events and ensuing staff shortages.


[1] The White House, “Chapter Four: A Week in Crisis,” The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina: Lessons Learned (Washington, DC: U.S. Government Printing Office), February 23, 2006, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/​reports/​katrina-lessons-learned.

[2] Richard Hinrichs et al., Report on the 2010 Chilean Earthquake and Tsunami Response. OFR 2011–1053 (Reston, VA: U.S. Geological Survey, 2011), 18, http://www.chla.org/​sites/​default/​files/​migrated/​ChileQuakeReport_Final.pdf.

[3] “Guideline for the Credentialing of Personnel,” Federal Emergency Management Agency, August 2011, https://www.fema.gov/​pdf/​emergency/​nims/​nims_cred_guidelines_report.pdf.

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