Common Incident Command System Terminology

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In spite of precautions and preventive measures, the onset of a crisis can be unpredictable. The ability to effectively communicate incident details and response actions is the key to effective crisis management.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized management concept designed to enable an integrated response, despite its complexity, response demands, and jurisdictional boundaries. ICS establishes common terminology that allows diverse incident management and support organizations to work together across a wide variety of functions and scenarios. The ability to communicate effectively within the ICS among internal and external parties is critical.

To ensure the ability to communicate, commonly understood terminology is essential. A multi-agency incident response requires simple and parallel language. Communicating through unfamiliar company radio codes, agency specific codes, perplexing acronyms, or specialized jargon will disconnect and confuse employees, responders, and/or stakeholders, possibly prolonging a response.

Why Use Common ICS Terminology?

According to FEMA, common ICS terminology helps to define:

  • Organizational Functions: Major functions and functional units with incident management responsibilities are named and defined. Terminology for the organizational elements involved is standard and consistent
  • Resource Descriptions: Major resources (personnel, facilities, and equipment/ supply items) are given common names and are "typed" or categorized by their capabilities. This helps to avoid confusion and to enhance interoperability
  • Incident Facilities: Common terminology is used to designate incident facilities
  • Position Titles: ICS management or supervisory positions are referred to by titles, such as Officer, Chief, Director, Supervisor, or Leader

The three main elements of ICS communication include:

  • Modes: The "hardware" systems that transfer information
  • Planning: Planning for the use of all available communications resources
  • Networks: The procedures and processes for transferring information internally and externally

Common ICS Terms

Below is a list of commonly used ICS terms and their definitions. By understanding these elementary terms, employees, responders and stakeholders can overcome miscommunications and false interpretations of jurisdictional, multi agency and company vocabulary.

Incident Command Post: (ICP) The location from which the Incident Commander oversees all incident operations. There is generally only one ICP for each incident or event, but it may change locations during the event. Every incident or event must have some form of an Incident Command Post. The ICP may be located in a vehicle, trailer, tent, or within a building. The location should be outside of the hazard zone but close enough to the incident to maintain command. The ICP should be designated by the name of the incident (ex. Foxtrot Creek ICP).

Staging Areas: Temporary locations at an incident where personnel and equipment are kept while waiting for tactical assignments. The resources in the staging area should maintain “available” status. Staging areas should be located close enough to the incident for a timely response, but far enough away to be out of the immediate impact zone. There may be more than one staging area at an incident.

Base: Location from which primary logistics and administrative functions are coordinated and administered. The base may be co-located with the Incident Command Post. There should only be one base per incident, and it is designated by the incident name. The base is established and managed by the Logistics Section. The resources in the base are always “out-of-service” until relocated to the staging areas.

Camp: Location where resources may be kept to support incident operations if a base is not accessible to all resources. Camps are temporary locations within the general incident area. They should be equipped and staffed to provide food, water, sleeping areas, and sanitary services. Camps are designated by geographic location or number. Multiple camps may be used, but not all incidents will have camps.

Helibase: Location from which helicopter-centered air operations are conducted. Helibases are generally used on a more long-term basis and include such services as fueling and maintenance.

Helispots: Temporary locations at the incident, where helicopters can safely land and take off. Multiple helispots may be used.

Tactical Resources: Available or potentially available personnel and major items of equipment to support the Operations function on assignment to incidents.

Support Resources: All other resources required to support the incident. This may include:

  • Food
  • Communications equipment
  • Tents
  • Supplies
  • Fleet vehicles
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