I had the misfortune and pleasure earlier this week to work in an Emergency Operations Center (EOC). Early Sunday morning the Schultz wildfire broke out and moved extremely quickly towards several communities. I was amongst 1,000 residents evacuated.
On Monday, I was called into the EOC to help with information flow to the website and twitter. Over the next three days I worked a little over 40 hours. It was exhausting but it was amazing and I am proud to have been of service.
The EOC was a great example of agile even though the team responsible for the EOC didn’t plan with the agile movement in mind. It reinforced to me that many of the principles in agile can be applied almost anywhere.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools.
Working software over comprehensive documentation.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation.
Responding to change over following a plan.
The EOC exemplified the manifesto. The amount of teamwork and information flow in the room was astounding. Emergencies rarely follow a plan and as such responding to change is paramount to a great EOC. This EOC was incredible at adapting versus the blind following of a plan. Wildfire can be incredibly unpredictable. Even though the EOC had comprehensive documentation and plans for handling emergencies it clearly valued interactions, collaboration and change over processes, documentation/plans and allowed for teams and individuals to improve upon tasks and adapt to needs quickly.
Our highest priority is to satisfy the customer….
The EOC has many customers, everyone from the public to the people on the ground responding. The central theme of the EOC was to keep the accurate and timely flow of information at peak performance. It accomplished this with co-location of personnel, frequent and short team meetings and a constant emphasis on informal communications and information sharing.
Welcome changing requirements, even late in development….
While the EOC has practiced, ran drills, created plans and procedures for execution of an EOC, the ability to adapt was embraced over absolute following of the training and plans.
Deliver working software frequently….
In this case the EOC is delivering information and logistics. The EOC worked on a constant cycle of information gathering and dissemination. The EOC every few hours had a short briefing where all of the table/section leaders gave a report to the team and in between there was constant information flow.
Business people and developers must work together daily….
The EOC was staffed with expertise in each section that focused mainly on their tasks. Also in the room were sections for leaders who would be the face for the media and citizens. Additionally, the call center staff were only yards away from the EOC staff. This allowed for a constant stream of communication at all levels.
The most efficient and effective method of conveying information to and within a development team is face-to-face conversation.
This was perhaps one of the most impressive executions I found in the EOC. The EOC was staffed with seven sections, each section was staffed with at least a couple people and as much as six. Each section was responsible for a general task such as Public Information, Logistics, Operations, Finance, etc. Each section had a team leader that was responsible for that section. The interaction between sections was high. Flip charts, whiteboards abounded along with three projectors displaying relevant but different information.
At regular intervals, the team reflects on how to become more effective, then tunes and adjusts its behavior accordingly.
The EOC was extremely concerned with identifying weaknesses and improving them ASAP. For items that we knew would take longer to correct than the EOC’s existence, the issues and ideas for correction were captured electronically and have been given to staff to work on.
During the height of operations there were around fifty people in the room. The energy in the room was high which aided everyone in pushing through long hours and helped keep the room charged. The dull roar that existed in the room was hardly a distraction as each team was so intent on doing their job well. Ideas such as co-location and transparent information flow were key to the EOC’s success much like agile proposes. The organization of each team was self-governing and while overall leadership was provided this leadership did not get in the way of the sections. The leadership guided and aided in keeping the teams marching forward.
My experience with the EOC was nothing short of amazing. I feel extremely proud of how the operation center worked and found that many of the ideas and principles held by agile were key in the EOC’s strong success.