Part 1 – Introducing a Freelance-Prevention System That Works Let’s get right to the point: If your implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS) does not help you achieve and maintain tactical accountability , your...
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Standards and Mandates
Standards and mandates (NIMS is a federal mandate) provide guidance on what we should do, but they do not hint at how we should comply. Compliance and implementation is up to the “authority having jurisdiction” (AHJ). To address the spirit and intent of a particular standard or mandate is up to your organization or region. Consider the following citations from the 2008 edition of NFPA 1561, Standard on Emergency Services Incident Management System:
4.5.2 The system shall maintain accountability for the location and status condition of each organizational element at the scene of the incident.
5.3.10 The incident commander shall maintain an awareness of the location and function of all companies or units at the scene of the incident.
18.104.22.168 All supervisory personnel shall maintain a constant awareness of the position and function of all responders assigned to operate under their supervision.
22.214.171.124 This awareness shall serve as the basic means of accountability that shall be required for operational safety.
Note the words I emphasized: location…condition…function…position…basic. What these NFPA citations require as a “basic means of accountability” is that the incident commander and division/group supervisors shall maintain an awareness of the location/position and function of all companies, units and responders (personnel). Also notice that this basic means of accountability shall be required for operational safety. NFPA 1561 ventures well beyond mere personnel tracking. However, as mentioned previously, NFPA does not provide a hint at how to make sure this happens. The term I coined for maintaining this location and function awareness is “tactical accountability.” The structured and systematic process which assures seamless compliance is called Integrated Tactical Accountability.
There is a significant difference between personnel accountability and tactical accountability. In general, “accountability” is defined as a process for tracking personnel during an incident. According to NFPA 1561, personnel accountability is a system that “readily identifies both the location and function of all members operating at an incident scene.” (There are those pesky words again: location and function.) “Location” means more than knowing that there are eight companies on the fireground and that there are a bunch of firefighters somewhere in the building; location means you know from what side each team entered the building and on what floor each team is working. Tactical accountability means that you also know what each team is doing and why. Again, if freelancing is tolerated, it is impossible to achieve and maintain tactical accountability.
To ensure that the tenets of NFPA 1561 – and NIMS ICS – are addressed, two levels of accountability are needed: personnel and tactical. The only way this can be achieved and maintained is by aggressive span-of-control management. More than anything else, the ICS is a span-of-control, resource-management system. Consider the following NFPA 1561 citations:
5.1.6 The command structure for each incident shall maintain an effective supervisory span of control at each level of the organization.
A.5.1.6 A span of control of responders between three and seven is considered desirable most cases.
5.3.12 The incident commander shall initiate an accountability and inventory worksheet at the beginning of operations and shall maintain that system throughout operations.