The ICS structure above is defined by Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as a standard structure and approach for managing emergency situations. One of the key benefits of implementing the ICS structure is that it is a proven practice used by the public sector (first responders). If the local authorities respond to an incident at your location, they will be using the ICS structure with the same approach and terminology as your company.
The ICS structure as several key sections: operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration. The names may slightly vary for your organization depending on your approach but should remain similar in functionality. Each section will have functional teams assigned to manage specific areas of responsibility required to support the incident.
The structure above provides all the key functional areas required to address an emergency event. Additional people with specific skills may be called upon but most of the expertise required to support an event is contained within these functional areas. While this represents a large group, ICS is designed to only bring the required resources together to address the event – it is flexible and modular.
For example, a local response team will assemble (according to plans) to tactically manage the incident and is lead by the incident commander (IC) at the impacted office. A key distinction needs to be made at this point to avoid confusion. The IC at the CIRT team is managing the event from a strategic posture while the IC at the local (on scene) position will be managing the event from a tactical posture. Both ICs will be communicating with each other.
Based on the event dynamics the IC has the ability to establish (grow) a command staff to assist with the management of the event. The business continuity team may be added to the command staff due to their expertise with your emergency processes and plans.
One last important point regarding the teams associated with the ICS structure. Each office within an organization should have an ICS team setup. Each office will establish an Initial Assessment Team (IAT) for managing an emergency incident. The IAT is the local team that will be the first to respond to an incident. For smaller offices, the IAT team will probably be the only team required. Larger offices will setup a local incident response team (LIRT). The LIRT has the same ICS structure with all the functional teams outlined above included. The IAT team discussed above serves as a sub-team to the CIRT/LIRT teams in the larger offices.
Once identified, it’s vital that these teams are adequately trained in their roles and responsibilities as well as ICS in general. FEMA offers excellent (free) online training courses on ICS practices. However, when considering ICS training and the implementation of ICS within a Business Continuity Program, a business can save considerable time, effort, and frustration, by securing the assistance of a qualified ICS practioner.
Similar to planning, waiting for an event to occur is too late to start training. Even a small office should have a team (with limited people) to address the well-being of that office and its staff. Once a company and its employees buy-in to the emergency management planning process, they will quickly realize the value of the effort, such as protecting employees, and will want to be trained in order to be ready to perform their roles in an emergency.
Incident Command System – Case Study Supporting a Pandemic Event
Now, let’s look at how ICS may be used in a large or global event. We will use the recent example of the 2009 pandemic event involving the H1N1 Influenza A.
We talked about every office within an organization should have an established and trained team that understands ICS. Let’s say the initial stage of a pandemic event starts in a local geographic area, such as Mexico where a recent event actually started. The IAT team for the Mexico office (assuming a smaller office) would activate as the pandemic event reaches a significant stage in the city/country. The IAT members in the Mexico office would assess the situation and evaluate the conditions and impacts on the ground (ground zero in this case). The incident commander (IC) for the Mexico IAT would contact the ICs at the headquarter office responsible for supporting their office. Often a large multi-national company will have regional headquarters supporting small offices in a region of the globe.
There are a few things happening in this scenario:
- The Mexico IAT has assembled and is managing the situation and assessing the impacts to employees and business operations. They have also engaged the regional headquarters to gain support, assistance and guidance related to the event.
- The regional headquarters IAT team is now aware of the situation and begins to assess their role in the event. They also assess the potential impacts to other regional offices they support including their own regional headquarter office. A key responsibility for the ICs at the regional offices is providing regular updates on the situation to the IC at the corporate office.
- The IAT at the corporate office has also become engaged in this situation and is managing the event from an overall corporate business perspective.
The above activities represent the basic relationship that should occur during any incident that impacts a business office within the organization. Such a relationship allows an office to effectively handle the situation on the ground while getting support from the regional headquarters that has a closer time zone and is familiar with the business and culture of the impacted office. The corporate IAT team should be engaged in every incident so they are aware of the potential business impacts and can provide corporate direction and assistance as needed.
As the flu event continues to unfold and accelerate in spread and severity, a number of ancillary events begin to occur including:
- News media picks up the event as a top story
- People start to react and fear creeps in with the news stories
- Places start to close such as schools and maybe public transportation
- Local government agencies start to initiate actions often impacting companies
- Other localities and countries encounter the virus
- International agencies (e.g., WHO) are monitoring the situation and making recommendations
As the event continues to unfold both at ground zero (Mexico) and around the globe, the local IAT team is looking at the situation at ground zero and has already taken steps to protect employees, such as, limiting visitors, stopping travel, sanitizing office workspace, addressing procedures for sick employees, and sending out employee communications. As the local IAT made these decisions they were in regular contact with the IC’s from the regional headquarters for consultation and direction on the company policy.
Depending on the severity of the situation the IAT teams from the regional and corporate headquarter offices will decide if more of the CIRT/LIRT teams need to be activated to manage the situation. The regional headquarters IAT /LIRT team starts to look at the situation in their office and the other regional offices they support. The corporate headquarters IAT/CIRT should be actively involved in refining the policies, guidelines and communications for the corporation.
The corporate IAT/CIRT provides a company oversight role and is responsible for overseeing the company’s response to the situation at the corporate headquarters and also for guiding the other offices in the organization.
As the event continues to unfold and starts to impact every region and country around the world, the organization must be able to effective work with the all headquarters and offices within the enterprise. Following the structure below, each regional office has an IAT team which is taking care of the local employees and business operations while getting assistance and direction for the regional and corporate headquarters respectively. The regional headquarters LIRT team is taking care of the headquarters employees and business operations to manage the situation while communicating with the corporate headquarters. The corporate CIRT team is watching the entire event while at the same time taking care employees and business operations at the corporate office.
The next graph outlines this relationship.
Why Migrate to the ICS Methodology
A company needs to establish emergency response teams across the enterprise to respond and manage the incident. These teams will continue to monitor the pandemic situation and will make decisions based on changing impacts to employees and the business environment. The full extent and impact of a pandemic event is impossible to predict so it is difficult to pro-actively adjust business schedules and service levels. However, a company with a solid ICS structure will be well positioned to monitor the event to make the necessary business adjustments required to support employees and customers.
The ICS structure provides a company with a proven methodology to effectively manage emergency situations. It provides a solid approach to managing events within an enterprise while providing the structure, teams and procedures necessary to build emergency management plans. You will find the ICS methodology is very marketable within an organization. As you layout the structure and approach for managing emergency events, your executive management will realize the business value and logic behind implementing such a proven practice.
Lastly, by implementing ICS, a business will demonstrate its desire to partner with the first responder community to more effectively respond to and mange emergency events that effect the business and the community. This working relationship can go a long way to improve other needs such as training, communications, recovery access, and reputation.
Tim Bonno has been a business continuity and emergency management practitioner for over 18 years. Much of his experience was devoted to a large global telecommunications company where he was employed for more than 30 years. During that time he responded to numerous events including Midwestern floods, the Oklahoma City bombing, and Hurricane Andrew. Bonno has received extensive and advanced training from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) as well as the Center For Domestic Preparedness (CDP). Bonno is a contract instructor for a Midwestern state’s emergency management agency. In this position, he instructs classes on subjects including leadership, decision-making, effective communications, CERT (including Teen CERT, Deaf CERT, and CERT Train the Trainer), and hazardous weather and flooding. He is a co-founder of the Gateway Citizen Corps Coalition (GCCC) and serves as its current president. Bonno has worked with communities across the country in establishing or strengthening their citizen preparedness programs.
Randall J. Till, CBCP, has more that 20 years experience as a BC planner and has learned to navigate the hardships and roadblocks associated with implementing BC strategies and practices within an organization.