Santa Monica’s Emergency Operations Center Series – Steven Torrence
March 15, 2021 2:23 PM
by Steven Torrence, Erin Taylor
The COVID-19 Public Health Emergency was declared on March 13, 2020 – just about one year ago! Once a public health emergency is declared, cities activate an Emergency Operations Center to quickly mobilize staff and resources to best meet the immediate and then ongoing needs of the community throughout the emergency. For the COVID-19 emergency, staff have been reassigned from their day-to-day duties to critical roles to ensure the City prioritizes the community’s public health and minimizes the risks of COVID-19 exposures at every step. The team reviews the state, regional, and local situation status daily and pivots their focus regularly based on the highest community needs or new information received from the LA County Department of Public Health or the State of California.
EOC efforts include proactive and reactive measures to ensure our community prevents as many COVID-19 infections as possible and reopens programs in a safe way. Examples of EOC outreach include:
- Outreach to residents and businesses to ensure the health order is implemented correctly
- Implementation of a COVID-19 Hotline throughout the pandemic to answer public questions
- Coordination with LA County on food distribution sites
- Creation of a health ambassador program to distribute face coverings and in-person health information, and
- Ongoing collaboration with non-profit and community partners to ensure they have the latest information.
The work is challenging but meaningful, and while we remain in the midst of hard times, we are now looking toward reopening including vaccination efforts and long-term economic recovery. For a look behind the scenes of the City of Santa Monica Emergency Operations Center and to meet some of our staff who have been supporting the entire community throughout this public health emergency, stay tuned to the City’s Blog all this month as we feature many of our staff who have played an important role throughout the public health emergency starting with Steven Torrence, Emergency Services Administrator.
Steven Torrence, Emergency Services Administrator
What is your role in the City of Santa Monica Emergency Operations Center?
My role within the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) is to serve as the EOC Deputy Director. In my capacity, I support the EOC Director by providing subject matter expertise and information related to incident coordination, best practices related to large-scale incident response, and general status updates regarding the function and effectiveness of the Emergency Operations Center. In support of the various functions of the Emergency Operations Center, the EOC Deputy Director role advises and provides general direction to all EOC functions, ensures strong coordination internally and with outside partners, and ensures that all pre-developed plans are implemented and/or augmented to address the needs of the incident and community.
What is your background, and how have you prepared to take on this role?
Over the last 8 years, I have worked in public safety supporting fire and police departments throughout Southern California. Through my work in public safety, I have always served in a capacity that was linked to hazard mitigation, large-scale incident response, disasters, and recovery. Prior to joining the City of Santa Monica, my position supported the development and implementation of a new fire department for a local jurisdiction; along with the design, construction, and operation of a state-of-the-art Emergency Operations Center. This experience prepared me to take on the role as EOC Deputy Director because I understood the complexities of a public health crisis on the community, Emergency Medical Service providers, and how City operations were required to coordinate closely for the response to be effective.
Prior to serving in public safety, I attended Georgetown University where I completed my master’s degree in Emergency and Disaster Management. During my time in graduate school, I focused my work on developing literature and discourse related to cultural competence within emergency management and how large-scale disasters disproportionately impact the lives of underserved communities.
The combination of my educational and professional experiences provided me with the capacity to see the impacts of this emergency from multiple perspectives and ensure the Emergency Operations Center focused on all aspects of the incident to ensure each member of the community received the services and support they needed during this crisis.
What is a typical week for you in the Emergency Operations Center?
A typical week within the Emergency Operations Center is truly dynamic. Depending on the weekly status of the incident, the Deputy Director position can be in the field supporting warehouse and field staff with any challenges they are facing within the operation or collaborating with staff from all departments. Within this management position, the Deputy Director role ensures that all EOC members are developing objectives and augmenting tasks to the fluidity of the incident. Taking into account weather, tourism, the safety of city staff, and more, each objective had to be examined to ensure the actions were inclusive, accessible, ethical, logistically sound, and payments were processed.
The week includes ongoing status updates and sectional briefs to ensure all parties are implementing the work in a cohesive and coordinated manner. The week concludes with a brief to the City Manager and the Executive Policy Team to ensure they are kept abreast of the progress of activities and actions completed throughout the week.
What’s it like to play this critical role for over a year?
Purposeful. Oftentimes people find themselves in a line of work which is tough but times like this allow for us to see the purpose in what we do. There are real lives being saved and changed with the actions we are implementing every single day. Thus, it is easy to get “burned-out” or give-up, but when you see purpose in what you do, it’s reassuring. Being in this role for over a year is tough, but most importantly it is purposeful.
Why do you do this work?
Emergency preparedness, response, and recovery is my day-to-day role with City. Although managing a local-level response to a life-altering pandemic is not my day-to-day, I have made emergency response my life’s work because I want to ensure all people have access to the resources and information to ensure they have the capacity to recover from an incident. During emergencies, there are so many unknowns, the response is complex, but the one thing people will agree on is that we all would like to return to our daily lives. Through these difficult times, I want to continue to provide my expertise and skills to ensure each person will return to normal as quickly and effectively as possible.
What has been the most surprising?
The most surprising aspect of this response is seeing people who are not emergency responders during their day-to-day work, seamlessly come together and utilize their training to protect the members of the community and their colleagues. It is not easy transitioning from day-to-day activities at a moment’s notice to emergency response, however, the members of the Emergency Operations Center have proven they are the best at what they do and their moral compass provides them the strength to see this mission through the recovery.
What has been the most challenging?
Responding to an incident is always challenging because you want to ensure the Emergency Operations Center is providing all essential services to the community during times of crisis. Unfortunately, with a novel virus and pandemic, the most challenging component is not knowing exactly what the response should include or look like and reacting to consistent change. It is hard to provide comfort and resources to members of the community when the hazard is consistently changing. The management of this incident changed day-to-day, and the resources and tasks were continuously augmented to ensure our team effectively responded to this incident. As the medical community and public health leaders confirmed how the novel virus communicated from person-to-person, our team responded and placed new measures into place to protect members of the public and all city staff.
What has been the most heartwarming?
Seeing the members of the Santa Monica community come together and thank the members of the medical community and essential workers has been the most heart-warming aspect of this response. Although our Emergency Operations Center team has been tirelessly responding to this incident, we know that doctors, nurses, medical support staff, public health professionals, and EMS providers have seen and endured so much tragedy over the past year. Additionally, the essential workers who support critical infrastructure, food services, transportation, and more have been tasked with doing these same things but placing their lives on the line to keep these services available to members of the community who are remaining home and safe. It is heart-warming to see members of the community acknowledge these individuals and their families during this time.
Are there any fun facts about Santa Monica’s EOC?
The Emergency Operations Center is a location where staff from various departments and divisions come to support the city’s response to any incident. Upon notification of an incident, the static Office of Emergency Management staff of 2 people can exponentially grow to upwards of 50-75 personnel supporting an incident. Through well-developed emergency response planning and training, the daily operation of 2 people begins to function similarly to a self-sufficient, large city department. The center coordinates point-to-point logistics, crisis communications, advanced planning, shelter and assistance operations, multi-jurisdictional coordination, and monitors the incident with the acquisition and analysis of data from the field and external sources.
What do you want the public to know right now?
The Emergency Operations Center team is not always visible to the public, but this team is here and ready to support the community throughout the pandemic, through the recovery, and we each stand at the ready to respond to any incident within or near the City of Santa Monica.
How do you stay rested and engaged during such a long and dynamic public health emergency?
Each person’s mental health and personal well-being are critical to acknowledge and tend to during tough times. Throughout this incident, I have done my best to remember that although there are many things which we need to accomplish, I alone cannot complete these task and objectives. Therefore, I do my best to take a break when possible, watch something funny, go for a bike ride, or focus on my new COVID hobby – photography. Like many people who serve within the Emergency Operations Center, we have all been facing challenging circumstances; however, something as common as a bike ride on the beach bike path allows for me to maintain my persistence during this long and dynamic public health emergency.
Is there anything else you want the public to know about the role you play, the work you do, or Santa Monica’s Emergency Operations Center?
Oftentimes the humanity of the Emergency Operations Center gets lost in the broader discussion related to an incident and the functions of the room. However, at the center of this city function are people who are dedicated to their families, friends, and this community. Similar to the community, many members of this team have incurred personal loss within their own families, challenges at home, economic loss, and unmentionable pain; however, this team has come together and supported each other for over a year to ensure we maintain the capacity to serve all members of this community.