Base of Operations: A Disaster Responder’s Home

Share this content


Bruce Wong, Ambassador to Asia Pacific, Institute of Civil Protection and Emergency Management, looks at setting up the Base of Operations for search and rescue operations

The Base of Operations (BoO) is an important setting in international Urban Search and Rescue (USAR) operations. It allows frontline responders to be fully committed to performing their duties without worrying about resolving daily needs. Nowadays, cross-territorial support is very common in disaster response, such as flood response and wildland firefighting. The USAR experience provides us with a useful example.

When emergency response teams conduct cross-territorial missions, it is not feasible to have ceaseless logistic support since they usually travel a long distance to the disaster scene. They cannot request spare parts from their homebase or easily take rest at home. This means that they must be self-sufficient to ensure they are not a burden to the already overwhelmed place they are trying to assist. The affected place will likely be facing a shortage of power, food, water or other supplies, which is where a BoO becomes a viable solution.

The idea of a BoO stems from USAR. According to the International Search and Rescue Advisory Group (INSARAG) Guidelines, which are the recognized global reference documents, the BoO serves as the USAR Teams’ “Big Home” with functions such as headquarters, communication and transportation centre, equipment storage and maintenance hub, canteen, clinic, and accommodation. It applies in international USAR missions since air traffic can usually be controlled in major disasters, but reinforcement is not as easy compared to local operations. This article will look at BoO in USAR operations.

Location of BoO

The Local Emergency Management Agency (LEMA) is responsible for designating the location of the BoO because they are familiar the environment and facilities. In order to rapidly respond to the disaster and reduce journey time and travel distance, the BoO should be set up near the incident site and be easily accessible. In some countries, disaster prevention parks are built for mass evacuation as emergency shelters. These are equipped with a large number of water supply devices, drainages, and open areas making them a suitable location for the BoO.

Entrance and exit

Safety and security are important considerations during times of disaster as the risk of theft may be heightened due to people experiencing poverty and hunger. An entrance gate guard should be stationed to deter these types of crimes. In addition, a decontamination area should also be set up at the entrance gate for effectively preventing any contamination being brought into the BoO, such as bloods or contaminated soil. When the responders return from the incident site they should be required to clean their soles and change their rescue suits to ensure the BoO stays clean.

Command, coordination, communication and transportation centre

Disasters are time sensitive and all responders will be working around the clock undertaking life-saving tasks. For example, the management team needs to plan, coordinate and command the operation through the internal and external meetings based on the latest intelligence from the disaster scene and their homebase. The transport service should also be well-planned in advanced for carrying responders and equipment to and from the incident site. 

To meet these operational demands, strong communication support is necessary and mobile network service is essential as this allows the team to connect to the internet for operational purposes. It also enables footage at an incident site to be instantly transferred to the BoO to provide better command, coordination and communication of the situation. Traditional radio network and Inmarsat telephone are also important because the communication between incident site and a BoO can be maintained in case of network outage.

Equipment storage and maintenance hub

All equipment should be well prepared and in best condition for operation. However, it is unavoidable that repair will be necessary due to minor mechanical problems. The maintenance hub provides a good environment for inspection and quick repairs as well as serving as storage. In addition, the tent can also serve as the issuing and receiving point for equipment. For better delivery, equipment should be stored in weather resistant containers with different labels for easy identification.


The duration of overseas USAR deployment is typically 5-10 days depending on the scale of the disaster and the capacity level of the USAR team. Catering is a basic need for every responder because food provides energy for life-saving activities. The canteen also serves as both dining area and a place for responders to socialise, talk and share together while having meal.

For the balance between health and operational need, ease of preparation, sufficient nutrients, freshness and the hygiene conditions of food should be taken into account. Meal, Ready-to-Eat (MRE) is commonly used in the industry. It is precooked, packaged and ready for consumption without prior preparation or cooking. Nowadays, the MRE is available in different flavors including spicy, halal, vegetarian and more options meaning it is not only plentiful but also diverse to suit different culture.

Staying hydrated is essential for human survival. Dehydration increases the risk for heat exhaustion and heat stroke. In the deployment, pre-packed water bins could be a consideration. Alternatively or in addition, a water purification device can also provide a continuously clean water supply in the BoO.


Medical support is necessary in a BoO as the responders might not acclimatise during the deployment or, in the worst scenario, the may suffer a work injury whilst on the job. The medical tent provides a clean and comfortable environment for emergency treatment and recovery. Isolation areas should also be set up for infectious disease case.

Accommodation and Bathroom

Inadequate sleeping can seriously affect performance which is why responders need a comfortable environment for high quality sleeping. Different types of accommodation are available on the market, such as 1-2 person camping tent or an inflatable tent which can accommodate 4 to 6 persons. A foldable bed could be used if necessary.

Good personal hygiene is important to prevent the spread of communicable diseases and support positive mental health. The mobile toilet is a must for satisfying basic physiological needs. Portable toilets with wastewater tanks or urine absorbers are commonly used for deployment. In some countries such as Japan a mobile toilet unit converted from lorry may be used.

After a day of hard work, everyone also wants to have a good shower. Nowadays, camp shower can help to provide a comfortable temporary shower – it is easy to set up in a tent quickly and heat up the water after few hours with direct sunlight.

Water supply is a valuable resource in disaster scene which can be found in parks, arenas, football stadiums or via fire hydrants. However, if the infrastructures such as water pipes are damaged, or the BoO is set up in a location where there is lack of water supply, bathing would become be less important.


It helps to operate the BoO rapidly. More and more USAR teams use rigid framed or inflatable tents because they are both easy to store and set up quickly using only a few people. In recent years, the military techniques also apply to the search and rescue field. A folding-modular hub is one example: this is an integrated module which can be flat packed for transport and be connected with other modules to enlarge workspaces.

Electricity Supply

A mobile generator is the sole solution for providing electricity supply to the BoO. The number of generators and the amount of its fuel are based on individual operation. Noise is a big issue as it might cause disturbance to the responders nearby. It is more acute when generators are operating at night time. Luckily there are inverter generators on the market which can reduce noise emission.


The management of waste is necessary to protect the environment and maintain hygiene in a BoO. The wastes which come from BoO are solid waste, wastewater, and clinical waste. Usually, the solid waste can be handled as general waste. But the wastewater from cleaning, showering and dining should be as filtered before discharge to sewer as possible. Clinical waste, such as needles, cartridges which have been used as well as surgical dressings should be segregated from other solid waste and be packed by designated containers.


The experience from USAR operation is worthwhile to learn and enhance the capacity for long-distance deployment. However, the BoO setting is flexible and different teams can have their own design regard to the conditions, resources and operational needs at the scene.

This article was originally published in the March edition of IFSJ. To read your FREE digital copy, click here.

Receive the latest breaking news straight to your inbox