RACINE – Friday marked the first anniversary of the Racine County Emergency Operations Center (EOC) activation to manage and support the local response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
An EOC is a central command and control facility responsible for carrying out emergency management and ensuring its continuity. It is set up during large or complex incidents that require a high degree of coordination between multiple agencies.
Racine County’s EOC is located in the basement of the Law Enforcement Center, 717 Wisconsin Ave.
Although the Racine County EOC has been tested through many disaster drills and exercises during the past 20 years, it was never tested under real-life situations. That all changed a year ago (March 19, 2020) when staff began working out of the EOC daily. The EOC has been operating virtually since last June.
Local agency staff members who have had input into the EOC over the past year include public health departments and law enforcement agencies. As well as the Racine County executive’s office and the Racine County Office of Emergency Management.
As part of its role in monitoring the ongoing health situation, the Racine County EOC “makes policy recommendations, manages public information and identifies and allocates resources,” Racine County Emergency Management Coordinator David Maack said in a news release.
The Racine County EOC faced several challenges at the onset of the pandemic. Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) like N95 masks, gloves and gowns were in short supply. County officials created a Logistics Section to procure items, including PPE, hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. And They also developed a system so partner agencies and businesses could request these supplies from the EOC.
As wearing facemasks began being encouraged and then mandated for daily use, the EOC worked with Racine County Jail staff to provide masks for both inmates and staff. This included coordinating with local seamstresses to make masks that were made available for frontline staff.
“There was a lot we didn’t know about COVID-19 at the beginning, so we erred on the side of caution. PPE was in short supply, so we wanted to ensure that our first line responders had adequate equipment to do their jobs,” Maack said. “There were many organizations that donated supplies to the EOC for redistribution. As we began to learn more about the transmission of COVID, recommendations were modified.”
The EOC developed plans to establish isolation facilities for those who may need to self-quarantine and alternate care facilities to address potential hospital overflow, coordinated testing sites for both the community and facilities with outbreaks and developed recovery plans back to normal operations. Although the EOC has transitioned to virtual, weekly briefings are still conducted and EOC staff helped coordinate testing and vaccination clinics and manage resources needed to respond to COVID.
The Racine County EOC also worked closely with the State EOC (SEOC) and has served as a conduit of information between the SEOC and partner agencies. The SEOC established guidance acquired supplies for redistribution to counties and contracted for a system to disinfect N95 masks, allowing for multiple reuses.
“Unlike a tornado, flood or train derailment, this pandemic moved slow enough at first that we had time to develop plans. This gave EOC staff the opportunity to be thorough, as well as test the EOC under real-life situations and identify additional upgrades and equipment repairs that were needed,” said Jay Kerner, Chief Deputy Emergency Management Coordinator.
The Racine County EOC has played a key role in helping the county’s residents respond and eventually recover from the lengthy pandemic, added County Executive Jonathan Delagrave.
“We are so thankful for our first responders and frontline personnel, as well as all the local agencies that worked together to gather information, build plans and assist in acquiring critical supplies,” County Executive Jonathan Delagrave said. “As we shift toward vaccinations and economic recovery, I am confident that we can continue overcoming challenges and work together to build a stronger Racine County.”