image from the CDC depicting the coronovirus

How Operations Centers Aid Responsiveness to Disease Outbreaks

Coronavirus (COVID-19) has featured heavily in the news for much of 2020 so far. All the discussion brings a question to mind: how do mission critical systems respond when the potential for widespread public health events emerge?

When public health emergencies arise, they can often overwhelm systems that are typically only staffed and equipped for routine operations. There are a variety of command and control environments that have to ramp up their operations in response to a large-scale public health crisis.

Emergency operations response to the Coronavirus threat

On January 7, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) established a COVID-19 Incident Management System, the first step to monitoring and tracking the outbreak. On January 20, the CDC activated its emergency operations center to support its public health partners in response to the potential pandemic.

EOCs across the U.S. continue to activate as well in anticipation of the potential for outbreak. The city of Berkeley, CA activated its emergency operations center in January with the collaboration of staff from various departments. “What the CDC has made clear is that all communities should prepare for a pandemic,” said Berkeley spokesman Matthai Chakko. “We’re in preparedness mode and developing those plans.”

The city’s EOC has been collaborating with healthcare providers and first responders to look for cases of coronavirus. It is also working on training EMS, firefighters and police officers.

Similar precautions are being taken in Texas. The State Medical Operations Center (SMOC) was activated in January by the DSHS, the lead agency for response. The SMOC serves as a medical emergency operations center and a central point of contact for any requests from local entities. Having a centralized operations center also ensures that public health activities and data are collected, tracked and reported in a consistent manner. Activating and operating the SMOC ensures that up-to-date information can be shared among federal, state and local partners.

When there is a public health threat, applying emergency management best practices including the activation of emergency operations centers can help national and local public health systems to protect the population. An EOC serves as the opportunity for multiple departments and partners to collaborate on common goals and strategies. Unifying the effort to protect public health provides efficient response and prevents local infrastructure from becoming overwhelmed.

For many localities, the day-to-day activities and resources are not enough for an emergency response to a public health crisis. Decisions must be made quickly, sometimes with ambiguous information, and response times necessarily must be shorter. Emergency operations centers are triggered when there is a need for significant coordination with external partners, when multiple agency programs are involved, and/or when there is high political or media interest.

A successful operation is the result of quality data and the persistence of the emergency operations team. Operations center design should help, not hinder, operations to allow for quick and efficient coordination and response. Since an EOC serves as the central hub of incident preparation and response, emergency operators must be able to gather and share critical information, coordinate response initiatives, and manage personnel across various departments. Emergency operations center design should not distract from the vital roles that need to be performed; rather it should make those roles easier to perform.

Public safety in the event of a major health event can depend on an EOC running at peak efficiency. Staff in the emergency operations center must be able to display a variety of data on the 24/7 video wall so that information can quickly be aggregated, analyzed, and shared. Because emergency operations centers’ tasks are critical, it is important to work with an AV integrator that can recommend the most reliable products so your technology weathers through the toughest conditions.

The emergency operations center furniture solutions used in your EOC installation can also contribute to efficiency. Space design and furniture arrangements should enable coordination between operators and allow a clear view to the videowall for everyone in the room. Additionally, the shifts during an emergency can be long and grueling. Furniture and video wall positions should be decided with ergonomics in mind so that operators can work without the added distraction of avoidable discomfort.

Command centers in healthcare environments

According to a Deloitte report on future technology in hospitals, “comprehensive, real-time patient data at the point of care can improve patient outcomes, which means that sharing standardized data is likely to be part of future care delivery.” From admission data to operating room schedules to patient movement tracking, there are myriad ways to apply mission critical technology to improve patient care in hospitals.

A central command center’s potential to improve patient care is multifaceted: with continuous digital monitoring, hospital staff can track incoming ambulances, streamline arrival, monitor status of operating rooms, and track patient movement. For example, AdventHealth Hospital in Florida uses a state-of-the-art mission control center to monitor patient flow, dispatch, and the operations of 9 campuses within the hospital system.

By taking advantage of the type of data that can be displayed on video wall systems, hospitals can use clinical operation centers to ensure that they make the most of their available space and to improve the patient experience, which is especially important in the event of a public health crisis.

Centralized clinical command centers that combine employees from various hospital departments also contribute to improved collaboration across all aspects of hospital management. By connecting departments within a single space, important processes such as admissions, transfers, operating room management, and even staffing can be streamlined and more effectively implemented. Furthermore, a command center helps to facilitate efficient coordination with other regional medical centers. Communication between regional medical centers is critical in the event of a local outbreak in order to contain and properly treat the disease.

Social Media Command Centers

A social media listening center can aggregate data from Twitter and similar social media platforms with geotagging and sort for mentions of coronavirus. Assembling this data can indicate where there may be an outbreak before those affected may even visit healthcare professionals, allowing earlier awareness of potential epidemics.

In fact, according to a study published in The American Journal of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene, informal reporting of cholera outbreaks on platforms such as Twitter could be used to create earlier estimates of disease outbreaks compared to traditional methods, thus enabling healthcare professionals to plan a timelier response. A similar strategy could be used to gather information on potential coronavirus outbreaks.

The real-time, crowdsourced information on social media can prove invaluable to creating a fuller picture of coronavirus’ spread and effect on the population. This in turn is helpful for healthcare and government officials who can use this information to better serve the public.

Additionally, social media serves as a helpful platform for healthcare organizations to disseminate important information to the general public. In addition to news about confirmed cases, social media also functions as a wide-reaching platform to share tips for the general public to avoid contracting coronavirus.

Constant’s Operations Centers

Moments of panic and crisis often remind us how invaluable the multiple types of operations centers involved in emergency response can be. It’s important that emergency operations centers, medical command centers, and social media monitoring centers be up-to-date in order to provide efficient, reliable response. If your mission critical environment hasn’t been updated in several years, the technology may not be as reliable as it should be for round-the-clock use in a crisis situation.

Should your mission critical operations center be in need of a refresh, Constant is here to provide video wall integration, console furniture, project management, and service to ensure your center is best equipped to serve the public good. Reach out to learn more about our world class operations center solutions.

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About Constant:

Constant Technologies, Inc. provides AV integration for 24/7 video walls and custom operation center furniture. With 30+years experience we can work with sensitive environments in the public and private sectors. Constant designs, installs and services projects of all scopes and sizes around the world. We create solutions with the highest levels of security, aesthetics and functionality in mind.