The National Incident Management System (www.nemaweb.org), released by the Department of Homeland Security, has major implications for the fire service and inter-agency operations. Adoption of the NIMS will be a condition for accepting federal assistance funds. The main questions being asked...
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The National Incident Management System (www.nemaweb.org), released by the Department of Homeland Security, has major implications for the fire service and inter-agency operations. Adoption of the NIMS will be a condition for accepting federal assistance funds.
The main questions being asked by the fire service are:
- What’s in the NIMS that is not covered by the incident command system (ICS)?
- Has the ICS changed?
- Will the NIMS dictate fire service operations and tactics?
The NIMS is defined as “a core set of doctrine, concepts, principles, terminology and organizational processes to enable effective, efficient and collaborative incident management at all levels.” The NIMS is a system for collaboration and coordination among America’s response agencies at all levels. This means that the NIMS is a system for managing emergency incidents horizontally between local agencies and vertically between local, regional, state and federal agencies.
The NIMS evolved from the birth of ICS. In the 1970s, devastating wildfires in California revealed several major faults in the command structure, including:
- No common communications
- No common terminology
- No effective means for allocating scarce resources
- No system for incident planning and management
- No means of coordinating diverse agencies.
A group of contract engineers from the aviation industry developed an incident command system as part of the California FIRESCOPE program. By the 1980s, ICS became the bible for wildland fire operations. Urban fire departments and emergency managers began to “catch on” and the ICS was the buzzword in the cities. Unfortunately, the ICS was not embraced by non-fire agencies.
The NIMS genesis followed one of America’s darkest days, Sept. 11, 2001. Clearly, we faced new threats. We needed a system for effectively deploying and coordinating all available resources for local incidents. In 2003, the President signed a Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD-5) (www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2003/02/20030228-9.html) that mandated:
- The development of a National Incident Management System (NIMS)
- The adoption of the NIMS by federal agencies for response and support of all domestic incidents
- Inclusion of an incident command system within the NIMS
- The adoption of the NIMS as a requirement for federal funding
The ICS component of NIMS was adopted essentially intact from the original ICS template and the California Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS). The incident command system is a functionality-based system for managing any type of event (emergency or otherwise). The five functions of ICS are:
The emphasis is on “functions” instead of a hierarchy. A hierarchy is a top-down management/decision-making system based on levels of authority. For example, a fire chief makes a decision and conveys the decision downward. In the ICS, information flows between functions. The key is the collaboration between functions instead of a rank-based hierarchy.
Many fire service leaders are concerned that the ICS revisions will dictate operations and tactics. The NIMS concentrates on preparedness, strategy and interagency coordination (interoperability), not operations or tactics. The NIMS does not dictate how you make a trench cut, utilize a rapid intervention team or dike a hazmat spill. EMS, police and public works departments have similar operational and tactical leeway.
The fire service ICS model has survived. This model allows “scalability” and “flexibility.” The system is scaled up or down to fit any sized incident. Its flexibility ensures that fire departments can develop sound operational and tactical policies to suit their needs.