ICS Origins

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The issue of incident management is one that continues to evolve. In the early 1970s, a number of significant wildfires in Southern California proved challenging to the point of requiring a change in emergency incident management. Problems faced by the Los Angeles Fire Department and other agencies included nonstandard terminology, nonstandard and non-integrated communications, unmanageable span of control, and lack of the capability to expand and contract as the incident may require.

From those 1970s discussions and evaluations, an process of managing incidents via a command architecture taken from military applications emerged. The original incident command system (ICS) was originally developed around firefighting, and includes five significant activities, including:

  • COMMAND – Sets priorities and objectives and is responsible for overall command of the incident.
  • OPERATIONS – Has responsibility for all tactical operations necessary to carry out the plan.
  • PLANNING – Responsible for the collection, evaluation, and dissemination of information concerning incident development as well as the status of all available resources.
  • LOGISTICS – Responsible for providing the necessary support (facilities, services, and materials) to meet incident needs.
  • FINANCE – Responsible for monitoring and documenting all costs. Provides the necessary financial support related to the incident.

In essence, ICS is an organized team concept for managing time-and-life-sensitive incidents. It uses common terminology, has a modular organization, has a manageable span of control, and uses clear reporting and documentation procedures. Emergency response personnel can view ICS as an incident management toolbox. You don’t need all of the tools all of the time, but you have access and knowledge when any tool may be required. ICS can be used for all types of incidents regardless of size.

Since those early days, ICS has migrated from fire to multiple disciplines, including local, state, and federal use. In today’s world, it has become and all risk, all-agency emergency management system. The use of ICS has been endorsed by the International Chiefs of Police (IACP) and the American Public Works Association (APWA), among other organizations.

Today, there is a legal requirement involving the use of ICS as there are federal laws that mandate its use by individuals responding to hazardous materials incidents. Specifically, OSHA rule 1910.120 (which became effective March 6, 1990), requires that all organizations that handle hazardous materials use ICS. Non-OSHA states are also required by the Environmental Protection Agency to use ICS when responding to hazardous materials incidents.

This means that the use of ICS is rapidly expanding into any area where the ability to manage a situation using people is needed. In the near future, we’re likely to see ICS in use by hospitals, schools, and other entities where large groups of people are involved. The evolution continues, and each step of the way is proving to be both interesting and life saving.

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Michael Monroe

Michael Monroe

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