14 Elements that Strengthen the Incident Command System Structure

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The Incident Command System (ICS) is a widely applicable management system designed to enable flexible, effective, efficient all-hazards incident management. By integrating a common and unified emergency planning organizational structure, response operations can be streamlined and coherent.

According to FEMA, “ICS is based on the following 14 proven management characteristics that contribute to the strength and efficiency of the overall system”. A company should incorporate these management characteristics into every aspect of an emergency management program.

The 14 management characteristics include:

1. Common terminology: Establish common terminology amongst company facilities and response groups. This allows diverse responders to work together across a wide variety of incident management functions and hazard scenarios.

2. Modular organization: Identify a response organizational structure based on the incident, hazardous effects, size, and complexity. As an incident complexity increases, the organization expands from the top down as functional responsibilities are delegated.

3. Management by objectives: Establish specific, measurable objectives for various incident management functional activities and direct efforts to attain them. Planning should allow for a timely response, documentation of the results, and a way to facilitate corrective actions.

4. Incident action planning: Incident Action Plans (IAPs) guide response activities, and provide a concise means of capturing and communicating a company’s incident priorities, objectives, strategies, protocol, and tactics in the contexts of both operational and support activities.

5. Manageable span of control: Supervise, communicate, and manage all resources using ICS recommended span of control, which should be limited to three to seven immediate subordinates, with the optimum being five. The number may vary depending on the needs of the company and specifics of the incident.

6. Incident facilities & locations: Identify various external operational support facilities in the vicinity of an incident for assistance.

7. Comprehensive resource management: Maintain an accurate and up-to-date picture of available resources.

8. Integrated communications: Develop, comprehend, practice, and use an interoperable communications plan and streamlined procedures.

9. Establishment and transfer of command: Clearly identify and establish the command function from the beginning of incident operations. If command is transferred during an incident response, a comprehensive briefing should capture essential information for continuing safe and effective operations.

10. Chain of command and unity of command: Identify clear responsible parties and reporting relationships, eliminating confusion caused by multiple, conflicting directives and authorities.

11. Unified command: Unified command allows agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional authorities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability.

12. Accountability: Develop process and procedures to ensure resource accountability including: check-in/check-out, Incident Action Planning, unity of command, personal responsibility, span of control, and resource tracking.

13. Dispatch/deployment: Limit overloading response resources by enforcing a “response only when requested or dispatched” process in established resource management systems.

14. Information and intelligence management: The incident management organization must establish a process for gathering, analyzing, assessing, sharing, and managing incident-related information and intelligence.

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