What is the Incident Command System?

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    The Incident Command System (ICS) was first developed in the 70’s to help organize the process of communications during federal disaster response efforts. Of course the system today looks little like it did when it was first made, and the ICS is now part of the larger National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS). Although the ICS does does remain a bit rigid for the needs of modern crisis management, it is a strong framework for anyone looking to develop a plan or quickly engage in managing a crisis situation.

    Here is an overview of the general structure of ICS, as well as responsibilities assigned to each role, provided by FEMA.gov:

    ICS structure

    Responsibilities of the Components of the ICS Organization

    In an incident, the Incident Commander manages the entire incident and:

    • Assesses the situation.
    • Establishes objectives.
    • Ensures overall safety.
    • Communicates with internal and external stakeholders.
    • Organizes resources.
    • Develops a strategy or plan for handling the incident, monitors it in process, and adjusts the plan as needed.
    • Ensures proper documentation.
    • Appoints additional staff as necessary.

    The Command Staff provides information, safety, and liaison services:

    • The Public Information Officer is the conduit for information to internal and external stakeholders, including the media.
    • The Safety Officer is responsible for the systems and procedures necessary to ensure assessment of hazardous environments, coordination of multiagency safety efforts, and the promotion of emergency responder and general safety.
    • The Liaison Officer coordinates efforts with other agencies assisting at an incident and monitors for any problems between the organization and other agencies.

    The General Staff performs functional activities:

    • The Operations Section is responsible for all tactical activities focused on reducing the hazard, saving lives and property, establishing control, and restoring normal operations.
    • The Planning Section supports the incident action planning process by tracking resources, collecting/analyzing information, and maintaining documentation.
    • The Logistics Section manages resources including supplies, personnel, and equipment.
    • The Finance/Administration Section monitors costs related to the incident, and provides accounting, procurement, time recording, and cost analyses.

    For more resources, see the Free Management Library topic: Crisis Management

    [Jonathan Bernstein is president of Bernstein Crisis Management, Inc., an international crisis management consultancy, author of Manager’s Guide to Crisis Management and Keeping the Wolves at Bay – Media Training. Erik Bernstein is vice president for the firm, and also editor of its newsletter, Crisis Manager]