The National Response Framework and National Incident Management System
This chapter provides information about the National Response Framework (NRF) and the National Incident Management System (NIMS), with a focus on how NIMS provides for multiagency coordination through the joint field office (JFO). It identifies the key roles, authorities, and structures with explanation about how the joint force commander (JFC) integrates into the federal coordinated response. It is important to note that the NRF does not cover all civil support operations. It does not, for instance, cover periodic planned support. Parts of it, however, can be used for other non-Stafford Act incidents.
The NRF and NIMS are companion documents designed to improve the nation's incident management capabilities and overall efficiency. The NRF represents a concerted national effort to prevent terrorist attacks within the United States; reduce America's vulnerability to terrorism, major disasters, and other emergencies; and minimize damage and speed recovery from attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies that occur. The NIMS provides a template for incident management regardless of size, scope, or cause. Use of this template enables federal, state, local, and tribal governments, private sector entities, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) to work together effectively and efficiently to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from actual or potential domestic incidents regardless of cause, size, or complexity. Together, the NRF and the NIMS integrate the capabilities and resources of various governmental jurisdictions, incident management and emergency response disciplines, NGOs, and the private sector entities into a cohesive, coordinated, and seamless national framework for domestic incident management.
The JFO is a temporary federal facility established locally to provide a central point for federal, state, local, and tribal executives with responsibility for incident oversight, direction, and/or assistance to effectively coordinate protection, prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery actions. The JFO uses the scalable organizational structure of the NIMS in the context of both pre-incident and post-incident management activities. The JFO does not manage on-scene operations. Instead, the JFO focuses on providing support to on-scene efforts and conducting broader support operations that may extend beyond the incident site.
National Response Framework Basics
As required by Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5), the NRF establishes a single, comprehensive approach to domestic incident management to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The NRF is an all-hazards plan built on the template of the NIMS. The NIMS provides a consistent doctrinal framework for incident management at all jurisdictional levels regardless of the cause, size, or complexity of the incident.
The NRF, using the NIMS, provides the structure and mechanisms for national-level policy and operational direction for domestic incident management. The NRF can be partially or fully implemented in the context of a threat, anticipation of a significant event, or in response to an incident requiring a coordinated federal response. This includes events with potential national or long-term implications such as a public health emergency or a cyberspace incident. Selective implementation through the activation of one or more of the NRF elements allows maximum flexibility to meet the unique operational and information-sharing requirements of any situation and enables effective interaction among various federal, state, local, tribal, private-sector, other civilian entities, and NGOs.
The NRF applies to all incidents requiring a coordinated federal response as part of an appropriate combination of federal, state, local, tribal, private-sector, and nongovernmental entities. The NRF is applicable to all federal departments and agencies that have primary jurisdiction for or participate in operations requiring a coordinated federal response. For incidents requiring a coordinated federal response but of lesser severity than an incident of national significance, the NRF includes a comprehensive network of incident annexes and supplemental federal contingency plans that may be implemented by the departments and agencies with established authorities in coordination with the NRF framework.
The NRF is always in effect; however, the implementation of NRF coordination mechanisms is flexible and scalable. Actions range in scope from ongoing situational reporting and analysis, through the implementation of NRF incident annexes and other supplemental federal contingency plans, to full implementation of all relevant NRF coordination mechanisms outlined in the NRF base plan.
Overview of Disaster Response and Incident Management
This overview illustrates actions federal agencies will likely take to assist state and local governments that are overwhelmed by a major disaster or emergency. Figure 3-1 provides a graphic display of a federal response under the Stafford Act.
The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) National Operations Center (NOC) continually monitors potential major disasters and emergencies. When advance warning is possible, DHS may deploy and may request other federal agencies to deploy liaison officers (LNOs) and personnel to a state emergency operations center (EOC) to assess the emerging situation. A regional response coordination center (RRCC) may be activated, fully or partially. Facilities, such as mobilization centers, may be established to accommodate personnel, equipment, and supplies.
Immediately after an incident, local jurisdictions respond using available resources and notify state response elements. As information emerges, they also assess the situation and the need for state assistance. The state reviews the situation, mobilizes state resources, and informs the DHS/emergency preparedness and response/Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) regional office (Figure 3-2) of actions taken.
The governor activates the state emergency operations plan, proclaims or declares a "state of emergency," and requests a state/DHS joint preliminary damage assessment (PDA) to determine if sufficient damage has occurred to justify a request for a presidential declaration of a major disaster or emergency. Based upon the results of the PDA, the governor may request a presidential declaration and define the kind of federal assistance needed. At this point, an initial assessment is also conducted of losses avoided based on previous mitigation efforts.
After the major disaster or emergency declaration, an RRCC, staffed by regional personnel, coordinates initial regional and field activities.
Depending on the scope and impact of the event, the NOC, supported by emergency support function (ESF) representatives and DHS/FEMA support staff, carries out initial activation and mission assignment operations and supports the RRCC.
A federal coordinating officer (FCO), appointed by the secretary of homeland security on behalf of the president, coordinates federal support activities. The FCO works with the state coordinating officer (SCO) to identify requirements. A principal federal official (PFO) also may be designated as the secretary's representative to coordinate overall federal interagency incident management efforts. When required, a JFO will be established.
ESF primary agencies assess the situation, identify requirements, and help states respond effectively. Federal agencies provide resources under DHS/FEMA mission assignment or their own authority.
As immediate response priorities are met, recovery activities begin. Federal and state agencies assisting with recovery and mitigation activities convene to discuss state needs.
National Response Framework Roles and Responsibilities
A basic premise of the NRF is that incidents are handled at the lowest possible jurisdictional level. In the vast majority of incidents, state and local resources and interstate mutual aid will provide the first line of emergency response and incident management support. The NRF provides the framework for federal interaction with state, local, tribal, private sector and nongovernmental entities in the context of domestic incident management to ensure timely and effective federal support.
Just as a lead or primary agency is designated at the federal level, a lead agency is usually designated at the state level.
Typically, states have established state emergency management agencies as executive agents to manage incident response.
The state governor has the final commitment authority over state capabilities in any disaster response effort short of a federal response. Governors have the unique authority to issue a state emergency declaration, mobilize the state NG, and redirect state resources to emergency response. A governor can request federal assistance from the president when state capabilities prove insufficient. This request brings the resources of the federal government to bear on the disaster and can involve the Department of Defense (DOD).
The private sector's role is to be a key partner in domestic incident management, particularly in the area of critical infrastructure protection and restoration. Private-sector entities are also called upon to contribute necessary items and services to the impacted area. These sources are important to aid in the lifesaving and recovery efforts. DHS and other federal departments and agencies coordinate with the private sector to effectively share information, formulate courses of action, and incorporate available resources to prevent, prepare for, respond to, and recover from incidents of various types. For coordination with the owners and operators of the nation's critical infrastructure, DHS and federal agencies use the mechanisms established under the National Infrastructure Protection Plan, including the critical infrastructure protection advisory committee. Further, the secretary of homeland security uses private-sector advisory groups with broad representation to provide advice on incident management and emergency response issues impacting their stakeholders. The NRF includes an annex on private-sector coordination.
Federal government roles and responsibilities derive from HSPD-5, which assigns specific responsibilities to DHS and delineates the roles and responsibilities of certain other federal departments.
The National Response Framework Concept of Operations
The NRF, as the core plan for national incident management, also establishes national-level coordinating structures, processes, and protocols that will be incorporated into certain existing federal interagency incident- or hazard-specific plans (such as the National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan) that are designed to implement the specific statutory authorities and responsibilities of various departments and agencies in particular contingency scenarios. These plans, which incorporate the coordinating structures and mechanisms of the NRF, provide detailed protocols for responding to incidents of lesser severity normally managed by federal agencies without the need for the secretary of homeland security to manage the federal response.
ESFs are the primary means through which the federal government provides assistance to state, local, and tribal governments or to federal departments and agencies conducting missions of primary federal responsibility. ESFs are an effective mechanism to group capabilities and resources into the functions that are most likely needed during actual or potential incidents where coordinated federal response is required, such as transportation, firefighting, and public health.
ESFs may be selectively activated for both Stafford Act and non-Stafford Act incidents by the secretary of homeland security. They may also be activated by the ESF coordinators. The ESF structure provides a modular structure to identify the precise components that can best address the requirements of the incident. For example, a large-scale natural disaster or significant terrorist incident may require the activation of all ESFs. A localized flood or tornado might only require activation of a few ESFs.
The ESF structure provides coordination of federal interagency support of a federal response to an incident. The ESF structure includes mechanisms used to provide federal support to states and federal-to-federal support, both for declared disasters and emergencies under the Stafford Act and for non-Stafford Act incidents. The ESF structure provides mechanisms for interagency coordination during all phases of incident management. Some departments and agencies provide resources for response, support, and program implementation during the early stage of an event, while others are more prominent in the recovery phase. ESFs are activated based on the scope and magnitude of the threat or incident. Each ESF annex identifies the ESF coordinator and the primary and support agencies pertinent to the ESF. Several ESFs incorporate multiple components, with primary agencies designated for each component to ensure seamless integration of and transition between preparedness, prevention, response, recovery, and mitigation activities. ESFs with multiple primary agencies designate an ESF coordinator for the purposes of pre-incident planning and coordination.
Chapter 5 of this handbook covers each ESF in detail, including the scope, purpose, and identification of the ESF coordinator, primary agency, support federal agencies, and DOD responsibilities in each. There are 15 ESFs:
Understanding the National Incident Management System
NIMS is not:
DOD implements NRF policies and procedures as appropriate and consistent with departmental authorities and responsibilities. According to DOD policy, DOD organizations will adopt and implement procedures consistent with the NIMS and the incident command system (ICS) at all DOD domestic installations. Additionally, all defense coordination offices (DCOs), defense coordinating elements (DCEs), emergency preparedness liaison officers, and DOD incident commanders under the NIMS/ICS structure, and DSCA combined joint task force and joint task force senior staff must be knowledgeable of the NRF prior to participating in domestic operations. The NIMS provides a framework for managing incident response and support activities as depicted in Figure 3-3.
The ICS is a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure that is designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management. A basic premise of ICS is that it is widely applicable. It is used to organize both near-term and long-term field-level operations for a broad spectrum of emergencies, from small to complex incidents, both natural and man-made. ICS is used by all levels of government - federal, state, local, and tribal - as well as by many private-sector organizations and NGOs. ICS is also applicable across disciplines. It is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration.
Unified command is an application of the NIMS/ICS used when there is more than one agency with incident jurisdiction or when incidents cross political jurisdictions. Agencies work together through designated members of the unified command to establish their incident commanders at a single incident command post (ICP). In the unified command, entities develop a common set of objectives and strategies, which provides the basis for a single incident action plan. The structure for NRF coordination is based on the NIMS construct: an ICS/unified command on-scene supported by an area command (if needed) and multiagency coordination entities. The JFO provides resources in support of the unified command and ICP(s). Acts of biological, chemical, radiological, and nuclear terrorism or other catastrophic events represent particular challenges for the traditional ICS structure. Events that are not site-specific, are geographically dispersed, or evolve over longer periods of time will require extraordinary coordination between federal, state, local, tribal, private-sector, and nongovernmental entities.
National Incident Management System command and coordination
There are four major components of NIMS: command and management, preparedness, resource management, and communications and information management. This section focuses on the three NIMS standard incident command structures making up command and management to identify how they work together as a system to provide the national framework for preparing for, preventing, responding to, and recovering from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity. The NIMS distinguishes between command authority and coordination authority. Command authority is vested in the incident commander, whether a single incident commander or an area commander, and is exercised through the ICS. Coordination authority is vested in coordinating officers such as the FCO and DCO. Each coordinating officer has the authority to make coordinating decisions within his or her jurisdiction, whether federal, state, or local.
The incident command system
The ICS defines the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and structure of incident management and emergency response organizations engaged throughout the life cycle of an incident. Direct tactical and operational responsibility for conducting incident management activities rests with the incident commander. The incident command organizational structure develops in a top-down, modular fashion that is based on the size and complexity of the incident as well as the specifics of the hazard environment created by the incident. The ICS organization has five major functions, which are described in Figure 3-4. These are: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration. When needed, separate functional elements can be established, each of which may be further subdivided to enhance internal organizational management and external coordination. Responsibility for establishing and expanding the ICS modular organization ultimately rests with the incident commander, who bases his decisions on the requirements of the situation. As incident complexity increases, the organization expands from the top down as functional responsibilities are delegated. Concurrently with structural expansion, the number of management positions expands to adequately address the requirements of the incident. Incident command may be transferred from one commander to a succeeding one.
Multiagency coordination systems
The primary functions of multiagency coordination systems are to support incident management policies and priorities; facilitate logistic support and resource tracking; inform resource allocation decisions using incident management priorities; coordinate incident related information; and coordinate interagency and intergovernmental issues regarding incident management policies, priorities, and strategies. These define the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and organizational structure of supporting incident management entities engaged at the federal, state, local, tribal, and regional levels through mutual-aid agreements and other assistance arrangements. When incidents cross disciplinary or jurisdictional boundaries, or involve complex incident management scenarios, a multiagency coordination entity, such as an emergency management agency, may be used to facilitate incident management and policy coordination. The situation at hand and the needs of the jurisdictions involved will dictate how these multiagency coordination entities conduct their business, as well as how they are structured. Multi-agency coordination entities typically consist of principals (or their designees) from organizations and agencies with direct incident management responsibility or with significant incident management support or resource responsibilities. These entities are sometimes referred to as crisis action teams, policy committees, incident management groups, executive teams, or other similar terms. As stated earlier, direct tactical and operational responsibility for conducting incident management activities rests with the incident commander. Command authority does not reside in coordinating officers or coordinating entities, although coordinating officers may be designated with command authority. In some instances, EOCs may serve an additional function as a multiagency coordination entity; in others, the preparedness organizations may fulfill this role. Regardless of the term or organizational structure used, these entities typically provide strategic coordination during domestic incidents. If constituted separately, multiagency coordination entities, preparedness organizations, and EOCs must coordinate and communicate with one another to provide uniform and consistent guidance to incident management personnel. The JFO is the multiagency coordination center of primary interest to the combatant commander or the JFC.
Public information systems
These refer to processes, procedures, and systems for communicating timely and accurate information to the public during crises or emergency situations. Under the ICS, the public information officer (PIO) is a key staff member supporting the incident command structure. The PIO represents and advises the incident command on all public information matters relating to the management of the incident. The PIO handles media and public inquiries, emergency public information and warnings, rumor monitoring and responses, media monitoring, and other functions required to coordinate, clear with appropriate authorities, and disseminate accurate and timely information related to the incident, particularly regarding information on public health and safety and protection. The PIO is also responsible for coordinating public information at or near the incident site and serving as the on-scene link to the joint information system (JIS). In a large-scale operation, the on-scene PIO serves as a field PIO with links to the joint information center (JIC), which is typically collocated with the federal, regional, state, local, or tribal EOC tasked with primary incident coordination responsibilities. The JIS provides the mechanism for integrating public information activities among JICs, across jurisdictions, and with private-sector entities and NGOs. During emergencies, the public may receive information from a variety of sources. The JIC provides a location for organizations participating in the management of an incident to work together to ensure that timely, accurate, easy-to-understand, and consistent information is disseminated to the public. JICs include processes for coordinating and clearing public communications. The JIC develops, coordinates, and disseminates unified news releases. News releases are cleared through the JFO coordination group to ensure consistent messages, avoid release of conflicting information, and prevent negative impact on operations. This formal approval process for news releases ensures protection of law enforcement sensitive information or other sensitive but unclassified information. DOD supports the national-level JIC and contributes to the overall unified message. DOD and other agencies may issue their own news releases related to their policies, procedures, programs, and capabilities; however, these should be coordinated with the JIC.
The Joint Field Office
The JFO is a temporary federal facility established locally to provide a central point for coordinating federal, state, local, and tribal response to the incident. When incidents impact multiple states or localities, multiple JFOs may be established. In these situations, one of the JFOs (typically in the most heavily impacted area) may be identified to serve as the primary JFO and provide strategic leadership and coordination for the overall incident management effort, as designated by the secretary of homeland security. The JFO organizational structure is built upon NIMS but does not impede, supersede, or impact the ICP/ICS command structure. See Figure 3-5 for a typical JFO established for a natural disaster.
Principal federal official
The PFO is personally designated by the secretary of homeland security to facilitate federal support to the established ICS unified command structure and to coordinate overall federal incident management and assistance activities across the spectrum of prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery. The PFO ensures that incident management efforts are maximized through effective and efficient coordination, and provides a primary point of contact and situational awareness locally for the secretary of homeland security. The secretary of homeland security is not restricted to DHS officials when selecting a PFO. In certain scenarios, a PFO may be designated by the secretary of homeland security to facilitate federal domestic incident planning and coordination at the local level outside the context of a specific threat or incident. A PFO also may be designated in a pre-incident mode for a specific geographic area based on threat and other considerations. In the event of a single incident with national implications or in the case of multiple incidents, a national-level PFO may be designated to coordinate federal response activities. The PFO may delegate duties to a deputy PFO, the FCO, or other designated federal official as appropriate after an event transitions to long-term recovery or cleanup operations.
Federal coordinating officer
The FCO manages and coordinates federal resource support activities related to Stafford Act disasters and emergencies and non-Stafford Act incidents. The FCO assists the unified command and/or the area command. The FCO works closely with the PFO, senior federal law enforcement official (SFLEO), and other senior officials. In situations where a PFO has not been assigned, the FCO provides overall coordination for the federal components of the JFO and works in partnership with the SCO to determine and satisfy state and local assistance requirements. During national or geographically widespread incidents such as a catastrophic hurricane impacting several adjacent states, the secretary of homeland security may, in other than terrorism incidents, choose to combine the roles of the PFO and FCO in a single individual to help ensure synchronized federal coordination. In instances where the FCO has also been assigned the role of the PFO, deputy FCOs may be designated to support the PFO/FCO.
The JFO coordination group may also include officials representing other federal departments or agencies.
The DCO is appointed by the DOD and serves as the DOD's single point of contact at the JFO, with the exception of U.S. Special Operations Command and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) assets. RFAs originating at the JFO will be coordinated with and processed through the DCO. The DCO may have a DCE consisting of a staff and military LNOs to support activated ESFs. Specific responsibilities of the DCO include processing requirements for military support, forwarding RFAs to the appropriate military organizations through DOD channels, and assigning military liaisons to activated ESFs. RFAs originating at the JFO will be coordinated and processed through the DCO with the exception of requests for USACE support, NG forces operating under state active duty or Title 32 U.S. Code, or, in some circumstances, DOD forces in support of the FBI.
Proactive Federal Response and Catastrophic Events
The NRF establishes policies, procedures, and mechanisms for a proactive federal response to catastrophic events. A catastrophic event 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 event could result in sustained national impact over a prolonged period of time; almost immediately exceed resources normally available to state, local, tribal, and private-sector authorities in the impacted area; and significantly interrupt governmental operations and emergency services to such an extent that national security could be threatened. The secretary of homeland security will declare all catastrophic events as incidents of national significance.
The NRF Catastrophic Incident Annex and the NRF Catastrophic Incident Supplement address resource and procedural implications of catastrophic events to ensure the rapid and efficient delivery of resources and assets, including special teams, equipment, and supplies that provide critical lifesaving support and incident containment capabilities. These assets may not be available or are in insufficient quantities in most localities. The secretary of homeland security may choose to activate and deploy assets prior to or immediately following any incident, to include those with catastrophic ramifications. For no-notice or short-notice catastrophic events when there is little or no time to assess the requirements of the state and local authorities, all federal departments and agencies and the American Red Cross (ARC) initiate actions to mobilize and deploy all resources by scenario type as planned for in the NRP Catastrophic Incident Search and Rescue (CIS) addendum.
Detailed training concerning NRF and NIMS is offered in independent study (IS) courses by FEMA's Emergency Management Institute, "http://training.fema.gov/IS/":
Other training sources include:
Joint Publication 3-28, Civil Support, Department of Defense, 14 September 2007.
FEMA NIMS Resource Center, www.fema.gov/emergency/nims/NIMSbriefings.shtm.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012