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Incident Command System and Disaster Response


The necessity for a coordinated disaster response system was highlighted by forest fires. The devastating wildfires that scorched southern California in the 1970s highlighted a slew of intergovernmental and interagency collaboration and communication issues (Chang, 2017). As a result, workers of various forest fire groups, the majority of whom were firemen, began to devise a method to address the issues they encountered when battling wildland fires.

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Following 9/11, President George W. Bush issued Homeland Security Directive-5, which was followed by the establishment of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) (Chang, 2017). The Incident Command System (ICS), which has attempted to build a unified command and communication system across multiple jurisdictions and government agencies, is the major component of the NIMS. NIMS was created to help large-scale emergencies synchronize multi-agent, multi-legal responses (Hanlin & Schulz, 2021). The objective of NIMS is to unify disaster management structures, procedures, and terminology among all entities participating in emergency management in the United States for preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.

Even though the ICS became a national strategy for disaster response, the debate about the system continued. On the one hand, proponents of ICS value the hierarchical framework that it has established for managing disaster response facilities and resources. On the other hand, the hierarchical structure was insufficient to deal with complicated disasters. The general view is that ICS participants require knowledge and must prepare for the exercises beforehand for the ICS to function correctly.

Features and Specifics of the ICS and NIMS

Command, Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance are the five primary components of the ICS. Three more functional employees will be introduced to support the Incident Commander (IC) when incidents escalate into catastrophic events: a Public Information Officer, a Security Officer, and a Liaison Officer (Hanlin & Schulz, 2021). The ICS also maintains the ability to divide the incident management group into sections, groups, divisions, branches, and divisions at any time.

To understand the importance of the ICS, it is important to grasp its fundamental characteristics. The ICS is a modular management system that can be scaled up or down depending on the magnitude and complexity of the event, as well as the resources available to handle it (Hanlin & Schulz, 2021). Whether the incident involves a structure fire or a worldwide epidemic, the main goals of the Incident Commander (IC) are set, and the experience is prioritized over the rank.

The ICS offers several answers to the issues that arise while dealing with various sorts of disasters. The ICS establishes a comprehensive framework for catastrophe preparation and response. The ICS’s catastrophe management mission is divided into five sections (Chang, 2017). It provides a clear and acceptable structure for incident commanders to scale up response operations as needed. In addition, the ICS provides disaster management templates to other businesses with less disaster response expertise.

The ICS standardizes terminology, which eases communication and reduces misunderstandings. Disaster response specialists utilized a number of terminologies related to their specialized disciplines prior to the adoption of the ICS. Workers from many departments and jurisdictions must work together in large-scale catastrophes (Chang, 2017). The issues connected with using multiple terminologies to apply to the same or similar phrases with different meanings were quite evident at this stage, and there was a lot of misunderstanding.

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Lastly, the ICS provides a regulated control area. A broad control area resulted in not just redundancy but also confusion in information transfer. The amount of control is determined by the type of event, the type of job, hazards and safety considerations, and the distance between employees and resources, although the ICS gives general guidelines. Thus, the scale and complexity of the event have a major effect on the ICS management, which allows more flexibility in its work.

The NIMS Integration Department has also created a pre-registration and resource categorization procedure to define a national standard for accelerating and standardizing resource requests and applications in the case of a NIMS crisis. Pre-assignment is the practice of verifying specific assets and their credentials ahead of time in order to prevent having to issue emergency powers to activate a resource, which would delay their real reaction to an incident (Hanlin & Schulz, 2021). This enables considerably faster asset compatibility across jurisdictional, regional, and agency boundaries.


The significance of successfully deploying the ICS to any type or scale of emergency response situation cannot be overestimated. Its ideas are based on managerial best practices from the fields of public safety, military, and business. Moreover, the NIMS basic principles understand that emergencies will produce essential duties that are not part of any unit’s usual job description and that vital individuals, who may not be the most senior official in the company, must be empowered. Experience is prioritized over rank in the ICS, which sometimes is extremely important.

Within these observations, the importance of studying the ICS is hard to doubt. Different organizational cultures, inadequate ICS training, and a reluctance to accept the ICS in routine operations can lead to disastrous catastrophes on different levels of operations. Whether it is a local fire or a massive breakout similar to California wildfires, the ICS and the NIMS frameworks allow operating with coordination and standardize necessary actions and maneuvers to limit the outcomes of the catastrophe.


Chang. H-H. (2017). A literature review and analysis of the incident command system. International Journal of Emergency Management, 13(1), 50–67.

Hanlin, E. R., & Schulz, K. (2021). Incident command system and National Incident Management System. Emergency Medical Services, 2, 263-272.

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