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EOC displays one team one fight mentality in response to COVID-19

  • Published
  • By Senior Airman Suzie Plotnikov
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

There’s a room in Wolfe Hall at Keesler Air Force Base that sits empty most days. Well, it used to sit empty until now.

This room, the Emergency Operations Center, acts as the central hub of information whenever an incident or an exercise occurs on base.

“Our main role is to help and assist the incident commander if an incident occurs such as a hurricane, tornado, plane crash and any other type of emergency,” said Roger Swartz, 81st Training Wing EOC manager. “Whatever it may be, we are able to activate the EOC and pull the emergency support functions to help support the incident. We help collect the information from across the base and disseminate it as well using the different functions.”

In this case, it has been the central hub of information for COVID-19 since activating in late February.

“I wasn’t surprised the EOC was activated due to the nature of the event itself,” said Swartz. “We haven’t had anything like this before that caused such a long-term response, so my initial thought was, ‘We’re probably going to be doing this for a while.’ Here we are in August and we still have an active EOC.”

EOCs are comprised of different ESFs such as comptrollers, public health, medical, contracting, emergency managers and more. Even though the EOC has never experienced this event before, the different functions came together as a team.

“It took a lot of us putting our heads together to start developing actions in how we were going to respond,” said Swartz. “The work tempo was extremely high.”

In the beginning, the EOC had to establish several incident management teams comprised of different ESFs designed to address situations that were not preplanned.

“We had to have a quarantine and isolation IMT; that’s when we had to house people with symptoms in isolation,” said Al Watkins, 81st TRW EOC associate director. “We had an IMT to set up meals for those in quarantine and isolation, we had to figure out where to house people when they came here temporarily, and there were so many other IMTs whether it was to support basic military training, food, setting up boundaries on base and placing signs.”

Through dedication and teamwork, the Drive-up COVID Clinic, Drive-thru Pharmacy and single point entry to buildings were established early in the pandemic and still used today.

“When they decided to close the pharmacy, it took a lot of work and manpower,” said Watkins. “We also had to set up tents in front of Keesler Medical Center, get manpower to be able to screen people before they enter a building, provide generators for the fans and set up handwashing stations. It was a lot.”

The processes and procedures that have come into fruition from the EOC would not have been possible without teamwork and communication between the different functions.

“In the Air Force, there is no function that works by itself,” said Swartz. “We discovered in here when we were trying to figure out different processes and procedures how important each function was to address a single issue. None of us are more important than the other and it’s essential we all work together.”