Overview of The Incident Command System

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 All incident coordination made by response personnel is made through a structured management approach called the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS was created in the 1970’s after a series of fires in California. This system provides a standardized all-hazard structure to emergency responders and coordinators with the purpose of ensuring the integration of response efforts. Known for its flexibility, ICS can be applied from the smallest of incidents requiring emergency response to the largest. This system can be used to manage natural, human-caused, and technological hazards as well as events previously planned. The use of ICS is encouraged by the National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS provides the framework at all levels for incident management regardless of the size and complexity. It provides the concepts, principles, and processes that will allow for an effective incident management.

NIMS has divided these concepts, principles, and processes into:

  1. Preparedness

  2. Communications and Information Management

  3. Resource Management

  4. Command and Management

  5. Ongoing Management and Maintenance

ICS falls under the concept of Command and Management and enables responders, managers, and coordinators to avoid issues such as poor communication, lack of accountability, lack of an orderly process, lack of a flexible predetermined management structure, and lack of predefined methods to effectively integrate interagency requirements into the management structure.

The Incident Command System provides features that form the basis for effective incident management. The features are:

  1. Standardization: ICS provides common terminology that help define organizational functions, positions, resources, and incident facilities.

  2. Command: Clearly defines the establishment and transfer of command as well as a clear outline of the Chain of Command and Unity of Command concepts. Chain of Command refers to the line of authority within the incident management structure while the term Unity of Command establishes that every individual has a supervisor to whom he or she reports to during the incident management.

  3. Planning/Organizational Structure

  4. Facilities and Resources

  5. Communications/Information Management

  6. Professionalism: From proper accountability to dispatch and deployment procedures.

ICS must be integrated at all levels of incident management. Managers, responders, and coordinators must ensure that their organizations adhere to the principles of ICS at all levels. ICS requires all individuals integrated into an incident to abide by all policies and procedures established, ensure unity of command and adhere to the chain of command. ICS has proven its effectiveness through several small and complex incidents and the effective integration of this system into any type of incident will only prove to be beneficial to emergency response efforts.


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