The Incident Command System (ICS) refers to a model tool for command, control, and management of a response. It offers a mechanism to synchronize endeavors of each agency, while working toward the common objective of coping with an incident, as well as safeguarding life, possessions, and environment. While responding to an emergency, ICS employs principles, which have proven to enhance efficiency, as well as effectiveness in a commercial setting (Cooper, 2005). Knowledge of ICS is important due to the complexity of the world we live in, which calls for cooperation among numerous agencies when reacting to emergencies. In case of an emergency, any nearby agency may provide personnel to assist with response efforts. Provided the existing movement toward employing an ICS structure during emergency reaction, it is possible, thus, that one will function in an ICS setting. ICS has five main management functions, which oversee all its duties. ICS was adopted in the 1970s after numerous catastrophic fire accidents in California. The adoption was facilitated by the organization of different stakeholders with a common goal of ensuring proper response to emergencies. The two countries with similar ICS systems include New Zealand and Australia. Called Coordinated Incident Management Systems (CIMS) and Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS), they differ in many respects from the National Incident Management System (NIMS) operating in the U.S.
ICS is a unique organization with a structure that differs from that of other agencies. To facilitate its operations, ICS has five management functions, such as:
(Klinoff, 2011, p. 450)
Incident Command is under the direction of the Incident Commander (IC), who is responsible for coping with an incident, and thus must be completely qualified to control response. The main responsibilities of the Incident Commander include performing command duties, e.g. founding command, setting up the ICP, as well as safeguarding life and property. The IC also controls personnel and equipment resources, maintains liability for a responder, as well as public safety together with task accomplishment (Cooper, 2005). The IC establishes and maintains effective connection with external agencies and firms, such as the EOC, whenever it is aggregated. He/she establishes command and ensures safety of response, assesses the priorities of an incident, determines the objectives of the operation, develops and implements an action plan for a particular incident, develops a proper organizational culture, maintains a convenient span of control, and manages incident resources. The IC coordinates general activities concerning the incident, as well as those outside the agency, authorizes the dissemination of information to the media, and keeps track of expenses (Klinoff, 2011).
An effective IC ought to be assertive, critical, purposive, serene, and a fast thinker. In order to handle all the duties associated with this role, the IC should be adaptable, realistic about his/her restrictions, and flexible. He/she should have the ability to assign positions properly depending on an incident. Initially, the IC should be a senior first-responder to appear at the scene of an incident. The IC can transfer the responsibility to a junior officer with the primary authority for overall handling of an incident, depending on the time of their arrival at the scene. A more highly specialized IC may be hired, if incidents increase in scope and become more complicated. The outgoing IC ought to brief the incoming one about the details of an incident. The IC may also assign authority to others, who may help in various activities. If there is a need for expansion, the other three management functions may be involved, such as Information Officer, Safety Officer, and Liaison Officer. The Information Officer deals with all media questions and directs the dissemination of information to the media at the EOC jointly with the Public Affairs Officer. The Safety Officer checks safety situations and formulates ways to ensure the assigned personnel are safe. The Liaison Officer engages in on-scene contact on behalf of other agencies consigned to the incident (Klinoff, 2011).
Three major priorities of an incident help the IC decide whether or not to expand the ICS management. The first priority is safety of life, in which case the first priority of the IC is always to save the life of the public, as well as that of emergency responders. The second priority is stability of an incident, in which case the IC determines a strategy for minimizing effects an incident may have on a neighborhood. Similarly, the IC should come up with a strategy of maximizing the response effort while ensuring the resources are used efficiently. The IC should develop a command system with a size and complexity that can keep up with an incident’s complexity, but not size. The third priority is conservation of property, in which case the IC should aim to reduce damage to property while attaining the objectives of an incident. The IC can activate more staff as incidents become more engaged (Klinoff, 2011).
The Planning Section
The IC may establish a planning section when an incident becomes larger, but remains a planner in smaller events. A planning section has various functions, including collecting, evaluating, disseminating, and using information concerning the expansion of an event and condition of resources. The section may also engage in creating an action plan defining reaction activities, as well as resource usage for a particular period (Cooper, 2005).
The Operations Section
The Operations Section is responsible for carrying out response activities, as per an action plan guiding an incident. The chief of the section coordinates the section’s activities and holds primary responsibility for reception and implementation of an action plan. The Operations Section Chief accounts to the IC and decides on resources needed for organizational structure within this section. The chief of the Operations Section is responsible for directing and coordinating all operations, as well as guaranteeing safety of the section’s personnel. He/she helps the IC develop response aims and objectives for an event, as well as implement an action plan for that particular incident. The chief also requests resources via the IC and reports to the IC on the situation and condition of resources in the field of operations. Below is a chart detailing the structure of the Operations Section (Cooper, 2005):
The Logistics Segment
The Logistics Segment provides items, materials, and services encompassing the personnel responsible for operating the equipment needed for an operation. The significance of the section lies in handling prolonged operations. The section also supports responders of an incident, e.g. the Medical Segment in this section offers care for event responders, but not civilian casualties (Cooper, 2005).
The Finance Section
The Finance Section tracks the costs of an incident and accounts for reimbursement; however, the section is sometimes ignored. Reimbursement of expenses may prove to be difficult, unless costs, as well as financial operations, are duly recorded and validated. The section is mostly crucial when an event is of an extent that may influence a Presidential Declaration (Cooper, 2005).
The five sections may be expanded into more units, if authority is delegated further. Contraction of the same can happen if an incident de-escalates.
History Behind the Adoption of ICS
ICS emerged during the early 1970s following the apparent requirement for a novel means of handling quickly spreading wildfires. During this time, emergency managers faced a number of problems, such as many individuals reporting to a single supervisor, dissimilar emergency reaction organizational structures, unreliability of incident information, and insufficient and mismatched communications. Other problems included absence of a structure to coordinate planning among agencies, uncertain authority lines, disparity in terminologies among agencies, and lack of clear incident objectives. Devising a common system to solve the above issues took many years, as well as far-reaching field analysis. The system was created by an interbureau unit, which was working in a supportive local, state, and central interagency endeavor known as “FIRESCOPE.” Four important needs became evident during the early developmental stages: 1) the system ought to be organizationally supple to rally the requirements of events of any magnitude 2) agencies ought to use the system daily for common circumstances and major crises 3) the system ought to be adequately standard to permit personnel from diverse agencies and geographical regions to quickly join a similar administration structure 4) the system ought to be cost-effective (NWCG, 1994).
The first applications of ICS were to handle catastrophic wildland fires. Notably, the features of wildland fire cases resemble those apparent in law enforcement, dangerous materials, and other situations. They can happen suddenly, develop quickly, and expand in magnitude. The risks for responding employees can increase the likelihood of the presence of multijurisdictional agencies with an on-scene duty. Their public and media visibility is high, and, therefore, the loss of life and property risks may increase. Therefore, the expenditure of reaction is usually a chief concern (NWCG, 1994).
Currently, ICS has spread throughout the U.S. and is being used by fire agencies. Law enforcement as well as civic agencies are using it for dealing with catastrophes and running of events. Among those that have endorsed the use of ICS are FEMA, NFA, and EPA among others (NWCG, 1994).
Countries with Similar Incident Systems and Comparison with the U.S.’s ICS
New Zealand and Australia have similar command systems called Coordinated Incident Management Systems (CIMS) and Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS) respectively. AIIMS is a system of incident management for emergency and fire service agencies, which uses an all-agencies approach to manage larger emergencies and wildfires (Boin & Hart, 2010). CIMS is also an all-agencies approach used by all emergency services and management organizations throughout the country, including New Zealand Police, the Ministry of Civil Defence, St. John Ambulance, and New Zealand Search and Rescue fire services. The two systems are based on functional management structures, management of objectives and span of control, which have served them well.
The National Incident Management System (NIMS) applied in the Unites States is different from the two systems in that NIMS uses a broader approach to emergency management operations, with one of its key elements being an incident command system, which is used by NIMS to deal with disasters. NIMS allows for creation of an intelligence function which enables to control and restrict information in numerous ways. Therefore, the U.S. system has two methods of responding to disasters and emergencies: NIMS and the Incidence Command System (FEMA, 2008). ICS offers a standardized framework through which certain agencies coordinate command during a disaster. NIMS interacts with agencies to respond to a disaster as part of the ICS chain of command. Thus, greater flexibility is achieved, as it is important for NIMS to be pertinent across the entire range of likely incidences (FEMA, 2008). NIMS differs from Australian and New Zealand systems, as they both have an incident controller, who determines an incident outcome by ensuring all incident personnel are working towards achieving the same set of objectives. Incidents only have a single set of aims and action plan for attaining an objective, which limits flexibility (Boin & Hart, 2010). Flexibility and standardization are the fundamental principles of NIMS.
Incident Command System (ICS) was adopted in the early 1970s to tackle issues surrounding emergency response in the USA, and particularly in California. The adoption of the system followed the identification of various problems preventing emergency agencies from responding effectively. Upon its inception, ICS improved emergency responses and was, therefore, adopted by many agencies. The Incident Command System is currently a very important tool for coordinating emergency response. The system consists of a standard management hierarchy and procedures for handling temporary incident(s) of all scopes. ICS has five main units, such as Incident Command, Information Officer, Safety Officer, and Logistics Officer, which manage matters pertaining to emergency response. Being the first person to arrive at the scene of an incident, the Incident Commander delegates responsibilities to others as operations proceed. The two countries with similar ICS systems include New Zealand and Australia. Their systems are called Coordinated Incident Management Systems (CIMS) and Australasian Inter-Service Incident Management System (AIIMS) respectively. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) applied in the Unites States is different from the two systems in that NIMS uses a broader approach to emergency management operations, with one of its key elements being the Incident Command System used by NIMS to deal with disasters. All nations should adopt ICS because it has proven effective in ensuring prompt emergency response.