What are the five major functions used in the incident command system? They were identified in a 1981 California “Firescope Program” as command, operations, planning, logistics and finance.
The incident commander manages the command function. Subsequently, the incident commander commands the incident as well as makes the strategic decisions and is responsible for the results. He implements additional functions that may be required to support the incident, and retains the responsibility for any functions that are not implemented. He retains the approval for managing multijurisdictional incidents. These will involve a unified command element that will bring together jurisdictional incident commanders to develop a common and consistent action plan to make the best use of all available resources.
The operations section is managed by the operations chief, a member of the general staff, who is responsible for all operations that are directly applicable to the primary mission of the incident (fire suppression, rescue diving, emergency medical, etc.).
The planning chief, also a member of the general staff who collects as well as evaluates incident status information that is need to fulfill the responsibility for the following, manages the planning section. This requires an understanding of the current situation and the ability to predict the course of the incident, as well as prepare control objectives and alternative strategies.
The logistics chief, another member of the general staff, is responsible for providing all the facilities, service, managing the logistics section, and materials required supporting the system.
The finance chief manages the last major function in the incident command system. The finance chief, a member of the general staff, is responsible for all financial and cost analysis aspects of the incident, including managing the finance section.
It is my personal opinion that the most salient characteristic of the incident command system is its ability to expand from a routine incident to a complex, multiagency incident in a logical progression. As an incident grows in complexity, the functional sections may be expanded to accommodate the responsibility of the section and to ensure a proper span of control.
According to a 1991 manuscript, “Emergency Management: Principles and Practices for Local Government,” published by the International City Management Association, an organization for chief appointed management executives in local government, research dealing with human responses to disaster can help emergency managers tailor response plans and decision strategies to the likely reactions. It is assumed that because Hollywood portrays civilians as panic-stricken fools in an emergency that civilians will not act properly during a disaster. In contrast, people tend to act rationally, given the prevailing conditions as they understand them. Subsequently, because myths about people acting in a panic remain strong, it is important to record what people do not do in a disaster.
First responders have also been the subjects of disaster mythology. The prevalent of the myths is associated with role abandonment and with psychological stress. Research by the International City Management Association found that dealing with death has serious psychological consequences. These stresses tend to become less of a problem in the operations phase instead of causing a delayed stress reaction. Critical incident stress debriefing should clearly be part of the professional emergency management environment.
In 1985, the Federal Emergency Management Agency in “Guide for the Development of State and Local Emergency Operations Plans,” defined generic functions as actions that may be useful in various disaster events. The prime tasks associated with the six generic functions are warning systems, evacuation, sheltering, emergency medical care, search and rescue, as well as protection of property. When an evacuation decision is made, the public must be informed. Sirens warn the public to turn on their radios upon hearing the proper warning signal. TV announcements, phone, mobile loudspeakers or door-to-door notification are other sources used to alert the public of a possible threat. Evacuation is an important generic function for hurricanes, floods, tsunamis, volcanoes, hazardous material accidents, nuclear power plant accidents and crisis situations such as tornadoes or earthquakes. Another generic function, sheltering, involves some combination of sheltering and evacuation.
In the past decade, the fire service has become a key player in managing emergency medical care. During this time, it also has developed a comprehensive incident command system that can be applied effectively in managing large-scale emergencies involving multiple casualties and fatalities. Operational procedures in mass casualty incidents differ considerably from routine EMS operations. They require a special management structure that interfaces well with the incident command system. Search and rescue may be necessary in such incidents as transportation accidents, building collapses, earthquakes or tornadoes. These activities are usually organized as a separate incident command system but require close coordination with the medical group. Physician or hospital based medical teams may be very helpful in these situations and should be involved in key search and rescue decisions.
The sixth generic function -- security and protection of property – is similar to the evacuation function but is subsequently considered a routine generic function and is not given extensive attention in the plan. The International City Management Association informs us that as with evacuation, the details of security and protection of property are in the standard operating procedures of the organizations delivering the service. However, according to the transcripts of the (1991) International City Management Association’s Washington convention several decision-making issues do merit our attention. In order to secure the area throughout the disaster, which is a priority to a good emergency manager, three issues must be addressed. First, the agency that is in charge of the scene must be determined. Second, it must be specified what access to the impact area will be permitted. Finally, a patrol or surveillance system will be needed to secure and protect property.
The value of the incident command often has been documented in video journals and periodicals in the fire service since its inception in the early 1980s. Although many systems exist throughout the nation for the command and control of resources at emergency incidents, the Fire Department of New York has now adopted the ICS as its base for teaching the concepts of incident command. The incident command system works well because it is a day-to-day, every-incident command system and subsequently is expandable in the logical steps to provide a smooth transition into a large-scale, multi-agency command system. However, this is also the incident command system’s greatest obstacle to its implementation.
All the involved emergency services must recognize the advantage of combining resources under a common organizational structure during multi-agency major emergencies. They also need to recognize that the system should not be designed as a multi-agency, major emergency system only, but should also be a day-to-day operational system for all the participating agencies (and applicable to any and all emergency situations). The provincial barriers of pride and egotism between police and fire departments must take a back seat for the overall good of the first responders. Much mutual give and take is required by each agency in order to develop a command system that is realistic, workable and acceptable to all. The process of coming together as federal, state, county, and city police and fire agencies, working out the differences of opinion that naturally exist, working together for the common good of all the concerned agencies and, ultimately, the common good of the public served, results in the incident command system.
In conclusion, the role of emergency managers, and in particular fire protection managers within the Fire Department of New York, are evolving. Changing human settlement patterns, as well as lack of enforceable zoning restrictions, has shown that natural disasters are affecting more people than ever before. Subsequently, since disasters are affecting more and more people, emergency management is at a political forefront. In a post-Sept. 11, 2001, environment in which more and different manmade and technological hazards are affecting the public, the technical knowledge that is required of an emergency manager is becoming more diverse.
Peter W. Blaich is a fourth generation New York City Firefighter assigned to Ladder 123 in Crown Heights, Brooklyn. He is accredited by the United States Department of Defense (DoD) as well as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) as a Fire Protection Specialist (CFPS). He has a bachelor’s degree in fire administration from the State University of New York and is a graduate student in fire protection management at John Jay College of Criminal Justice. While assigned as a firefighter in Engine Company 9 in M,anhattan, Blaich received the World Trade Center Survivor Medal in 2001.