Week 1 – Introduction to NIMS and the Incident Commany System

Everything changed for our country on 9-11-2001.  From this tragic day, a more effective and efficient incident management system has been developed across our country.  The National Incident Management System is the model of preparedness, response and recovery we are now using to manage all types of incidents regardless of size and complexity.

The following video introduces NIMS & ICS and explains the origin of the national plan to respond to emergencies and terrorist events due to the attacks of September 11th.


NIMS is the national model for an incident management system that is applicable across jurisdictions and disciplines and is functional for all hazards. NIMS was developed after reviewing lessons learned from major incident responses, especially those related to the events of September 11, 2001. Homeland Security Presidential Directive/HSPD–5, issued on February 28, 2003, is the basis for the development of NIMS, and it establishes the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) as the agency responsible for domestic incident management.

NIMS consists of five components:

  • Preparedness
  • Communication and information management
  • Resource management
  • Command and management
  • Ongoing management and maintenance


As we proceed through the course, we will come to see that the most familiar component of NIMS is the Incident Command System (ICS). It is a system for domestic incident management that has a flexible structure and uses common terminology, positions, and incident facilities. NIMS incorporates the previously established components of the Incident Command System (ICS), making them a cornerstone of domestic incident management. The components of the ICS have not been substantially altered by NIMS. Instead, a focus on integrated incident management (illustrated by the Unified Command [UC] concept) has been added.

ICS is based on specific, well-defined management characteristics. These characteristics include such things as common terminology, a modular organization structure, management by objectives, integrated communications, and unity of command. Most incidents are managed locally and are handled by local communications within a single jurisdiction. ICS has a flexible core methodology for coordinated and collaborative incident management. ICS is used to organize on-scene operations for emergencies from small to complex incidents, both natural and manmade.


For an overview of the organizational chart in the ICS system watch this video.  It explains how ICS is able to expand or contract depending upon the size and scale of the event.  

Incident Management versus Emergency Management

As you can see, the term incident management refers to how incidents are managed across all homeland security activities. The term emergency management differs a bit and refers to the coordination and integration of all activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the capability to prepare for natural  disasters, acts of terrorism, or other man-made disasters.

Week 2 – The Incident Command Planning System Process

This week we will focus on the planning process and specifically the Planning Section Chief.  While not as well know as the Operations Section or the Incident Commander, the Planning Section is a vital part of the incident management system and that is why we focus on this section first.  Planning is often overlooked on local responses and is frequently the flaw in complicated emergency response situations.  The Planning Section is comprised of intelligence analysts, technical experts and others who are skilled and experienced in the specific type of response at hand.


The Planning Process

The Planning Section consists of four primary units: the Resources Unit, the Situation Unit, the Documentation Unit, and the Demobilization Unit. Technical specialists may play a critical role in effective incident management. They may be assigned to any component of the ICS structure. Consider forming a Technical Unit if long-term expertise is expected or if the expertise is needed by multiple components of the ICS structure. An effective planning process is critical to domestic incident management.

The Five Phases of the Planning Process

The NIMS-approved planning process consists of five phases:

  • Understand the situation
  • Establish incident objectives and strategy.
  • Develop the plan.
  • Prepare and disseminate the plan.
  • Evaluate and revise the plan.



Week 3 – The Incident Commander (IC)

The Incident Commander, also referred to as “IC” is the central and most important position in the Incident Command System.  Incident Command is either single or unified in structure. Single command is a structure in which a single individual is responsible for all of the strategic objectives of the incident. This is typically used when an incident is within a single jurisdiction and is managed by a single discipline.  Unified Command is utilized when we have multiple organizations and/or jurisdictions involved in a response and we will cover it in more detail later in the course.  Please watch the following video of an Incident Commander during a briefing of his Command Staff.

This video shows an Incident Commander during a morning briefing of command staff for the transitional to a new operational period.  

The following graphic helps to show the structure of the Incident Commander and General Staff:



Unified Command

We will go into more detailed discussion of Unified Command later in the course, but for introductory purposes, the Unified Command (UC) is a structure in which multiple individuals are cooperatively responsible for all the strategic objectives of the incident. UC is used in incidents that involve multiple jurisdictions or multiple agencies with overlapping responsibilities and authorities.

UC involves the following:

  • Colocated Command at the IC post
  • One Operations Section Chief to direct tactical efforts
  • Coordinated process for resource ordering
  • Shared Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration functions
  • Coordinated approval of information releases

Effective UC depends on a collaborative approach to incident management and requests a single Incident Action Plan (IAP) and a single command post. UC also depends on effective relationships and mutual respect among members of the UC group.

Command Staff

The Command Staff consists of Command, the Public Information Officer (PIO), the Safety Officer (SO) and the Liaison Officer (LNO). Additionally, assistants and special advisors may be appointed based on the type of incident and its complexity.

The General Staff consists of Section Chiefs for Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration. NIMS has added Intelligence/Investigations as a new, optional member of the general staff.

The Incident Operational Period is a key factor in the overall response to an emergency incident with implications for almost every aspect of the ICS including planning, operations, resources, etc

Week 4 – Unified Command

Last week we discussed the position of the Incident Commander and also studied Incident Operational Periods.  As we learned last week, the Incident Commander is the central figure in any incident response.  However, what happens when we have a large or complex incident with more than one organization or jurisdiction involved?  Typically what we will see is a Unified Command rather than a single IC.  The implementation of a Unified Command helps to make sure that we have common goals and one set of incident objectives.  While there may be many different organizations on scene, we need to make sure we are all playing from the same sheet of music.  Please watch the following video that gives a basic understanding of a Unified Command structure.



Week 5 – Command Staff and the Public Information Officer

This week we will look at the role of the Public Information Officer (PIO) as well as other Command Staff.  The PIO is the face and the voice of the incident response effort.  The PIO reports the situation status to the media and can play a large role in the safety of the local community being impacted.  With the modern technology of social media available to every citizen today, the role of the PIO is an ever-evolving and complicated position to hold.  The PIO can have a big impact on the overall success or failure of an emergency response.  Please watch the following video of a PIO in action.



Week 6 – Operations Section Chief

As we have discussed previously in the course, the Operations Section Chief is one of the key positions in the ICS system.  The Operations Section is responsible for managing all tactical operations at an incident. Usually these priorities include restoring order, removing immediate hazards, establishing situational control, and saving lives and property. Please watch the following video of an Operations Section Chief during a wildfire incident.


Logistics Section

Disasters and high-impact events result in a logistics-scarce environment. The Logistics Section in a fully activated Emergency Operations Center (EOC) has a Support Branch with a Supply Unit, a Facilities Unit, and a Ground Support Unit, as well as a Service Branch with a Communications Unit, a Food Unit, and a Medical Unit. It supports all activities needed for efficient incident management. Mass sheltering places high demands on the Logistics Section. Logistics functions are based on a push or pull system. A communications failure protocol is a critical element in logistics planning. Volunteers and donations present management challenges that must be coordinated by the Logistics Section and the Planning Section.

Finance Section

The Finance/Administration Section is established when agencies involved in incident management activities require financial and administrative support services. Not all incidents will require a Finance/Administration Section. Do not assume that one must be established for every incident.

The Finance/Administration Section may create units to support compensation and claims, cost management and analysis, procurement operations, and personnel time recording. The Finance/Administration Section should have preestablished agreements, contracts, and procedural processes with local vendors, suppliers, and contractors on equipment and/or supplies that may be required during a disaster.


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