Santa Clara County, California

Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS)
Introductory Course of Instruction

Module A2: Introduction to SEMS Components and Features

A2.2: Organizational/Response Levels and Activation Requirements

SEMS regulations describe five organizational response levels. These levels are:

This section briefly describes each level.

Field Response Level

The field response level is the level where emergency response personnel and resources carry out tactical decisions and activities under the command of an appropriate authority in direct response to an incident or threat.

SEMS regulations require the use of ICS at the field response level of an incident. The Field Response level is described in Part I - B of the SEMS Guidelines, and in the Field Level Approved Course of Instruction.

Local Government Level

Local governments include cities, counties, and special districts Local governments manage and coordinate the overall emergency response and recovery activities within their jurisdiction.

In SEMS, the local government emergency management organization and its relationship and connections to the Field Response level may vary depending upon factors related to geographical size, population, function, or complexity. The local government level is described further in Part I-C of the SEMS guidelines

Operational Area

Under SEMS, the operational area means an intermediate level of the state's emergency services organization which encompasses the county and all political subdivisions located within the county. The operational area manages and/or coordinates information, resources, and priorities among local governments within the operational area, and serves as the coordination and communication link between the local government level and the regional level.

It is important to note that while an operational area always encompasses the entire county area, it does not necessarily mean that the county government itself manages and coordinates the response and recovery activities within the county. In most cases, the county EOC will function as both the Operational Area EOC and the EOC for the county.

The decision on organization and structure within the Operational Area is made by the governing bodies of the county and the political subdivisions within the county. The operational area level is described more fully in Part I-D of the SEMS Guidelines (currently not available on-line).


Because of its size and geography, the state has been divided into six Mutual Aid Regions. The purpose of a mutual aid region, is to provide for the more effective application and coordination of mutual aid and other emergency related activities. The Office of Emergency Services (OES) provides administrative oversight over the mutual aid regions through three Administrative Regional Offices. The map shows the relationship between mutual aid regions and OES regional offices.

In SEMS, the regional level manages and coordinates information and resources among operational areas within the mutual aid region, and also between the operational areas and the state level. The regional level also coordinates overall state agency support for emergency response activities within the region. The regional level is described further in Part I-E of the SEMS Guidelines (currently not available on-line).


The state level of SEMS manages state resources in response to the emergency needs of the other levels, and coordinates mutual aid among the mutual aid regions and between the regional level and state level.

The state level also serves as the initial coordination and communication link between the state and the federal disaster response system. After initial contact at the state level, those federal response elements deemed necessary by the REOC Director will be directed to co-locate with state counterparts at the REOC. The state level is described further in part I-F of the SEMS Guidelines (currently not available on-line).

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