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Handbook 11-07
December 2010

Appendix E

Catastrophic Incidents

Excerpt from the National Response Framework Catastrophic Incident Annex (CIA), November 2008

Coordinating Agency

Cooperating Agencies

Department of Homeland Security/Federal Emergency Management Agency

All federal departments and agencies (and other organizations) with assigned primary or supporting emergency support function responsibilities.

Table E-1.

A catastrophic incident, as defined by the National Response Framework (NRF), is any natural or man-made incident, including terrorism, which results in extraordinary levels of mass casualties, damage, or disruption severely affecting the population, infrastructure, environment, economy, national morale, and/or government functions. A catastrophic incident could result in sustained nationwide impacts over a prolonged period of time; almost immediately exceeds resources normally available to state, tribal, local, and private-sector authorities in the impacted area; and significantly interrupts governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened. These factors drive the urgency for coordinated national planning to ensure accelerated federal and/or national assistance.

Recognizing that federal resources are required to augment overwhelmed state, tribal, and local response efforts, the NRF-Catastrophic Incident Annex (CIA) establishes protocols to identify and rapidly deploy key essential resources (e.g., medical teams, search and rescue teams, transportable shelters, medical and equipment caches, etc.) that are expected to be needed to save lives and contain incidents.

Upon the occurrence of a catastrophic incident, or in advance if determined by the secretary of homeland security, the government will deploy federal resources, organized into incident-specific "packages," in coordination with the affected state and incident command structure.

Where state, tribal, or local governments are unable to establish or maintain an effective incident command structure due to catastrophic conditions, the federal government, at the direction of the secretary of homeland security, may establish a unified command structure, led by the unified coordination group, to save lives, protect property, maintain operation of critical infrastructure/key resources (CIKR), contain the event, and protect national security. The federal government shall transition to its role of coordinating and supporting the state, tribal, or local governments when they are capable of reestablishing their incident commands.


A catastrophic incident will likely trigger a presidential major disaster declaration and result in the secretary of homeland security or a designee implementing the NRF-CIA.

All deploying federal resources remain under the control of their respective federal department or agency during mobilization and deployment. Some federal departments and agencies have the authority, under their own statutes, to deploy directly to the incident scene.

Federal resources arriving at a National Logistics Staging Area (NLSA) remain there until requested by state/local incident command authorities, when they are integrated into the response effort.

For no-notice or short-notice catastrophic incidents, federal resources will be mobilized and deployed, unless it can be credibly established that an action listed is not needed at the catastrophic incident venue.

If during a response, it is determined that the incident is catastrophic in nature, any remaining actions not originally initiated from the execution schedule will be initiated.


The initial response to a catastrophic incident starts on a local level with the local, tribal and/or state responders. However, there may be circumstances that exceed the capabilities of state, local, or tribal authorities in which they are unable to initially establish or maintain a command structure for incident response. In these instances, accelerated federal response may be warranted, and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) will coordinate response activities until local, tribal, and/or state authorities are capable or have re-established their incident command structure.

Continuity of Operations/Continuity of Government

Following a catastrophic event, segments of state, tribal, and local governments as well as NGOs and the private sector may be severely compromised. The federal government must be prepared to fill potential gaps to ensure continuity of government and public- and private-sector operations.

Incident condition: Normal procedures for certain emergency support functions (ESFs) may be expedited or streamlined to address the magnitude of urgent requirements of the incident. All ESFs must explore economies of scale to maximize utilization and efficiency of limited resources. In the case of a catastrophic incident, the federal government or other national entities will provide expedited assistance in one or more of the following areas:

  • Mass evacuations (ESF #5, Emergency Management): While primarily a state, tribal, and local responsibility, federal support may be required for large-scale evacuations of large numbers of people, patients in local hospitals, nursing homes, and extended care facilities, those with special needs, household pets, and service animals. Significant transportation and shelter coordination and resources may be required. There is likely to be significant shortage of response and casualty and/or evacuee reception capabilities throughout the impacted area. FEMA will support state(s) in evacuating pets and animals in a declared major disaster. Incident response efforts by state, tribal, and local governments, as well as federal agencies, frequently involve air operations and flights for evacuation (ESF #5), search and rescue (ESF #9), and public safety and security (ESF #13). In all cases, all operations must be coordinated with the Department of Transportation/Federal Aviation Administration, which manages the nation's airspace and air traffic, before, during, and after a catastrophic incident.
  • Mass care, housing, and human services (ESF #6, Mass Care, Emergency Assistance, Housing, and Human Services): The ability to support the provision of temporary shelter, food, emergency first aid, and other essential life support to people, household pets, and service animals in the affected area may be complicated by contaminated resources or facilities and impact the ability to quickly transport resources into the area.
  • Search and rescue (ESF #9): Resources and personnel to perform operational and tactical activities (e.g., locating, extricating, and providing onsite medical treatment to victims trapped in collapsed structures) are limited.


  • Victim decontamination (ESF #8, Public Health and Medical Services): State, local, tribal, and territorial officials retain primary responsibility for victim screening and decontamination operations. ESF #8 can provide technical assistance regarding how they can expand their capability to meet their decontamination requirements.
  • Environmental assessment and decontamination (ESF #10): Incidents involving a chemical, biological, or radiological weapon of mass destruction (WMD) may create significant environmental contamination, resulting in the immediate need to generate information on environmental contamination levels to support emergency decision making to ensure both public and responder protection.
  • Public health and medical support (ESF #8): There is a significant need for public health and medical support, including mental health services. In addition, any contamination requirement increases the requirement for technical assistance and resources.
  • Medical equipment and supplies (ESF #8): Shortages of available supplies of preventive and therapeutic pharmaceuticals and qualified medical personnel to administer available prophylaxis are likely.
  • Casualty transportation (ESF #8): Federal resources may be required to manage the injured, exposed victims, and deceased if their numbers are extremely high.
  • Public safety and security (ESF #13): Federal resources may be required to augment state, tribal, and local governments in protecting the public and securing the impacted area. Law enforcement and emergency management officials who normally respond to incidents may be among those affected and unable to perform their duties.
  • Public information (ESF #15, External Affairs): When state, tribal, and local public communications channels are overwhelmed during a catastrophic incident, the federal government must immediately provide resources to assist in delivering clear and coherent public information guidance and consistent messages to the affected areas.
  • Critical infrastructure Support Annex: CIKR include the assets, systems, networks, and functions that are vital to the American way of life. A terrorist attack on CIKR or other natural or man-made disaster could significantly disrupt the functioning of government and business alike, and produce cascading effects far beyond the physical location of the incident.

Planning Assumptions

  • A catastrophic incident will result in large numbers of casualties and/or displaced persons. Priority is given to human lifesaving operations.
  • The nature and scope of a catastrophic incident will overwhelm state, tribal, and local response capabilities and require immediate federal support.
  • A detailed and credible common operating picture will not be achievable for 24 to 48 hours (or longer) after the incident. As a result, response activities may have to begin without the benefit of a detailed or complete situation and critical needs assessment.
  • The nature and scope of the catastrophic incident will include major natural or man-made hazards including chemical, biological, radiological, nuclear, or high-yield explosive attacks and cyber attacks.
  • A catastrophic incident has unique characteristics requiring that response plans and strategies be flexible enough to effectively address emerging needs and requirements.
  • A catastrophic incident will occur with little or no warning. Some incidents may be well underway before detection.
  • Multiple incidents will occur simultaneously or sequentially in contiguous and/or noncontiguous areas. Some incidents, such as a biological WMD attack, may be dispersed over a large geographic area and lack a defined incident site.
  • A catastrophic incident will produce environmental impacts that severely challenge the ability and capacity of governments and communities to achieve a timely recovery.
  • Federal resources must be capable of mobilization and deployment before they are requested.
  • Large-scale evacuations, organized or self-directed, may occur.
  • Existing health care systems in the impacted area are expected to be quickly overwhelmed, requiring evacuation of existing patients. Additionally, those persons with special needs, including residents of nursing homes and extended care facilities, will require special attention during evacuation.
  • Large numbers of people will be left temporarily or permanently homeless and may require prolonged temporary housing.
  • A large number of household pets and service animals will require appropriate care, sheltering, medical attention, and transportation.
  • A catastrophic incident will have significant international dimensions, including impacts on the health and welfare of border community populations, cross-border trade, transit, law enforcement coordination, and others.

DOD Responsibilities

  • Search and rescue (with DHS/FEMA, U.S. Coast Guard, and Department of the Interior).
  • Patient movement (with the Department of Health and Human Services).



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