ICS: Let’s Keep Talking

I find it interesting that a topic so seemingly mundane – that of the incident command system (ICS) has seen an increase of discussion lately.  The NIMS Refresh seems to have fueled some of that, but other writings and conversations have also been taking place.  While I’ve certainly been critical of the national ICS training program in several of my writings, there have been other thoughts posted on ICS, some you absolutely must take a look at:

Are We Overthinking ICS?  This article, posted by noted emergency management consultant Lucien Canton has some great thoughts on the proposed NIMS Refresh.  He brings up an excellent point about the disappearance of Multi-Agency Coordination Systems (MACS) – something I had myself completely missed in my review.  A must read.

ICS and ESF: An Unhappy Marriage?  Another article by Lu Canton.  This piece gives a concise review of the differences between ICS and FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) structure and gives some ideas on how the two can be brought together.  I’ve seen the things Lu suggests in action, and I promise you, they can work.

Where Incident Management Unravels.  This article by Charles Bailey in the August edition of the Domestic Preparedness Journal took me on a wild ride, for which I’ll have some extended commentary here… I’ve read and reread this article several times, each time having different reactions and responses.  Through my first read, I saw this piece as being highly critical of ICS. Then I read it again, and I began to understand.  While I don’t agree with all Chief Bailey’s points, I respect everything he is saying and absolutely appreciate the thoughts and ideas this article offers.  I’ll leave you to read the article for yourself and form you own opinions.  The bottom line is the importance of early efforts to gain control over the chaos of the incident.  NIMS/ICS doesn’t provide us with all the answers for how to do that – something that I think needs to be reflected in better instruction of the principles of ICS.  Chief Bailey mentions toward the end of his piece the need to create ‘nimble response paradigms’ for initial response – a concept I fully agree with.  I also think that Chief Cynthia Renaud has some incredible insights on this matter in her Edge of Chaos paper.

I’m excited about the volume of discussion over NIMS and ICS lately.  It’s the system we rely on to manage incidents, coordinate resources, and ultimately save lives.  It’s kind of a big deal.  It should be good, and we should do it right.  While it’s the best we currently have, that doesn’t mean the system is perfect, nor will it ever likely be.  Similarly, the human elements involved in training, interpretation, and implementation of the system means that we will rarely do things ‘by the book’, but we are never handed disasters ‘by the book’, either, which emphasizes the number of variables involved in incident management.  The system must continue to evolve to be effective and to reflect our new and changing ideas on incident management.  We need to regularly examine the system critically and as realists and implement positive changes.  That said, change needs to be carefully administered.  We can’t make change for the sake of change, and we must be mindful that constant change will itself create chaos.

Have you read any other great articles on ICS lately?  What thoughts do you have on ICS, ICS training, and the need for ICS to evolve?  What’s missing?

© Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

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