Summit County emergency operations center adapts to a new type of threat: COVID-19 |

Summit County emergency operations center adapts to a new type of threat: COVID-19

FRISCO — Summit County’s emergency operations center has taken on an entirely new look as officials continue to work their way through the logistics of maintaining supply chains and detailed financial reporting during the coronavirus pandemic.

The Summit County Office of Emergency Management activates the center any time there is a major incident — such as a wildfire or hazardous material spill — to serve as a centralized point where officials around the county can coordinate operational logistics and provide administrative support for individuals on the front lines.

During any disaster, the center is typically packed to the brim with emergency management staff, law enforcement and public safety leaders, health officials and dozens more. Though, as officials continue efforts to socially distance themselves from one another, the new coronavirus is presenting new challenges.

“The idea of the emergency operations center is that you don’t have to send an email or make a phone call,” said Brian Bovaird, the county’s emergency management director. “I can look to my right or left, and I have whatever I need, whether its human services, public health, fire, police or EMS. But now we’re facing that additional coordination hurdle. …

“It’s an added step that, if anything, makes the utility of the (emergency operations center) even more evident — the concept of a central coordination hub, where people can physically share information and make decisions.”

While the center is under strict quarantine and the number of in-person staff has been scaled down from dozens to just five on a daily basis, officials still can’t afford to get behind on operations.

Staff at the center is responsible for managing logistical efforts like ordering and distributing necessary supplies, tracking shipments from the strategic national stockpile, helping to develop messaging for public information officers, pushing out daily situation reports and more.

The center also maintains detailed financial records of every expenditure the county is making in regard to its COVID-19 response, a process that will allow the county to receive a more rapid reimbursement from the federal government and ensure no requests from community partners are falling through the cracks.

Summit County Emergency Management Director Brian Bovaird addresses officials at the emergency operations center in Frisco during a full-scale emergency exercise May 31, 2019. This photo of just part of the room shows what staffing typically would look like during an emergency.
Sawyer D’Argonne /

Finding new ways to communicate needs and coordinate responses between county entities has been the top priority.

Bovaird said the county was anticipating the arrival of the virus, and the center was activated in a limited capacity March 4, the day before officials received confirmation that a visitor to Summit County had tested positive for the state’s first case of the new coronavirus. Things ramped up quickly once the case was confirmed.

About 40 people showed up to the center for the initial acute response, wherein having individuals physically in the room is necessary for quick decision making in order to begin immediate coordination efforts. Though, the county began pushing as many functions as they could online as soon as possible. Within days, the number of in-person staff at the center dropped to about five, including emergency management staff and representatives with the Summit County Public Health Department and the county manager’s office.

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Everyone else has been dialing in to daily phone briefings in which community leaders — about 100 stakeholders including representatives from St. Anthony Summit Medical Center, law enforcement, local schools, nonprofits, ski resorts and more — get their chance to ask questions, raise concerns and inform other leaders on their operations.

So far, given the relatively slow unfolding of an incident like a viral pandemic, the evolved communication process has been working.

“Those daily (emergency operations center) briefing calls really give everyone an opportunity to collectively coordinate,” Bovaird said. “And the big difference with something like this is it’s kind of a marathon instead of a sprint. We’re far enough into this that our coordination efforts have been well thought out. … If something occurred that was more acute and necessitated rapid decision-making, I’d have to bring more people back into the (center). But this is really a prolonged health care incident. And while there’s a lot of critical decisions still being made, the immediate complexity has started to settle down.”

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