The U.S. continues to feel the effects of human-made threats and natural disasters from coast to coast, prompting the assembly of teams and centers to diligently address emergency situations in real time. Terrorist incidents, cyberattacks, disease outbreaks, wildfires, earthquakes, floods and hurricanes — some of which intensify each year — require key personnel to collaborate under one roof.  

Events such as these have brought attention to and highlighted the benefits of establishing an emergency operations center (EOC), a central command and control station where experienced professionals from various backgrounds come together to tackle the challenge at hand. Bringing together firefighters, police officers and 911 operators with municipal, state and federal officials, these highly secure centers unite organizations in planning, preparedness, response and readiness assurance when emergencies occur. With decision-makers in one location, assessments and solutions can be made collaboratively to help mitigate risks that endanger cities and states. Inside, personnel can coordinate evacuation plans or practice how to efficiently handle a specific disaster situation.

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

Many communities and entities — municipal, state and federal — understand the benefits of EOCs, experiencing the need first-hand. As technology and design capabilities expand, a facility’s look and function will, too. If expanding, updating or building an EOC, here are a few design and construction elements to consider:

  • Appropriate building codes and standards guide architects and engineers to design facilities that will be able to withstand earthquakes, floods, hurricanes, fires and even civil unrest. The operations center will need to endure the threat at hand while remaining operational.
  • Buildings should have redundant backup power, communications and HVAC systems, and be self-sustaining for up to 72 hours or longer. This becomes especially crucial in the event of a biochemical attack.
  • Small breakout rooms within the larger operations center can be used for specialized groups — such as public relations personnel, emergency response staff, fire department, utility companies and relief organizations — to meet and discuss plans of action during an emergency.
  • An EOC should have space to stockpile emergency resources for distribution.
  • A communications room can monitor alarms, fire and police networks.
  • Mobile command stations offer additional value as an extension of the emergency response team at an affected site. Provisions should be made at the main EOC to support mobile command groups, such as fire, communications and relief agencies.
  • A media room provides space for news conferences and updates to the media and, by extension, the public.
  • A resilient exterior should stand strong against bullets and chemicals in the event of an attack.

Depending on specific city or community threats, facilities have different needs to meet and missions to achieve.    

For example, Burns & McDonnell recently broke ground on a new single-story, 20,550-square‑foot, fully secured EOC at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) in California. The team is providing design and construction services, providing LLNL with an integral addition to the federal research laboratory’s 640-acre campus, which serves to facilitate the safety, security and reliability of the nation’s nuclear deterrent. This turnkey EOC consolidates critical emergency management operations into a central facility capable of self-sustained, 24-hour operations during emergency conditions.

Having a centralized, well-equipped and secure facility that can gather and cater to emergency task forces and response teams is becoming essential, especially with anticipated threats on the rise. These centers are gaining recognition and funding, and for good reason, as they enable rapid emergency response planning and deployment, streamline communication, and simultaneously function as a training and refuge location in times of great need.  


It’s vital to not only maintain but also upgrade the critical infrastructure that supports our evolving national defense responses. Developed on a fast-track schedule with a design-build approach, LLNL’s EOC will be an essential multipurpose facility designed for efficient emergency operations management.

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Rendering courtesy of RMW Architects

Mike Betz serves as project manager for federal and aviation critical infrastructure projects at Burns & McDonnell. He leads a team of architects, engineers, consultants and construction professionals, providing design and construction solutions for large-scale military facilities and clients.