The Incident Command System

  This article explores the benefits and challenges of migrating the Incident Command System (ICS) to its next level given remarkable advances in enabling technologies, a changing threat, the importance of thinking about response as all risk...


  This article explores the benefits and challenges of migrating the Incident Command System (ICS) to its next level given remarkable advances in enabling technologies, a changing threat, the importance of thinking about response as all risk...


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This article explores the benefits and challenges of migrating the Incident Command System (ICS) to its next level given remarkable advances in enabling technologies, a changing threat, the importance of thinking about response as all risk (multi-cause/multi-agency/multi-organization) and new concepts of operation (CONOPS). Our purpose is to contribute to the dialogue about ICS-Next Generation and provide updates on projects underway that may impact this discussion.

The Origin of ICS

But what is ICS-Next Generation? To understand what it is and what it has the potential to be, we must first visit the history of “ICS-Original” or just plain ICS.

The Incident Command System, as we know it today, started as most emergency management systems do: by necessity caused by a major disaster. In this case, the disaster was the worst series of fires on record in California at the time. The fall 1970 fire siege driven by extremely dry and relentless Santa Ana winds lasted 13 days. Hundreds of thousands of acres burned, thousands of homes were destroyed and many people died, both civilians and firefighters.

The lead fire agencies (federal, state and local) combined with private industry and supported by public and political entities formed FIRESCOPE (see www.firescope.org). This organization developed a standardized system of command and control (C2) that was named the Incident Command System (ICS) and that we know today at the national level as the National Incident Management System (NIMS; see www.fema/gov/nims).

The current ICS delivery model, drawn from the technology base of the 1970s, is time specific and relies on voice-over-radio. It uses lengthy planning meetings and briefings to produce paper-based Incident Action Plans (IAPs). Because of the way these plans are developed and disseminated (i.e., “physically published”), they are victims of the tyranny of distance and time, and do not and have never been able to provide actionable information in a timely manner during a fast-moving dynamic incident.

What has changed during the past 40 years? Why should we consider changing a system that has been used on thousands of multi-risk incidents? The answer is one single word: technology.

Technologies

Applied to Command

While the technology base of the 1970s supported “static” concepts relying mainly on paper and voice-over-radio for information transmission and exchange, the explosion in today’s information and communications technologies, which have found their way into just about every aspect of our daily lives, allows us to think about command and control of incidents as dynamic, streaming events (constant real-time information flow) enabled by computer-based technology. It allows us to think about new levels of commander collaboration and subsequent command and control decision-making activities that were impossible before.

Although there are many ways to look at this explosion in technologies, one way is to examine three major technology themes that are influencing ICS: networking, instrumentation, and command and control. Advances in these three areas have been driven, in large part, by research and development in the U.S. military and have found their way into military C2. How will they influence ICS-Next Generation?

Networking is now a commodity. We can find high-bandwidth network portals in every community (even in our living rooms and favorite coffee shops!) as well as in some of the more remote areas of our regions. Where there is no access to the Internet, we can establish an Internet bubble over incidents using a variety of airborne platforms (the military has a number of these) or through “mesh networks” where the fleet of responding vehicles dispatched to an incident automatically establishes ad hoc networks that reconfigure themselves automatically as the vehicles move about the incident battlefield. Being connected provides access to powerful new applications (“apps” for short).

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