By Michael Betz, LEED AP, AIA, NCARB, M.SAME

Over the last two decades, more than 7,300 global disasters were recorded by EM-DAT, a comprehensive international disasters database. According to the United Nations Office for Disaster Risk Reduction, disasters (90 percent of which were weather related) affected more than 4 billion people and cost nearly $3 billion in damages.

The United States continues to feel the impact of human-made threats and natural disasters, including significant damages to military installations along the coastline and in the center of the country. These trends are prompting the assembly of dedicated teams and specialized centers to diligently address emergencies in real time. Response efforts to terrorist incidents, cyberattacks, disease outbreaks, wildfires, earthquakes, floods, and hurricanes require key personnel to collaborate under a structured architecture. Emergency operations centers (EOCs) address this need by serving as a central command and control station.


When a city or region is affected by a disaster, efforts are made first to care for the injured, then to restore lifelines and essential services, and finally to restore livelihoods and rebuild communities. Often, the military plays a critical role throughout parts or all of these efforts. Disaster response is handled in three phases, all of which emanate from an EOC.

  • First comes the response phase, which includes activities such as search and rescue, rapid damage and needs assessment, and the provision of first aid. During this phase, a network of agencies is mobilized to offer humanitarian assistance in a coordinated manner. There is often the establishment and management of temporary shelters for those who have been displaced and the provision of food, water, and other necessities.
  • Second comes rehabilitation, during which basic services and lifelines, such as road networks, bridges, airports, ports, and helicopter landing sites, are restored—even if just temporarily.
  • Finally, the recovery phase addresses more long-term needs. Reconstruction operations are carried out based on a precise evaluation of infrastructure damage. Efforts are made to rebuild infrastructure and restore the livelihoods of disaster victims.

Highly secure EOCs unite organizations in planning, preparedness, response, and readiness. The facilities connect emergency personnel with municipal, state, and federal officials. With decision-makers tightly connected, assessments and solutions can be made collaboratively to help mitigate risks. Disaster personnel can coordinate evacuation plans or practice how to handle a specific disaster situation efficiently.


EOCs are designed to withstand earthquakes, fires, floods, and bioterrorism. Per code, these essential facilities also are designed to meet greater safety standards. Even though often inconspicuous in nature, many are equipped with their own life-sustaining services, including separate and contained ventilation systems, redundant utilities and communications, and 72 hours of supplies and fuel.

As technology and design capabilities improve, a facility’s look and function will too. A number of design and construction elements should be considered if expanding, updating, or building an EOC, as more communities and government entities embrace their utility.

  • Appropriate building codes and standards to ensure the operations center will withstand earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, fires, and even civil unrest.
  • The ability to withstand bullets, chemicals, and other forces in the event of an attack.
  • Space to stockpile emergency resources for distribution.
  • Redundant backup power, communications, and HVAC systems to enable self-sufficiency for 72 hours or longer.
  • Small breakout rooms that can be used by specialized groups, such as public relations personnel, emergency response staff, fire and police departments, utility companies, and relief organizations to discuss action plans during an emergency.
  • A data center and communications room with robust systems that can monitor alarms as well as fire and police networks.
  • Mobile command stations able to act as an extension of the emergency response team at an affected Provisions should be made at the primary EOC to support mobile command groups, such as fire, communications, and relief agencies.
  • A media room to provide space for news conferences and updates to the media and, by extension, the public.
By allowing emergency personnel to collaborate from a central, secured location, emergency operations centers can mitigate risk and increase resiliency of the overall facility. IMAGE COURTESY RMW ARCHITECTURE & INTERIORS


Depending on its specific location, EOCs have different needs to meet and missions to achieve. For example, construction recently got underway on a new single-story, 20,550-ft2, fully secured EOC at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California. Though an EOC already existed at the site, it was on campus and housed in a building not designed for optimal emergency operations management. Additionally, an evaluation and assessment of the existing EOC identified several capability gaps, driving the need for a new center. The high-profile project, executed through the National Nuclear Security Administration’s Office of Safety, Infrastructure and Operations Pilot Program, is being led by Burns & McDonnell supported by RMW Architecture & Interiors.

The new EOC will provide a space designed to consolidate emergency management, communications, and response support. During emergencies, the facility will provide self-sustainability for up to 72 hours without support from external utilities. City, county, state, and federal emergency personnel also will have access inside. The design and construction of the building supports its role as an essential facility where continued operation is the minimum performance objective, while additionally including a flexible-use space for future build-out and tenant occupancy.


The Lawrence Livermore EOC is a prime example of the future of emergency response management. Developed with a design-build approach, the new center will be an essential multipurpose facility for efficient emergency operations management. To align with client program goals, the project is using two separate design packages. Package one is the early civil, foundation, and preliminary structural package. Package two includes the remaining detailed design and system components. This approach allowed the design-build team to streamline the permitting and approval process and break ground within six months of the award while finalizing the remaining building system components.

Not only maintaining, but upgrading, critical infrastructure that supports an evolving national security response is vital. Having a centralized, well-equipped and secure facility that can house and cater to emergency task forces is essential. EOCs are gaining growing recognition and increased funding, and for a good reason, as they enable rapid emergency response planning and deployment, streamline communication, and simultaneously function as a location for training and refuge in times of great need.

Michael Betz, LEED AP, AIA, NCARB, M.SAME, is Project Manager, Aviation & Federal Group, Burns & McDonnell;

[This article first published in the September-October 2021 issue of The Military Engineer.]