Emergency Human Services Definitions

In Wisconsin, counties use various terms to refer to their jurisdictions’ emergency plans, including emergency operations plan (EOP), emergency response plan (ERP), and comprehensive emergency management plan (CEMP). When we use the term “county emergency operations plan (CEOP),” we are using it as a generic reference to all of these variations. In addition, there currently is no single, standard, universally understood term that encompasses the emergency support function addressed in this guide.

  • When we say “human services,” we mean it generically and collectively to include services provided by an assortment of governmental and non-governmental organizations and not exclusively by county human services authorities.
  • For the purposes of this guide, “emergency” means an incident or event outside your human services agency’s typical day-to-day work and duties.

Human Services One-Pagers


Bulk Distribution

The acquisition and delivery (including possible transportation and warehousing) of large quantities of resources, hygiene items, cleanup supplies, etc., to meet the urgent needs of disaster survivors when widespread need for these items occurs.

Community Shelter

A facility that provides temporary housing (typically in group facilities such as school gymnasiums) and basic services (e.g., meals, health and behavioral health services, human services, information and referral) for people displaced from their homes by an emergency or disaster, including people with access and functional needs.

Displaced People

Displaced people have left their homes due to an emergency or disaster. They may have taken residence in a community shelter or they may have found alternative accommodations in the community. Their displacement may be a short-term inconvenience or it may be a catastrophic event for the affected population, resulting in the need to acquire replacement housing and substantial support and additional services to re-establish their homes and normalize their lives.

Emergency Support Function (ESF)

The grouping of governmental and certain private sector capabilities into an organizational structure to provide support, resources, program implementation and services to save lives and help survivors and communities return to normal following emergencies or disasters.

Family Assistance Center

A facility that mobilizes because of a mass casualty incident in which a significant number of survivors and/or family members are in need of information and assistance. In an incident such as an airline crash, the transportation carrier operates the Family Assistance Center.

County government may operate the center in other types of mass casualties, doing so via the health and medical services or fatalities management annexes/emergency support functions (Annex H or ESF 8).

Reception Center

An adhoc facility mobilized in the immediate wake of an event to gather (for less than 24 hours) displaced people for identification, assessment, and possible referral to continuing emergency services and/or community shelter. On-site services are typically limited to water, snacks, and information.

A reception center might be mobilized in a public or private building, tent, highway rest area, parking lot, or even a mass transit vehicle in accordance with the needs of the event and the resources available.

Warming/Cooling Facilities

A warming/cooling facility is a location where residents can find temporary respite from extreme conditions such as a heat emergency, cold emergency, or long-term power outage. Examples include:

  • Warming/Cooling Center – A facility such as a community senior center where residents can go during a heat/cold emergency that may provide additional services, such as meals, social activities, or transportation, along with possibly extended hours of operation.
  • Warming/Cooling Site – A public facility such as a mall or library, where residents can go during normal business hours in a heat/cold emergency.


The term “shelter” can suggest to many people such permanent facilities as homeless shelters or domestic violence shelters. Residents of these types of shelters who must evacuate them in an emergency should be served in community shelters.

Last Revised: June 26, 2020