The reality of ECO structures

Whenever we conduct emergency management training all efforts are made to ensure specificity in the content delivered. Part of those efforts involves familiarising ourselves with the emergency plan. Somewhere within these emergency plans, you will find the emergency management structure comprising of the Emergency Control Organisation (ECO). In brief, the ECO are first responders for the site.
The reality of ECO structures
Most Structures will look like the image below.

The emergency planning committee (EPC) will for the most part decide on the requirements for a building to manage an emergency. Let’s look at a simple example of an emergency response using the structure above.

Scenario: Automatic Fire Alarm (AFA) has been activated due to a staff member burning toast in a break room

Time: 13:00 on a Monday.

Location: Break room on the 3rd level at the eastern end of the building.

Type of building: Multi-level, Multi-tenanted


Chief Warden

The Chief Warden should be attending the Main Fire Indicator Panel (FIP) to determine the location of the activation. (Let’s assume for this scenario that the main FIP is located in a fire control room separate to the affected building) Once this has been done, attempt to make contact with the building warden.

Building Warden/Deputy Building Warden

While this is happening the building warden and/or deputy building warden should be attending the building FIP to also determine the location of the activation. They should discover that the activation is a smoke detector in the staff break room on the 3rdlevel at the eastern end of the building and attempt to make contact with the area warden on that floor.

Communications Officer

The communications officer can be used to make and maintain contact with the area wardens within the building, relay information to the building warden and also information back to the chief warden.


Security can play various roles, usually controlling entry and exit points so no-one enters the building during the alarm, escorting or directing emergency services, controlling and directing evacuated occupants and will usually play the role of building warden and/or chief warden after hours.

Area Warden

Upon activation of the alarm the area warden should be attending a warden meeting point to either await instructions from the Building Warden or Communications Officer or make contact first. This is also where the area warden should task wardens to investigate the reason for the alarm and prepare to evacuate should the need arise. The information that the wardens gather from investigating the reason for the alarm will make it’s way back to the Chief Warden In the fire control room. Both area warden and wardens may also start to move building occupants towards the evacuation rout.


The wardens will operate under the direction of the area warden. Investigating alarm locations, clearing sections of the building and directing building occupants to the evacuation rout. All information gathered will be given to the area warden to pass on. Area wardens and wardens will also play an important role outside the building should an evacuation be required. Maintaining the safety of evacuees, acting as sentries at exits and entries and showing emergency services the location of the activation.

First Aid

There should always be a designated first aider available to render assistance should someone sustain an injury during the evacuation or emergency. Preferably with easy access to a first aid kit as a minimum and a defibrillator. The first aider should be able to communicate with area wardens.

That is a brief overview of a response using the structure above, now in reality this is usually what most building will have during a real emergency which history tells mostly happen outside normal operating hours.

What now?? Just the simple scenario above becomes a much more difficult task. We no longer have the same amount of assistance.

Let’s take the same scenario and make it after hours, say 5pm. You would think this becomes easier because there are less building occupants.

If we look at the response from the above limited ECO structure this is what we can expect:

Building Warden

The building warden should still go to the FIP in their building, locate the area of activation and communicate with whoever is acting as an area warden.

Area Warden

Should either attempt to make contact or await instructions from the building warden. If there is any evidence of an active fire or other incident, make attempts to clear the building with the assistance of any available wardens.


Security staff may have to take the place of an ECO member to assist in operations, attend the main fire control room and meet emergency services and become a first response first aider.

Main issues that have been identified:

  • There is generally no way of knowing how many building occupants still remain after hours.
  • The ECO members may only have limited building access making searching and clearing levels and rooms difficult.
  • There is limited knowledge on the dangers and exposures that emergency services may encounter.
  • After-hours staff will generally have limited training on building fire safety systems.
  • Less occupants can lead to delayed information during critical incidents due to no-one present to witness and raise the alarm.
  • Communication can easily be delayed or difficult depending on available – communication systems.

There is rarely a solid and robust plan in place for after-hours emergency response.

Now remember, this is a basic multi-level office building with a simple “false alarm”, imagine an aged care facility housing elderly clients with various needs and mobility issues In the early hours of the morning when there are only 2 or 3 staff members on duty.

This is why we are very focused on delivering contemporary content that provides a realistic approach to emergency management.

Scenario to think about:

It is 10pm and a cleaner polishing the floor on a vacant upper level suffers a heart attack however still manages to hit a nearby break glass alarm before going into cardiac arrest.

What should be the expected ECO response?? What critical factors need to be considered??

Aaron Gormly

Business Manager & Emergency Management Consultant

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