How does Incident Management apply to Emergency Management Programs?

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a core function of the National Preparedness Plan and is designed to prepare the nation for incidents that may impact safety and security. NIMS is applied to incidents that arise from any hazard or threat. Although incident management forms only a portion of wider emergency management program, it is the most visible since it’s activities are usually covered extensively by the media during a crisis.

Incident Response

The United States National Incident Management Systems provides clear instructions for an appropriate response to an incident.

  • Once an incident is reported, first responders are dispatched immediately. They will arrive on the scene and complete a situation assessment to determine the magnitude of consequences so that resources can be estimated and dispatched accordingly.
  • An incident commander with appropriate qualifications will be assigned to the incident based on the situation assessment of the first responders. The incident commander may change when the incident evolves into a more serious crisis, or becomes more manageable.
  • Once the incident commander is active on the scene, officers will be appointed to address the media, manage public health and safety, and dialogue with government agencies.

Delegation of Authority

The incident response relies on a delegation of authority system where all duties are assigned along a clearly defined hierarchy of objectives and accountabilities.

  • The incident commander is responsible for the overall coordination and management of the incident, may assign section chiefs reporting into branch directors, and organize the incident response by geographic divisions if required.
  • Each entity has a span of control that is limited to their function, and everyone contributes to the overall goal in a unified command system.
  • The section chiefs may be divided into planning, operations, logistics, and finance or administrative.
  • The planning section is responsible for gathering intelligence and information about the incident, planning and tracking resources needed for the response, and ensuring that the operations team has timely, relevant, and up to date information about the response plan.
  • The operations section is responsible for strategic and tactical response execution.
  • The logistics section provides personal protective gear and equipment, technology, food, water, and ensures that other resources are available to the incident response team when needed.
  • The administrative or finance section is responsible for contract administration and financing during an incident.

Strike Teams

Strike teams and task force teams may be required to address specific areas impacted by an incident. Strike teams are similar resources that have unique skills needed for a specific task like hazmat teams or firefighters, where task force teams are units that comprise of different skill-sets to manage a complex area impacted by an incident; for example, a combination of local police and the National Guard securing a perimeter that span a large geographic area. Interoperability and communications are probably the most essential element of incident response. If the Emergency Operations Center (EOC) cannot communicate effectively with incident command and the responders, the incident will likely escalate into a crisis, either through media scrutiny or because mistakes are made.