We Only Need One ICS

I came across an article yesterday posted on EMS1/AMU’s blog about EMS adopting an incident command system.  It’s an article that leaves me with a lot of questions.

I want to examine some individual statements within the article.

  1. “Many EMS providers lack training and awareness about implementing an incident command structure.”

 

This is 100% true, but I’ll also expand this statement across much of public safety and emergency management.  Aside from well-experienced practitioners of ICS, which there are relatively few compared to the greater public safety/EM community, most simply aren’t equipped to implement a significant incident management system.  The biggest reason is that ICS training sucks.

 

  1. “EMS organizations have only recently recognized the value and need for such a command structure as part of their response strategy.”

 

I would suggest that this is partly true, but in many parts of the nation, requirements and standards have been established by way of executive order, state and regional EMS protocols, and other means for EMS to use ICS.  Many of these have been in place since the 90s, before HSPD-5 and NIMS requirements, but certainly with the emergence of NIMS in 2003, this has largely been a standard of practice for EMS, if not a requirement in many places (and under specific circumstances, such as required through OSHA 1910.120).  While I understand that ‘standards’ and ‘requirements’ don’t necessary define value, they essentially dictate a need.

 

  1. There was a recognition that “EMS providers were having difficulty applying fireground incident command practices to EMS calls.”

 

While I agree with what I think is the spirit and intent of this statement and bring this back to my comments on item 1 above, I’m still cringing at the ‘fireground incident command’ phrase in this statement.  ICS isn’t just for the fireground. While it may have been born in wildfires, that was decades ago.  We are now officially in 2019 and should be well past this concept that ICS is only for the fireground.  Even if we disregard, for the sake of discussion, the requirements for all responders to use ICS, such as those in OSHA 1910.120, which predate NIMS, HSPD-5 was signed almost 17 years ago!  Nothing in HSPD-5 or the original NIMS document elude to the current implementations of ICS being a fireground system.  It was to be applied to all responders.

 

  1. “During a response, providers did not establish a formal command structure”

 

Totally true.  This applies, however, not just to EMS, but to most of public safety.  See my comment for item 1.

 

  1. “In 2012… they began to research various fire and EMS command models that were scalable and practical for all types of critical EMS calls.”

 

I’m not sure why there is a need to look past NIMS ICS.  Perhaps we are stepping back to my comment on item 1 again, but if you understand the system, you can make it work for you.

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It is absolutely not my intent to throw negativity on the author or the people who spearheaded the implementation of an EMS-specific ICS as cited in this article.  They clearly identified what they perceived to be a need and tried to address it.  I give them credit for that.  It should be seen, though, that they identified many of the same needs that ICS was developed to address in the first place.  They then created a system (which has many of the same qualities of ICS) that is focused on EMS needs during an incident.  The issue here is bigger than this article, and certainly more endemic.  Unfortunately, the article doesn’t really provide much detail on their ‘provider in command’ model, but what they describe can all be accomplished through NIMS ICS if properly utilized.  They even identify objectives of their model, which are really just pre-identified incident objectives.  They certainly don’t require a different model.  I think, however, what they largely accomplished was an audience-specific training program to show how elements of ICS can be implemented.  I just don’t think they needed to change the model, which is what the article seems to indicate.

Sadly, trying to make customized adaptations of ICS is nothing new.  For years, some elements of the fire service have dug in with certain models which are fire-ground centric.  Other disciplines have dome similar things.  It’s worth mentioning that FEMA had developed a number of discipline-specific ICS courses, such as ICS for Public Works or ICS for Healthcare.  While the intent of these courses is to provide context and examples which are discipline-specific (which is a good practice) rather than new models specific to these disciplines, I think that has inadvertently given some the impression that there are different systems for different disciplines.  ICS is ICS.

Once again, I put the blame on poor training curriculum.  When a system is developed and proven to work under a wide variety of circumstances and for a wide variety of users, yet users keep feeling a need to develop adaptations for themselves, this is not a failure of the system or even the users, it’s a failure of the training.

There are facets of public safety and emergency management that are generally not using ICS as well or as often as they should.  EMS is one of them.  As an active EMT for over a decade (including time as a chief officer), I can attest that (in general) ICS training for EMTs is abysmal.  The text books tend to skim over the pillars of ICS and focus on the operational functions of triage, treatment, and transport.  While these are important (for a mass casualty incident… not really for anything else), they fail not only in adequately TEACHING the fundamental principles of ICS (which can and should be used on a regular basis), but they fall well short of actually conveying how to IMPLEMENT ICS.  Further, much of the training provided includes a concept of ‘EMS Command’, which is opposed to what is in ICS doctrine.  We shouldn’t be encouraging separate commands and ICS structures at the tactical level of the same incident.

A few years ago I had started a crusade of sorts to get a better ICS curriculum developed.  There was a lot of support for this concept across the public safety and EM community, not only in the US but other nations as well.  Perhaps with the coming of the new year that effort needs to be reinvigorated?

© 2019 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

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Incident Management vs Incident Command

As I was writing my thoughts on the updated ICS-100 course in my previous post, I got to thinking that it may be prudent to reinforce the difference between incident management and the incident command system (ICS).  ICS is a specific application of incident management, while incident management is, in all, much broader than ICS.  Incident management includes field responses, emergency operations centers (EOCs), activities of secondary and tertiary organizations, funding streams, public information, and even the mechanics of politics focused on that disaster response.  Ideally, we would prefer these to all be orchestrated, such that they operate lock-step, but rarely, if ever, do we see such a thing.  It would be as if a chorus, band, orchestra, stage performers, ushers, concessioners, stage hands, lighting and sound operators, and custodial staff were all working on the same performance and conducted by one person.  They don’t.  It just doesn’t happen that way.  That’s why incident management systems, such as ICS, were developed.

Knowledge and application of systems, like ICS, are certainly important.  The beginning of every ICS class tells you why, so I don’t need to get into that here.  But to continue with my oft criticized analogies, if ICS is the trees, incident management is the forest.  And, as it turns out, many people can’t see the forest for the trees.  While ICS may be concerned with putting out the fire, stopping the bleeding, or catching the proverbial bad guy, incident management is about so much more.  Even doctrinally, consider that the National Incident Management System (NIMS), comprised of key elements, such as resource management, command and coordination (this is the ICS piece, and more), and communications and information management.  We also need to consider incident management beyond these, in as broad a scope as possible.

Incident management is a deliberate series of actions taken to solve problems associated with incidents and disasters.  There are a lot of problems that can be caused, directly or indirectly, by whatever issue we are dealing with, be it flood, fire, or hostile event.  Incident management needs to prioritize these problems and take action to address them.  While it may sound like our incident command system structures do the same type of thing, they are often concerned with immediate effects and actions that save lives and stabilize the incident, as they should be.  But that focus, necessarily, is narrow in scope and doesn’t address all the ancillary and important issues that an incident may cause.

Consider FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) structure and the matters they address.  Here are a few:

  • Transportation
  • Communications
  • Public Works and Engineering
  • Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services
  • Public Health and Medical Services
  • Agricultural and Natural Resources
  • Energy
  • External Affairs

Do your plans address these issues?  And by plans, I mean real, actionable plans.  Many jurisdictions have functional annexes to their plans, most following the federal ESF structure, which do little more than state what agencies participate in each of the jurisdiction’s ESFs and what their primary goals are.  Let’s be honest… these are aren’t plans.  They are fully inadequate to be plans.  These are prose I might use for the introduction of a plan, but certainly not the substance of the plan itself.  This is exactly why we are missing the mark when it comes to incident management.  We talk a lot about ICS, ICS is in our plans, we train people in ICS (though not as good as we should be), emphasize ICS in exercises, and focus on ICS when an incident occurs, but how much attention is given to broader incident management?  Typically far too little.  I’ve actually had conversations with local public safety officials, asking them how well they feel they are prepared for the next disaster, and they responded that they are fine because they are trained in ICS.  I’ve received this response in more than one jurisdiction.  That’s pretty scary, especially given the lackluster condition of their plans.

Can ICS be applied to broader incident management issues?  It sure can.  It’s simply a management system that can be applied to anything you want.  But the problem is that people conceptualize ICS as something to only use ‘in the field’ and during the more urgent initial period of response.

The take-away from this is that we need to identify what our issues are and how we are going to manage them.  These are essential parts of the planning process.  Write good plans.  Invest time, effort, and likely some money into it.  Do you need to use the ESF structure?  No, but certainly make sure that all concerns are addressed.  Think about the cascading impacts of an incident.  Leverage stakeholders from across the community to ensure that you are getting input from multiple perspectives and interests.  Doing so will help you be better prepared to manage the entirety of the incident.

As always, thoughts are appreciated.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

A Discussion on Training Needs for the EOC Incident Support Model

Last week I wrote a piece on the Incident Support Model for Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs).  The article got a good amount of attention which prompted some dialogue both on and off line with a variety of practitioners.  So for those who might be integrating this model into their plans, let’s consider what training might be needed to support implementation.

First, I’ll say that I feel foundational ICS training (hopefully we’ll eventually have something better than what we have now since ICS training still sucks) is still necessary, even though the Incident Support Model deviates significantly from the traditional ICS model.  A couple of reasons… first, others are still using ICS, be it in EOCs or in the field.  Second, the principles and concepts of ICS still largely apply to the Incident Support Structure, regardless of the differences in organizational composition.  Perhaps only to the ICS 200 level is necessary since those functioning in an Incident Support Model organization only need be aware of it.

Next, I think we then need an overall Incident Support Model course.  I would envision this similar to an ICS-300 course, which has a more in-depth exploration of the entire organizational structure of the Incident Support Model and discusses the processes inherent in the system, such as the planning process, which would see some revisions to at least the positions involved under this model as compared to that for ICS.

Position-specific training is important, be it for an in-house EOC team(s) or for incident management teams which may be deployed to EOCs using this model.  While many of the position-specific courses in existence for a traditional ICS model are analogous to what we see in the Incident Support Model, there are significant enough changes, I think, to require different training specific for this model if we expect a professionally functioning organization (and we do).

One thing currently missing in the position specific courses is an EOC manager course.  While there is an Incident Commander course, which provides a lot of great information, there are significant enough differences between running an EOC and running an incident command post.  That said, I’m not so sure we need an entirely different course.  Given the propensity for incident management teams (IMTs) to work in EOCs, I think an additional module in the IC training may suffice to ensure that ICs are equipped to work in all environments.

Looking at the composition of the general staff of the Incident Support Model, we can first start with the Situational Awareness Section Chief.  From the ICS IMT model, we have great training for Situation Unit Leaders, which can largely apply to this position in the Incident Support Model with just a few changes, mostly addressing the expansion and elevation of the role.

The new Planning Support Section Chief would require very different training from what current exists for the IMTs. While in-depth training on the planning process is still relevant (with changes to make it specific to this model), as is training on demobilization planning, new training is required to address future planning, which doesn’t have as much content in the current Planning Section Chief course as needed.

Center and Staff Support Section Chief training is largely internal logistics, so really just requires a course that is narrowed in scope from the traditional Logistics Section Chief course, with perhaps some additional content on occupational and facility support matters.

Lastly, the Resource Support Section Chief.  This one is a monster.  It’s really an amalgamation of the Operations Section Chief, the Logistics Section Chief, and the Resource Unit Leader, along with Finance/Admin (if you subscribe to putting it in this section).  There is clearly a lot going on here.  Very little of the traditional ICS IMT courses really apply to this in an EOC environment given the difference in scope and mission for an EOC.  This largely requires completely new training based on functional coordination, mission assignments, and support to deployed resources.  This is a course that will require a lot of work to ground it in reality while also providing enough flexibility to allow for how each EOC may organize within this section.  Similar to the Operations Section in a traditional ICS model, this section may have the most variety from facility to facility and incident to incident.

Certainly other training may be needed, but the command and general staff positions are probably the most urgent to address.  In lieu of FEMA providing this training, some are developing their own training to support implementation of this model.  I’d love to hear about what has been done, the challenges faced, and the successes had.  Given my own passion and interest, I’d certainly love an opportunity to develop training for the Incident Support Model.

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

Updated NIMS and ICS Courses

Be sure to head over to https://training.fema.gov/is/ to check out the updated IS-100.c (Introduction to the Incident Command System) and IS-700.b (Introduction to the National Incident Management System).  These courses have been updated to reflect the ‘refreshed’ NIMS doctrine, which includes some information on EOC structures, among other things.  For my review of the NIMS refresh, check out this article.

©2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC ™

The ICS Liaison Officer

One brilliant thing about WordPress (the blog platform I use), is that it allows me to see some of the searches that brought people to my site.  One of those recent searches was ‘what does the Liaison Officer do in ICS?’.  The Liaison Officer has some of the greatest depth and variety in their role and is often one of the most misunderstood roles and often taken for granted.

By definition, the Liaison Officer is supposed to interface with the representatives of cooperating and assisting agencies at an incident.  While this is done, it’s often the easier part of the job.  Yes, these agencies may have their own needs and nuances, but the more challenging part is the interface with anyone who is not directly part of the chain of command.  Large, complex incidents often last longer, which means that a significant number of third parties will have interest in the operation.  Everyone wants to speak with the person in charge (the Incident Commander), but the IC needs to be focused on the management of the incident through the Command and General Staff, as well as important commitments like briefing their boss (usually an elected official), and participating in some media briefings.  There is little time available to speak with everyone who wants to speak with them.

The people that want to interface with the IC may include organizations seeking to offer their services to the effort, which could be a not for profit organization (Team Rubicon, for example) or a for-profit company (such as a local construction firm), or even a group of organized volunteers (like the Cajun navy).  They might be elected officials other than those they report to.  They could include representatives from labor unions, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, insurance companies, or property owners.  Each of these groups may have legitimate reasons to be interfacing with the incident management organization and the Liaison Officer is the one they should be working with.  The Liaison Officer may also be tasked with interfacing with the variety of operations centers which can be activated during an incident.

To be most effective, the Liaison Officer must be more than a gatekeeper.  They aren’t there just to restrict or control access to the IC.  As a member of the Command Staff they are acting as an agent of the IC, and working within the guidelines established by the IC, should be effectively handling the needs of most of these individuals and organizations on behalf of the IC.  The Liaison Officer needs to be politically astute, professional, and knowledgeable about the specifics of the incident and emergency management in general.  They should be adept at solving problems and be able to recognize when something needs to be referred to someone else or elevated to the IC.

The Liaison Officer is a position we usually don’t see assigned on smaller incidents (type 4 and 5), so most people don’t get experience in using it, interfacing with it, or being it.  The position is often necessary on type 3 incidents, but still rarely assigned as an organization or jurisdiction might not have someone available to assign or the IC thinks they can handle it themselves.  We definitely see them used in Type 1 and 2 incidents, but much of that credit goes to formal incident management teams who deploy with this position.  Liaison Officers work well in an incident command post for incidents and events, but also have a strong function in EOCs – especially local EOCs responsible for significant coordination.  All around, the Liaison Officer benefits most from a notepad, a charged cell phone, and a pocket full of business cards.

What ways have you seen a Liaison Officer used effectively?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM

The NIMS Refresh, aka NIMS 3.0

This morning my inbox was inundated with notices from FEMA and from colleagues about the release of the ‘refreshed’ NIMS, which has finally occurred at almost exactly 18 months after the draft of this document was released.  You can find the new document here. 

As I’m reading through the updated document, there are a few things catching my eye:

  • The term ‘center management system’ has apparently been scrapped, thankfully. First of all, there should not be a separate system for managing emergency operations centers (EOCs) and similar facilities.  I’ve seen the greatest success come from an organization model that mirrors ICS.  Second, the acronym CMS is most commonly related to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, particularly in regard to the CMS rules for healthcare facility preparedness.  (Want to know more about this?  See my article here)
  • Multi-Agency Coordination as a concept is briefly defined and referenced often without being described enough. It’s such an essential concept of incident management, yet it’s being paid very little heed. There is material on a MAC Group, which, while an implementer of multi-agency coordination at a policy level, is not the only multi-agency coordination that takes places within incident management.
  • The final version still uses the term ‘EOC Director’.  This is a term that is fundamentally incorrect when held to ICS doctrine.  Those in charge of facilities in ICS are called managers.  An EOC, even a virtual one, functions as a facility.  Similarly, the EOC analogs to the command staff, should be referred to as ‘management staff’ in an EOC, not command staff.
  • In the draft there were nearly two pages of references to federal EOC-like facilities. It was unnecessary and irrelevant to the document.  Thankfully those references and descriptions were removed.
  • One of my favorite graphics continues to be used! Figure 10 on page 48 is, to me, one of the most meaningful graphics in all of emergency management.  It pays heed to all critical elements in a response and shows the flow of requests and assistance.
  • I’m a big fan of the Essential Elements of Information (EEI) concept included in the Incident Information section of the document. This should serve as a foundation to all situation assessment and size up documents in all public safety disciplines, moving forward.
  • The appendices offer some additional information, but are largely redundant of the core document.

Overall, NIMS 3.0 is a good document to move forward with.  While there are some elements that I don’t necessarily agree with, none of them are damaging to our field of practice.  While NIMS remains our core doctrine for response, what is missing from this document that we saw heavily included in earlier versions was the concept of integrating NIMS into other aspects of emergency management.  Primarily, it is something that must be prepared for.  It simply isn’t enough to include a one-liner in your emergency plans saying that you are using NIMS.  The elements of NIMS, and not just ICS, but things like EOC management, multi-agency coordination, resource management, and joint information management, need to be fully engrained in your plans.  Plans serve as the foundation for preparedness, so what is in our plans must be trained on and exercised in a continuous cycle.  I would have liked to have seen some very apparent reference to the National Preparedness Goal in this document.  Otherwise, it appears to many that these doctrine are unrelated.

Now that the center management system is gone and they were less heavy handed with EOC management concepts, I wonder what that means for training related to EOC management.  The current FEMA curriculum on EOC management is simply horrible (thus why I’ve created EOC management courses for various jurisdictions).

What are your thoughts on the NIMS refresh?  What did they do well?  What did they miss? Was it too safe with too few changes?  Were there other changes needed to improve our coordination of incident management?

As always, thanks for reading!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

NIMS is Worthless, Unless You Put it into Action

It’s so often that I hear people proclaim in response to a problem that NIMS will fix it.  I’ve written in the past that many organizations reference the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS) in their plans, as they should, but it’s often a reference with no substance.  The devil is in the details, as the saying goes; and the details of implementation are necessary to ensure that difficulties can be overcome.

The premise is simple… NIMS is a doctrine, only as valuable as the paper you print it on.  So fundamentally, NIMS has no value – unless it is implemented.  This human factor is the biggest hurdle organizations and jurisdictions must face, yet so many are lulled into a false sense of security because they cite it in their plans and they’ve taken some ICS courses.  I encourage every organization to review the NIMS doctrine and give your organization an honest assessment of how you are actually following it.  It’s bound to be pretty eye opening for many.

nims_document

We also have to keep in mind that NIMS isn’t just for your own organization.  While there are plenty of great practices in NIMS for your own organization, the greatest value in it is for multi-agency responses.  These don’t have to be to the extent of Hurricane Katrina or a massive wildfire, either.  Multi-agency responses occur in most jurisdictions every day – even what we regard as some of the most simple or routine incidents require multiple agencies to respond.  While the actions and responsibilities of these agencies are fairly rote and well-practiced, a slight increase in complexity can cause significant changes.

Consider that different agencies, even those within the same discipline have some different ways of doing things.  These can be simply in the mechanics of what they do, or they can be driven by procedures, equipment, or personality.  Some of this may be in writing, some may not.  Where this matters is in tactics.  NIMS won’t solve differences in tactical application or ensuring interoperability.  Only preparedness can accomplish that.  Before an incident occurs, we need to be having regular conversations with other agencies within our jurisdiction and outside of it.  How often do you exercise with your mutual aid partners?  I mean really exercise with them…  It’s great that you all arrive to the exercise site and set up your own stuff, but how about mixing and matching equipment?  What will work?  What won’t?  How will it impact tactical application?  These are some of the most meaningful lessons learned.

Bottom line – don’t try to pencil-whip NIMS as the solution to your problems.  It’s meaningless unless it’s actually put into action – and the way to proactively do that is through preparedness efforts.   Work together through POETE activities – Planning, Organizing, Equipping, Training, and Exercises.  Once you put the concepts of NIMS into action, then it will work for you!

How has your organization implemented NIMS concepts?

© 2017 –  Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC