Two weeks of Christmas vacation means more time to think about Star Trek.  Today, we’re following up our recent discussion of one of the unsung heroes of the Enterprise-D, the Environmental Systems Officer, with a purely fanon creation: the Emergency Operations Officer.

As with many of our Back of the Bridge articles, we start with a few key passages from the ST:TNG Technical Manual, and stitch them together into a job description:

The Environmental Systems bridge station is used for “execution of survival scenarios such as evacuation to environmental shelter areas.”

On a Galaxy class ship, there are 52 emergency shelter areas designed to remain habitable even in the event of major system outages elsewhere in the spacecraft, equipped with independent emergency breathing gas, water, food, and power supplies.

Emergency preparedness protocols specify that at least 40% of crew and attached personnel must be cross-trained for various secondary assignments, including emergency medical, triage, and other disaster response functions, including Engineering and Security duties.  During Yellow and Red Alerts protocols, cross-trained personnel with noncritical primary assignments report to their secondary assignments as necessary.  

Starship personnel train to execute rescue and evacuation operations, both to the ship (from another ship or a planetary surface) and from the ship (to another ship, a planetary surface, or into space).  A Galaxy class ship can support up to 15,000 evacuees with conversion of shuttlebays and cargo bays to emergency living accommodations.  For “abandon ship” evacuations, the crew can utilize everything from transporters to shuttlecraft to emergency lifeboats to putting on an environmental suit and stepping out a window.

Put it all together, and you realize that every starship needs a designated Emergency Operations Officer, someone who makes sure that the plans are in place, the personnel are trained and drilled, and the batteries in the smoke detectors are changed annually.  This is especially critical on ships like the Galaxy class with a large civilian population.

Depending on the size of the ship and the mission profile, I see several different options for the Emergency Ops position.  First, standard operating procedure seems to be to combine the roles of Tactical Officer (i.e., guy who fires photon torpedoes) and Security Officer (i.e., space cop / meatshield).  Those are really two very different jobs, so you could easily split them up and combine Security and Emergency Ops as a kind of crew safety czar.

Second, there’s nothing wrong with making this a full-time job, especially if the Emergency Ops Officer has a dedicated staff of techs to maintain the emergency shelters and lifeboats.

Third, I like the idea of combining this job with Beta Shift or Gamma Shift Officer of the Watch.  Once in a while, we see a senior officer working a second or third shift, but as discussed in our post about Second Officers, there’s generally a sense that almost everything important happens between 8 A.M. and 4 P.M., and then some group of “Lower Decks” types just kind of keep the chairs warm for sixteen hours until the cool stuff starts again.  Assuming that you don’t want your First Officer to stand a separate watch every day, why not take a couple of LT(JG)s, make one Mission Ops / Beta Shift OOTW and the other Emergency Ops / Gamma Shift OOTW, and treat them as part of the senior staff.  They show up for major briefings, Yellow and Red Alerts, and anytime the Captain needs either their specific expertise or an extra Command officer.  This gets the Beta and Gamma Shifts back in the loop, and there’s a good argument for keeping your Emergency Ops Officer on duty while most of the crew is asleep.

Only downside to this arrangement is that our Beta and Gamma Shift commanders are probably working some weird hours, helping out during Alpha Shift while still putting in a full eight hours later on.  Surely Starfleet has plenty of alien officers with weird sleep patterns who can handle a few hours of intensive emergency Alpha Shift activity right after eight hours of relatively quiet Gamma Shift.  On an Intrepid class bridge, you’d put these guys (in their non-OOTW capacities) at the back of the bridge, on either side of master systems display.  To be on the safe side, Starfleet should probably install some coffee cup holders.    

CT leads the podcasters into a three-way dance discussion where they come up with the casts of two new "Expendables" movies. First, they figure out the cast to "The Expendables of Teacher Movies" and follow that up with "The Expendables of Sports Movies." Programming note: The podcasters are taking a two week break from regular episodes. Look for potential extra helpings and the return of the regular show in mid-January.

We’ve been talking about some of the less celebrated position in Starfleet, specifically the consoles along the back of the bridge on the Enterprise-D — two Science stations, Environmental Systems, Mission Operations, and Engineering.  Although there are some good reasons to make some permanent assignments to these positions, even on a big ship like the Enterprise-D, they just didn’t have the manpower, so in practice, one guy did it all: the Relief Bridge Officer.

The TNG Technical Manual mentions that on a Galaxy class ship, the standard bridge complement during “Cruise Mode” (i.e., not Red Alert or Yellow Alert) is a Command officer (in the big chair), Conn and Ops officers (in front of the big chair), and an additional officer (behind the big chair) who can fill in as needed at Tactical or any other back-of-the-bridge station.  Various non-canon sources call this extra guy the Relief Bridge Officer, the Bridge Operations Officer, or the Bridge Duty Officer.  He does what needs doing.  Some weird space anomaly needs preliminary analysis?  He goes to the Science station.  Something needs shooting?  Walk over to Tactical.  Check the status of the warp core?  Engineering.  Bridge seem a little stuffy?  Environmental Systems.  

When the officer in command declares Yellow Alert or Red Alert, the appropriate personnel catch the next turbolift to the bridge, and if there’s something else that requires more sustained attention or specialized expertise, you can always ask an appropriate specialist to report to the bridge.  In the meantime, the Relief Bridge Officer keeps things from exploding too badly.  When the experts show up, the RBO sort of fades into the background, monitors whatever station seems monitoring, and stands ready to swap in where needed.

Probably during the quieter Beta and Gamma Shifts, it’s just these four guys — Command, Conn, Ops, and RBO.  During Alpha Shift, it’s clearly standard procedure to have the Chief Security Officer or one of his deputies at Tactical, but you probably still want that Relief Bridge Officer around.  Even if it’s an uneventful shift, you want to allow some 15 minute breaks.  Hopefully, one of the upgrades of the Sovereign class bridge was some sort of little break room just off the bridge where officers can step off the bridge, have a quick bite, hit the head, etc.  Maybe some of those Defiant-style bunkbeds, in case someone needs a power nap?  The “Lower Decks” type officers who really want that promotion should sleep in their uniforms in the Bridge Bunks, and then rush onto the bridge as soon as the Yellow Alert light starts flashing.

As exemplified by Worf in TNG Season 1, Relief Bridge Officer (Alpha Shift) is one of the best gigs around for a Command division (red shirt) Ensign or Lieutenant (j.g.), right up there with Flight Control / Helm.  If you don’t get one of those spots, you’re looking at something like Gamma Shift Officer of the Watch, or maybe something in Flight Deck Operations wrangling shuttlecraft, or maybe even something purely administrative like Yeoman. Alpha Shift bridge time is the key to advancement — Worf and Geordi both moved up to department heads after just a year on the bridge, and Lieutenant Hawk from “First Contact” had the steely gaze and solid jaw of a future Second Officer.

Lt. Hawk

As a Relief Bridge Officer, you probably work every station on the bridge in the course of a typical shift (unless there’s an android at Ops), and when the First Officer is putting together an Away Team, there you are, looking young and eager and expendable.  The bad news is that the Relief Bridge Officer is a lowest ranking guy in a red shirt, and therefore has about a 50/50 shot of surviving that first year.  This is not a job for a guy like Reg Barkley who is going to grind along as a junior officer for twenty years — you are either headed for senior staff or a body bag.  


The Sovereign class Enterprise-E seems to have done away with the Relief Bridge Officer, insofar as it has fifteen duty stations, most of which seem to be filled at all times.  I’ve seen nothing official or even semi-official breaking down who is doing what at all these extra stations, but fan speculation posits separate Tactical and Security stations, dedicated Navigation and Communications stations a la the original series, and multiple Mission Ops and Science stations. I’d like to think that at least in the wee hours of Gamma Shift, it’s still just Command, Conn, Ops, and a Relief Bridge Officer, changing seats every half hour and finishing up in the Counselor’s chair, where he says, “I’m sensing we should go get some breakfast.”

We’re taking a look at the back of the bridge on the Enterprise-D and the brave young men / women / others who perform semi-critical duties and throw their bodies between exploding work stations and the senior staff.  Let’s talk about Starfleet’s most consistent performers: the Environmental Systems Officers.

Fun fact: that first season of ST: TNG, there was a Propulsion Systems station along the back wall.  Like a lot of first season stuff, we must assume here that they were still working out some kinks as to how to operate a Galaxy class ship, by far the largest and most complicated vessel in the history of the fleet.  The senior staff of the Enterprise-D was still taking shape, with some kind of ambiguous chain of command in Engineering involving multiple “chief engineers,” none of whom really made it into Picard’s inner circle. Picard had an eye for talent, leading him to award a temporary commission to veteran non-com Miles O'Brien.  Picard also flagged a couple of LT(JG)s early on and made sure they got plenty of bridge time and away missions so they’d be ready to move up when some positions opened up.

For Geordi, that meant a hitch in Command red as the flight control officer while Picard waited for a chance to get rid of the dead weight in Engineering.  Starfleet Command forced those guys on Picard — probably Chief Engineers MacDougal, Argyle, and Logan were heavily involved in the design and construction of the Galaxy class ships and were therefore good enough for the initial shakedown cruise, but none of them stepped up and showed some leadership under pressure, and they all thought having the Binars take a look at the computers was a good idea . . .

Worf, on the other hand, was kind of a floater / utility man along the lines of Mr. Leslie on ST:TOS.  Some non-canon sources call him a “Relief Bridge Officer,” and he just hung around the back wall, filled in whenever someone vacated a chair up front, and went on a lot of away missions.  I’m guessing Worf was the one who made the helpful suggestion that Propulsion Systems could be handled at the Engineering station or the Conn, but that they really to make sure the inertial dampeners didn’t shut down at a bad time.  Thus, the Environmental Systems station.

The ST: TNG Technical Manual advises that the Environmental Systems station is programmed to monitor status and performance for atmosphere, temperature, gravity, inertial damping, and shielding subsystems, plus critical consumables such as oxygen and water and various recycling and reprocessing systems.  The Technical Manual points out that this stuff is highly automated, which is why the station is frequently unmanned, but during Yellow and Red Alert situations, the Environmental Systems Officer can act as a deputy Ops Manager, monitoring these critical systems.  This is what I mean about consistent performance: it may not be as flashy as stopping a warp core explosion or modulating shield harmonics, but the ESO is there to keep the gravity on and radiation levels acceptable even when all hell is breaking loose, and he’s all that stands between 1000 crewmen and the vast vacuum of space.

So the real question is whether the “Environmental Systems Officer” just mean whoever is standing closest to that station when the Captain has a question about waste extraction, or whether manning that station as needed is part of a broader set of duties.  If the latter, there are several good candidates.

First, we have previously discussed the Chief Services Officer, a.k.a. Ensign Rusty: Starfleet Janitor, who handles a variety of essential yet boring jobs such as custodial and quartermaster work.  There’s considerable overlap between Rusty’s job and the Environmental Systems station, especially as to the recycling/reprocessing systems, so he’s a good candidate to drop the space mop and pitch in as needed on the bridge.  I wouldn’t put him on the bridge full time on Alpha Shift — you just don’t need someone trying to coordinate janitorial services while the Borg are attacking — but if Rusty is normally working Gamma Shift (makes sense --- fewer people underfoot), no reason why he shouldn’t be on the bridge at Environmental Systems.

Second, Geordi La Forge desperately needs to learn how to delegate.  Pick a good solid Ensign who knows his way around an artificial gravity generator, move him up to LT(JG), and call him Assistant Chief Engineer (Environmental Systems).  He doesn’t just monitor these systems, he leads a team that maintains, repairs, and replaces them as needed.

Third and most promisingly, the Technical Manual tells us that the Environmental Systems Officer is responsible “for execution of survival scenarios such as evacuation to environmental shelter areas.”  I have a theory about a never seen yet critical position called the Emergency Operations Officer, and we'll talk about him in the next installment.



Digio from The Atomic Geeks drops by for his seasonal visit to spread some holiday podcasting cheer. This week the nerds put together some Christmas themed triple features of movies and TV specials. Not surprisingly the discussion features a lot of Rudolph, The Year Without a Santa Claus, and other Rankin/Bass specials, but somehow the Flintstones, Star Trek: Generations, Drew Barrymore, and Pierce Brosnan come up as well. This week’s Nerd To Dos feature Orphan Black, The 100, The Battle of the Five Armies, and some basketball memoirs (?).


Star Trek fandom comes in many different varieties.  Me, I’ve never learned Klingon or dressed up as Kirk or played three-dimensional chess, but I’ve done a lot of digging into various semi-canonical sources just to try to get a better understanding of how life works in the 24th century, particularly ife in Starfleet.  Some out-of-print RPG stuff has been a big help, along with fan sites like  As readers of our earlier Trek articles know, I have a particular interest in the “Lower Decks” guys on a starship --- Ben the Space Waiter, Ensign Rusty the Chief Services Officer, the seldom-seen Second Officer / Beta Shift Officer of the Watch, etc.  Today I want to talk about one of those stations at the back of the bridge that seem to explode a lot:  Mission Operations.

The Mission Operations Officer’s main job is to provide support for the Operations Manager.  Operations Manager is a job that covers a lot of different responsibilities (which is why Harry Kim always seemed so wound up).  The TNG Technical Manual emphasizes the “resource allocation” aspect of the job — there’s only so much power and computing capacity to go around, only so many sensor arrays, etc., and Ops makes sure that the ship doesn't blow a fuse by trying to run all the holodecks at once while traveling Warp 9. Beyond this, the Ops position seems to extend to communications, sensors, accessing the library computer, real-time data analysis, and acting as the bridge’s de facto Engineering and Science officer when those stations are not otherwise occupied.

In other words, especially on a massive Galaxy or Sovereign class starship, Operations Manager the sort of job where it helps to be an android.  Therefore, having a “Deputy Ops Manager” over at the Mission Ops makes a lot of sense — on a big ship, or during particularly busy periods, you don’t have to multitask quite as hard if you have another guy who knows it’s his job to monitor communications, or watch the structural integrity field and shields during battle.

As the Technical Manual points out, the Mission Operations Officer also acts as a backup Operations Manager.  When Mr. Data steps out for an Away Mission or a wacky holodeck adventure, and some guy hustles over and takes his comfy chair, that’s probably our Mission Ops Officer.  My personal take on it, by the way, is that your Ops Manager is the last guy who should be running off on Away Missions.  The Helm / Flight Control Officer is probably a red-shirted Command officer waiting to move up to First Officer, so it makes sense to get him some field experience, but the Ops Manager has a skill set that is needed on the bridge.

Several bridge configurations seem to have multiple Mission Ops stations (like that big Enterprise-E bridge --- seriously, who are all of these people?), and this makes sense --- there will be situations where things get so busy that you need to break down that Operations job and have one person watching an Away Team, one person keeping an eye on the ship as a whole, one person handling communications, one person on sensor duties, etc.

 Bridge Pic

This “Deputy Ops Manager” role for the Mission Operations Officer also suggests a career path for young officers.  Operations Officers probably start out on Beta or Gamma Shift, when there’s generally less going on and they only have to pay attention to ten things at once instead of twenty things at once.  Moving from Operations Manager (Beta Shift) to Mission Operations Officer (Alpha Shift) is major career advancement, because Alpha Shift is where the action is.  Unlike the Chief Engineer and the Chief Tactical Officer, the Operations Manager doesn't seem to have a big staff under him, so I like the idea that he at least has these apprentice Ops guys, who sleep in their uniforms and run to the bridge every time a Red Alert alarm starts flashing.

However, Mission Ops doesn’t have to be a stepping stone to Operation Manager.  Will Riker did some time in Operations (as evidenced by Tom Riker’s gold uniform), and I’m guessing that a stint as a junior Ops officer (i.e., Mission Ops) is what many career-minded Command division officers do to shore up their technical skills on their way to their first command.  On the flip side, the universe needs more Chief O’Briens, and it’s easy to imagine Mission Operations as a career path for non-commissioned officers.    

The Technical Manual explains that the “Mission” part of Mission Ops refers to their specific role of monitoring “secondary missions.”  In particular, they act as a liason between Away Teams and the bridge, monitoring communications and comm badge life signs and tricorder data, and keeping that transporter lock ready.  That’s a great idea — the Away Team knows that no matter what kind of craziness is happening, someone on the bridge is watching and listening and providing additional support as needed, whether it’s data or equipment or additional personnel.

The TNG Technical Manual assigns the Operations Manager a bunch of associated duties like notifying  Away Team personnel of the assignment and providing mission briefings, notifying secondary personnel who fill in for the Away Team, and even issuing of tricorders, phasers, environmental gear, and other mission-specific equipment.  Come on, people.  Learn to delegate.  On any ship where they have the manpower for a full-time Mission Operations Officer, all of these Away Team responsibilities should be left to Mission Ops.

An Away Team is typically an ad hoc, multi-department task force that the First Officer pulls together on short notice.  Riker tended to pick the first three or four officers he saw (clearing out the bridge in the process).  Maybe a couple of anonymous Security guys fill out the Away Team, until their grisly deaths.  Dammit, Will, when you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail.  There are one thousand people on this ship — tell Mission Ops what you need, and let him propose a team and get them assembled in the dedicated Away Team Ready Room (right next to a transporter room and a bathroom).  Mission Ops issues phasers, Horta sticks, and corpse-handling gloves, assists with mission briefing (running the 3-D Powerpoint presentation while Number One talks), and maybe makes sure that everyone has snacks.  As soon as the Mission Ops Officer is back on the bridge, everyone beams down.  Now that’s how you do an Away Mission.

The nerds are joined this week by Shawn Robare and Evan Hanson to discuss our memories growing up before the Internet and going to comic book shops. We talk about a few of our favorite comic book shops and we talk about some of the more choice employees of these comic shops back in the day. It's a lively discussion that I think you're going to enjoy.

The Nerd Lunch crew welcome back returning guest Kay from and the Hyperspace Theories Podcast. After actually discussing a little "Geek News" (™The Atomic Geeks), the podcasters talk about two classic Muppet Christmas productions, Muppet Family Christmas and A Muppet Christmas Carol. In the discussion are thoughts on how they work as annual viewing traditions, their overall quality and their place in history as one of the last Jim Henson Muppet projects and one of the first without him. You could call "Nerd To-Dos" "Nerd To-Whos" this week as there are two Doctor Who items. Also Star Wars book reading and additional Christmas special watching makes the lists.



The nerds are joined this time around by Michael May for a drill down on Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan.  As the crown jewel of the Trek movies, you might expect this episode to be a full-on love fest.  And you’d be mostly right, but listen anyway to find out exactly why Wrath of Khan is so great.  Our Nerd To Dos feature some Muppets, analyzing A Christmas Carol, hardcore legend Mick Foley, and lots of podcast editing.