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CDC Emergency Operations Center: CDC Support for Emergency Operations Centers

A Model for Response

The CDC EOC uses the National Incident Management System to better manage and coordinate emergency responses.

An Incident Management System (IMS) is an internationally recognized model for responding to emergencies. Having an IMS in place reduces harm and saves lives.

IMS is a temporary, formal organization structure that is activated to support a response, adjusted to meet rapidly changing demands of that response, and is then disbanded at the end of the response.

An IMS outlines the specific roles and responsibilities of responders during an event, providing a common framework for government, the private sector, and nongovernmental organizations to work seamlessly together. In IMS, each person is assigned a specific role and follows a set command structure. The level of complexity of an incident dictates which roles are activated. In certain scenarios, incident management staff may cover more than one role at a time

Incident management helps with:

  • Directing specific incident operations
  • Acquiring, coordinating, and delivering resources to incident sites
  • Sharing information about the incident with the public

An IMS is a flexible, integrated system that can be used for any incident regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity.

Emergency Response Activation Levels

The EOC can be activated in response to natural or manmade disasters, disease outbreaks, and other public health emergencies. There are three different levels of activation, depending on the scale of the event.

  • Level 3 is the lowest level of activation. CDC subject matter experts to lead the response with their program staff. EOC staff may also assist with the response.
  • Level 2 involves a large number of staff from the relevant program area and from the EOC. Time-sensitive tasks and needs may extend beyond core business hours.
  • Level 1 is the highest level, requiring a 24/7 agency-wide effort. To date, there have been four Level 1 responses: Hurricane Katrina in 2005, the 2009 H1N1 influenza outbreak, the 2014 Ebola outbreak, and the 2016 Zika virus response.


In addition to responding to real world incidents, the EOC also conducts exercises to evaluate its ability to respond rapidly and effectively to potential public health emergencies. Examples of exercises include simulated incidents such as hurricanes, the detonation of radiological dispersal devices (i.e., dirty bombs), and an outbreak of pandemic influenza.

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  • Page last reviewed: June 16, 2016
  • Page last updated: June 16, 2016
  • Content source: Error processing SSI file
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