Introduction to the Incident Command System 
It is imperative to direct the resources during a crisis situation. There must be someone in charge and that person must clearly establish priorities and provide direction. Without this, chaos and conflict exist.  

The Incident Command System (ICS) uses common terminology that is descriptive and decisive, yet not difficult to understand, in order to control personnel, resources, and communications at the scene of a critical incident.   

The ICS is not brand new. It was originally developed in the 1970ís after a series of wild land fires ravaged Southern California. Because of the large number of resources involved in those incidents there were many problems among emergency responders.  

Those problems included but were not limited to:  
  • 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 between agencies. 
  • Unclear or unspecified incident objectives. 
Although originally a fire service control system, ICS has since been adopted by a wide variety of local, state, and national emergency management and law enforcement organizations due to its many documented successes. 

Thirty years later,  ICS has evolved into the accepted way to manage emergencies. In fact, there are federal laws that mandate its use by individuals responding to hazardous materials incidents. Specifically, OSHA rule 1910.120, which became effective March 6, 1990, requires that all organizations that handle hazardous materials to use the Incident Command System Non-OSHA states are also required by the Environmental Protection Agency to use ICS when responding to hazardous materials incidents. 

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

  • Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
  • 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. 
    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 
    • HAZMAT 
    • 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 catastrophes 
    • major planned events such as celebrations, parades, concerts
    NFPA 1561: Standard on Fire Department Incident Management Systems 

    The purpose of this standard is to provide structure and coordination to the management of emergency incidents to help ensure the safety and health of fire department members. It requires adoption of an incident management system to manage all emergency incidents and training exercises, with written plans to anticipate incidents that require standardized procedures.  

    It also requires the department to:  

    • coordinate with other agencies involved in emergency incidents  
    • create a command structure and define standard supervisory assignments for each incident  
    • develop incident commander, command staff, planning, logistics, operations, communications, staging, and finance functions ensure personnel accountability and rest and rehabilitation for all members at the incident.  
  • Sets objectives and priorities 
  • Has overall responsibility at the incident or event 
  • Conducts tactical operations to carry out the plan 
  • Develops the tactical objectives 
  • Organization 
  • 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 and cost analyses 
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