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I ncident C ommand S ystem

Need for a Common Incident Management System
History of ICS Development
Evolution of ICS
Applications of the Incident Command System
ICS Organization
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Need for a Common Incident Management System

The complexity of incident management, coupled with the growing need for multi-agency and multi functional involvement on incidents, has increased the need for a single standard incident management system that can be used by all emergency response disciplines.

ICS provides an important framework from which all can work together. In any major incident many or any local, federal, etc. agencies may become involved. The challenge is to get the various agencies to work together in the most efficient and effective manner.

The principles of the Incident Command System will enable all emergency response agencies to utilize common terminology, span of control, organizational flexibility, personnel accountability, comprehensive resource management, unified command and incident action plans.


History of ICS Development

ICS resulted from the obvious need for a new approach to the problem of managing rapidly moving wildfires in the early 1970s. At that time, emergency managers faced a number of problems.

  • Too many people reporting to one supervisor.
  • Different emergency response organizational structures.
  • Lack of reliable incident information.
  • Inadequate and incompatible communications.
  • Lack of a structure for coordinated planning between agencies.
  • Unclear lines of authority.
  • Terminology differences betweenagencies.
  • Unclear or unspecified incident objectives.

Designating a standardized emergency management system to remedy the problems listed above took several years and extensive field testing. The Incident Command System was developed by an inter-agency task force working in a cooperative local, state, and federal inter-agency effort called FIRESCOPE (Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies). Early in the development process, four essential requirements became clear:

  1. The system must be organizationally flexible to meet the needs of incidents of any kind and size.
  2. Agencies must be able to use the system on a day-to-day basis for routine situations as well as for major emergencies.
  3. The system must be sufficiently standard to allow personnel from a variety of agencies and diverse geographic locations to rapidly mold into a common management structure.
  4. The system must be cost effective.
Initial ICS applications were designed for responding to disastrous wildland fires. It is interesting to note that the characteristics of these wildland fire incidents are similar to those seen in many law enforcement, hazardous materials, and other kinds of situations.

They occur with no advance notice. They develop rapidly. Unchecked, they may grow in size or complexity. Personal risk for response personnel can be high. There are often several agencies with some on-scene responsibility. They can very easily become multi-jurisdictional. They often have high public and media visibility. Risk of life and property loss can be high. Cost of response is always a major concern.

ICS is now widely used throughout the United States and Canada by fire agencies, and is increasingly used for law enforcement, other public safety applications, and for emergency and event management.


Evolution of ICS

ICS applications and users have steadily increased since the system's original development. In 1980, the ICS that was originally developed in California under the FIRESCOPE program made the transition into a national program called the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS). At the time ICS became the backbone of a wider-based system for all federal agencies with wildland fire management responsibilities.

The following agencies and entities, among others, have endorsed the use of ICS:

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA).
  • National Curriculum Advisory Committee on Incident Command Systems / Emergency Operations Management System recommends adoption of ICS as a multi hazard/all-agency system.
  • FEMA's National Fire Academy (NFA) has adopted ICS as a model system for fire services.
  • FEMA's Urban Search and Rescue Response System, a component of the Federal Response Plan, uses ICS as its on site management structure.
  • NFPA Standard 1405 (Land-Based Firefighters who respond to marine vessel fires) was developed at the request of, and in cooperation with, the U.S. Coast Guard and calls for the use of ICS. The U.S. Coast Guard also is incorporating ICS basic structure and management principles into the National Response System used for oil and hazardous material pollution response.
  • The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) requires that all governmental and private organizations that handle hazardous materials use ICS.
  • The National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) Standard 1500 states that all departments should establish written procedures for use of ICS.
  • Some states now require the use of an emergency management system based on ICS.
  • Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rules require non-OSHA states to use ICS at hazardous materials incidents.
  • The National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) has formally adopted ICS for use by all federal and state wildfire management organizations.


Applications of the Incident Command System

The Incident Command System has considerable flexibility. It can grow or shrink to meet different needs. This makes it a very cost-effective and efficient management system. The system can be applied to a wide variety of emergency and non-emergency situations. Listed below are some examples of these kinds of incidents and events that can use the Incident Command System:

  • Fires
  • multi-casualty incidents
  • wide-area search and rescue missions
  • oil spill response and recovery incidents
  • multi-jurisdictional and
    multi-agency disasters
  • single and multi-agency law enforcement incidents
  • air, rail, water or ground transportation accidents
  • private sector emergency management programs
  • major natural catastrophies
  • major planned events;
    e.g., celebrations, parades, concerts, etc.


ICS Organization

Every incident or event has certain major management activities or actions that must be performed. Even if the event is small, and only one or two people are involved, these activities will still always apply to some degree.

The organization of the Incident Command System is built around five major management activities.

Sets objectives and priorities 
Has overall responsibility at the incident or event 
Conducts tactical operations to carry out the plan 
Develops the tactical objectives 
Directs all resources 
Develops the action plan to accomplish the objectives 
Collects and evaluates information 
Maintains resource status 
Provides support to meet incident needs 
Provides resources and all other services needed to support the incident 
Monitors costs related to incident 
Provides accounting Procurement Time recording Cost analyses 

These five major management activities are the foundation upon which the ICS organization develops. They apply whether you are handling a routine emergency, organizing for a major event, or managing a major response to a disaster.

On small incidents, these major activities may be managed by one person,the Incident Commander (IC). Large incidents usually require that they be set up as separate Sections within the organization as shown below.


Click Here to enlarge

Each of the primary ICS Sections may be sub-divided as needed. The ICS organization has the capability to expand or contract to meet the needs of the incident.

A basic ICS operating guideline is that the person at the top of the organization is responsible until the authority is delegated to another person. Thus, on smaller situations where additional persons are not required, the Incident Commander will directly manage all aspects of the incident organization.

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