National Incident Management System (NIMS)
In response to attacks on September 11, 2001, President George W. Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5) in February 2003. HSPD-5 called for a National Incident Management System (NIMS). NIMS provides the doctrine, concepts, principles, terminology, and organizational processes needed for effective, efficient, and collaborative incident management at all levels. NIMS can be organized along functional lines or jurisdictional lines. When organized functionally, responses are directed by subject matter experts. When organized jurisdictionally, NIMS is organized along local (municipality and county), state, regional, and federal jurisdictions. NIMS assumes that incidents are handled at the lowest jurisdictional level possible. The Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the establishment of NIMS in March 2004.
The NIMS incident management structure has three components: the Incident Command System (ICS), interagency coordination systems, and public information system.
NIMS distinguishes between command authority and coordination authority. NIMS defines "command" as "the act of directing, ordering, or controlling by virtue of statutory, regulatory, or delegated authority." NIMS defines "coordinate" as " to advance systematically an analysis and exchange of information among principals who have a need to know certain information to carry out specific incident management responsibilities. Command authority is vested in the incident commander, whether a single incident commander or an area commander. Coordination authority is vested in coordinating officers, whether the state coordinating officer, the federal coordinating officer, or the defense coordinating officer. Each coordinating officer has the authority to make coordinating decisions within his or her jurisdiction whether federal, state, or local.
Furthermore, NIMS recognizes that each jurisdiction has authority within its boundaries and that each agency or functional expert, such as firefighters, law enforcement, medical personnel, or environmental protection personnel, has authority within its functional arena. Figure 2-1, taken from the National Response Plan (NRP), provides an overview of initial federal involvement under the Stafford Act. Figure 2-2 depicts the basic framework of NIMS.
President. The President is the chief executive authority regarding incidents. Under the authority of the Stafford Act, he declares incidents to be disasters or emergencies. Under the authority of the National Response Plan (NRP), he declares incidents to be of national significance. Furthermore, he can delegate authority to others to act as executive agents in matters of incident response.
Secretary of Homeland Defense. The President directs the Secretary of Homeland Secretary to take direct responsibility for domestic emergencies.
Secretary of Defense. The Secretary of Defense (SECDEF) authorizes military support to civil authorities (MSCA), discussed in Chapter 3, for domestic incidents as directed by the President or when consistent with military readiness operations and appropriate under the circumstances and the law. In accordance with HSPD-5, the SECDEF retains command of military forces under MSCA. Only the SECDEF can authorize the deployment of forces for military assistance to civil authorities (MACA) missions. SECDEF will decide whether or not units will be armed when performing military support to civilian law enforcement agencies (MSCLEA) missions. In addition, SECDEF is the approval authority for any requests from lead federal agencies (LFAs) for potentially lethal support (i.e., lethal to the public, a member of law enforcement, or a service member).
Principal Federal Officer (PFO). The PFO is the federal official designated by the Secretary of Homeland Security to act as his/her representative locally to oversee, coordinate, and execute the Secretary’s incident management responsibilities under HSPD-5 for incidents of national significance. The PFO is usually, but not always, the federal coordinating officer, discussed below.
LFA. LFA is a term used by DOD, not DHS. The LFA is the federal agency that leads and coordinates the overall federal response to an emergency. Designation and responsibilities of an LFA vary according to the type of emergency and the agency’s statutory authority.
Governor. 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 National Guard, and redirect state resources to emergency response.
A governor can request federal assistance from the President of the United States (POTUS) when state capabilities prove insufficient. This request brings the resources of the federal government to bear on the disaster and can involve DOD. Ultimately, all DOD support to disaster response is temporary with the end state being transfer of all emergency functions back to civilian authorities.
Lead State Agency. Just as a lead agency is designated at the federal level, so too a lead agency is designated at the state level. Lead state agencies might include:
The ICS defines the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and structure of incident management and emergency response organizations engaged throughout an incident’s the life cycle. Direct tactical and operational responsibility for conducting incident management activities rests with the incident commander.
The key feature of NIMS is the ICS. The ICS organization is unique but easy to understand. The ICS is the combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating with a common organization structure, designed to aid in the management of resources during incidents.
ICS organization has no correlation to the administrative structure of any single local, state, or federal agency or jurisdiction. This type of organization is deliberate to avoid the confusion over different position titles and organizational structures that has been a significant stumbling block to effective incident management. For example, someone who serves as a chief every day may not hold that title when deployed under an ICS structure.
Concepts of “command” and “unity of command” have distinct legal and cultural meanings for military forces and operations. For military forces, command runs from the President to the SECDEF to the commander of the combatant command to the commander of the forces. The “unified command" concept utilized by civil authorities is distinct from the military chain of command. NIMS acknowledges that incident command is exercised through chain of command, defined as an orderly line of authority within the ranks of the incident management organization. Incident command may be transferred from one commander to a succeeding one. Transfers of incident command must include a transfer of command briefing (which may be oral, written, or both). A transfer of command occurs when a more qualified person assumes command; the incident situation changes over time, resulting in a legal requirement to change command (e.g., multijurisdictional or interagency involvement; there is normal turnover of personnel on extended incidents; or the incident response is concluded and responsibility is transferred to the home agency.
Incident command is discussed below in terms of single incident command, area command, and unified command.
Single Incident Command
The incident commander has overall responsibility for managing the incident by objectives, planning strategies, and implementing tactics. The incident commander must be fully briefed and should have a written delegation of authority that authorizes him to make decisions. Initially, assigning tactical resources and overseeing operations will be under the direct supervision of the incident commander.
In addition to having overall responsibility for managing the entire incident, the incident commander is specifically responsible for ensuring incident safety, for providing information services to internal and external stakeholders, and for establishing and maintaining liaison with other agencies participating in the incident. The incident commander may appoint one or more deputies, if applicable, from the same agency or from other agencies or jurisdictions. Deputy incident commanders must be as qualified as the incident commander. Personnel assigned as deputies or section chiefs by the incident commander have the authority of their assigned positions, regardless of the rank they hold within their respective agencies.
As incidents expand or contract, change in jurisdiction or discipline, or become more or less complex, command may change to meet the needs of the incident.
Rank, grade, and seniority are not the factors used to select the incident commander. The incident commander is always a highly qualified individual trained to lead the incident response.
Formal transfer of command at an incident always requires a transfer of command briefing for the incoming incident commander and notification to all personnel that a change in command is taking place.
The incident command post
The incident command post (ICP) is a tactical-level, on-scene incident command and management organization established by the incident commander to direct all incident management operations and execute action plans. It quickly establishes working relationships with emergency management agency staffs at city and county levels to avoid redundant resource commitment and mitigate gaps in first response coverage. The ICP provides a standardized on-scene emergency management organization. The organization of the ICP is specifically designed to provide for the adoption of an integrated structure that reflects the complexity and demands of single or multiple incidents, without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries. There is only one ICP per incident, regardless of how geographically large or multi jurisdictional it becomes.
Although the ICP might be initially established by local incident management personnel, its modular configuration allows it to integrate incident personnel, to incorporate additional agencies, or to adapt to multifunctional jurisdiction. Supporting agencies contribute to ICP operations through liaison officers (LNOs).
The ICP is action-oriented. The ICP’s flexible organization allows the incident commander and his subordinates a reasonable span of control, in addition to providing an integrated communication system, common terminology, and common naming conventions for incident personnel.
Basic staff functions
Every incident or event requires that, at a minimum, the following five management functions must be performed: incident command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration. Regardless of the size of the incident, these five management functions still will apply.
For small incidents, the incident commander may perform all five management functions. In fact, the incident commander is the only position that is always staffed in ICS applications.
Basic staff organization
Large incidents or events may require that these functions be delegated to others who organize separate sections. As incidents grow, the incident commander may delegate authority for performance of certain activities to the command staff and the general staff. The incident commander will add positions only as needed.
Section chiefs and deputies
The person in charge of each staff section is designated as a chief. Section chiefs have the ability to expand their section to meet the needs of the situation. Each of the section chiefs may have a deputy or more than one, if necessary. The deputy may assume responsibility for a specific portion of the primary position, work as relief, or be assigned other tasks. The deputy should always be as proficient as the person for whom he works. In large incidents, especially where multiple disciplines or jurisdictions are involved, the use of deputies from other organizations can greatly increase interagency coordination.
Until operations is established as a separate section, the incident commander has direct control of tactical resources. The incident commander will determine the need for a separate operations section at an incident or event. When the incident commander activates an operations section, he assigns an individual as the operations section chief and delegates authority to him.
The operations section chief will develop and manage the operations section to accomplish the incident objectives set by the incident commander. The operations section chief is normally the person with the greatest technical and tactical expertise in dealing with the problem at hand.
The operations function does the tactical fieldwork; consequently, it receives the most incident resources. Often the most hazardous activities are carried out by operations personnel.
The operations section usually develops from the bottom up. The operations section will expand to include needed levels of supervision as more and more resources are deployed. To achieve this expansion and increased span of control, the operations section chief can divide the Operations Section into division, groups, branches, task forces, and strike teams. Figure 2-3 depicts how an operations section might be organized using a division and groups. Figure 2-4 depicts how an operations section might be organized using branches.
The incident commander will determine if there is a need for a planning section and designate a planning section chief. If no planning section is established, the incident commander will perform all planning functions. The planning section chief can activate additional staffing as needed.
The major activities of the planning section may include collecting, evaluating, and displaying incident intelligence and information; preparing and documenting IAPs; conducting long-range and/or contingency planning; developing plans for demobilization; maintaining incident documentation; and tracking resources assigned to the incident.
The planning section can be further divided into four units: resources, situation, documentation, demobilization. the Resources Unit conducts all check-in activities and maintains the status of all incident resources and plays a significant role in preparing the IAP. The Situation Unit collects and analyzes information on the current situation, prepares situation displays and situation summaries, and develops maps and projections. The documentation unit provides duplication services, including the IAP and maintains and archives all incident-related documentation. The demobilization unit assists in ensuring that resources are released from the incident in an orderly, safe, and cost-effective manner.
At some point, the operations section and the rest of the ICS organization will contract based on the achievement of tactical objectives. Demobilization planning begins upon activation of the first personnel and continues until the ICS organization ceases operation.
Technical specialists who provide special expertise useful in incident management and response may also be assigned to work in the planning section. Depending on the needs, technical specialists may also be assigned to other sections in the organization.
The incident commander will determine if there is a need for a logistics section at the incident, and designate an individual to fill the position of the logistics section chief. If no logistics section is established, the incident commander will perform all logistical functions. The size of the incident, complexity of support needs, and the incident length will determine whether a separate logistics section is established. Additional staffing is the responsibility of the logistics section chief.
The logistics section is responsible for all of the services and support needs, including ordering, obtaining, maintaining, and accounting for essential personnel, equipment, and supplies; providing communication planning and resources; setting up food services; setting up and maintaining incident facilities; providing support transportation; and providing medical services to incident personnel.
The logistics section can also be divided into unit. Not all units may be required and should be established based on need. There following six units are possible:
The incident commander will determine if there is a need for a finance/administration section at the incident and designate an individual to fill the position of the finance/administration section chief. If no Finance/administration section is established, the incident commander will perform all finance functions.
The finance/administration section is set up for any incident that requires incident-specific financial management. The finance/administration section is responsible for contract negotiation and monitoring, timekeeping, cost analysis, and compensation for injury or damage to property.
More and more, larger incidents are using a finance/administration section to monitor costs. smaller incidents may also require certain finance/administration support. For example, the incident commander may establish one or more units of the finance/administration section for such things as procuring special equipment, contracting with a vendor, or making cost estimates for alternative response strategies. The finance/administration section can also be divided into units. Not all units may be required and should be established based on need. There following four units are possible:
Area command is an echelon of command management organization between the ICP and the governmental agency executives. Area command does not replace an individual incident commander’s authority and responsibility, but does provide an intermediate dedicated level of command between incident commanders and agency administrators.
The area command’s purpose is to oversee the management of multiple incidents that are each being handled by an ICS organization or to oversee the management of a very large incident that has multiple incident management teams assigned to it.
Area command is used when there are a number of incidents generally in the same area and often of the same kind. For example, an area command might be established when there are hazardous material (HAZMAT) spills at two or more locations in proximity to one another. It is usually these kinds of incidents that may be vying for the same resources. When incidents are of different kinds and/or do not have similar resource demands, they would usually be handled as separate incidents or would be coordinated through an emergency operations center (EOC). If the incidents under the authority of the area command are multi jurisdictional, a unified area command should be established. This allows each jurisdiction to have representation in the area command. Unified commands are discussed below.
Area command is established by the agency executive. When area command is activated, an area commander will be designated and given appropriate delegated authority. The authority given to the area commander should be written as a Delegation of Authority statement. This will eliminate confusion and provide the area commander with authority to oversee the management of the incidents.
The most common situations in which area command has been used are for wild land fires. Area command was also used in response to the Exxon Valdez oil spill.
If the incidents under the area command are in adjacent jurisdictions, then a unified area command should be established. The following could apply to either an area command or a unified area command.
A unified command is used for incidents involving multiple jurisdictions, a single jurisdiction with interagency involvement, or multiple jurisdictions with interagency involvement. Unified command allows agencies to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability. Agencies work together through their designated incident commanders, called an agency incident commander, at a single ICP to establish a common set of objectives and strategies and a single IAP. In the final analysis, however, under a unified command, incident commanders representing agencies or jurisdictions share responsibility for the incident.
A unified command structure is an important element in multijurisdictional or interagency domestic incident management. In a unified command, there is a single incident commander; however, the incident commander is assisted by agency incident commanders. An agency incident commanders is an agency’s senior representative to the ICP. The agency represents a function, a subject matter expert. As such, each agency incident commander exercises authority over his agency personnel.
A unified command establishes a single command structure and provides guidelines to enable agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional responsibilities to coordinate, plan, and interact effectively. Such a command arrangement enables all responsible agencies to manage an incident together by establishing a common set of incident objectives and strategies. It allows incident commanders to make joint decisions by. It maintains unity of command and ensures each employee reports to only one supervisor.
Furthermore, the unified command overcomes much of the inefficiency and duplication of effort that can occur when agencies from different functional and geographic jurisdictions or agencies at different levels of government operate without a common system or organizational framework. It permits all agencies with jurisdictional authority or functional responsibility for any or all aspects of an incident and those able to provide specific resource support to contribute to the process of determining overall incident strategies, selecting objectives, and ensuring that joint tactical planning occurs.
Interagency coordination systems represent the second of the three NIMS components. As stated above, 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, whether the federal coordinating officer (FCO), the state coordinating officer (SCO) or the defense coordinating officer (DCO). Each coordinating officer has the authority to make coordinating decisions within his or her jurisdiction, whether federal, state, or local. Sometimes coordinating officers are dual-hatted with command authority. For example, at the federal level, the federal coordinating officer might also be the principal federal officer empowered to act in behalf of the Secretary of Homeland Security.
When incidents cross functional or jurisdictional boundaries, a interagency coordinating entity may be used to facilitate incident management and policy coordination. Interagency coordinating entities are combinations of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications integrated into a common system with responsibility for coordinating and supporting domestic incident management. Interagency coordinating entities typically consist of principals or their designated representatives from organization and agencies with direct incident management responsibility or with significant incident management support or resource responsibilities.
The primary functions of interagency coordination systems are to support incident management policies and priorities; facilitate logistics support and resource tracking; inform resource allocation decision using incident management priorities; coordinate incident related information; and coordinate interagency and intergovernmental issues regarding incident management policies, priorities, and strategies. As stated above, 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.
Interagency coordination systems consist of coordinating officers, emergency operations center, and coordinating entities.
Typically, for any given incident, each political level of jurisdictionstate, federal, and defensehas a single coordinating officer. Each coordinating officer has a staff that assists him in his coordination responsibilities.
Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs)
Normally, EOCs coordinate information and resources to support incident management activities. EOCs can be organized by function, such as fire, law enforcement, medical, or public works; by jurisdiction, such as municipal, state, regional, or national; or by a combination of both.
EOCs might be permanent organizations and facilities, or they might be established to meet temporary, short-term needs. When in a nonemergency configuration with minimal staffing, EOCs should still be able to perform the five emergency staff functions of command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration. When activated for an incident, EOCs should also be able to perform the functions of coordination; communications; resources dispatch and tracking; and information collection, analysis, and dissemination. When fully-activated, EOCs are typically in support of a specific ICP.
EOCs are coordinating entities, not ICPs even though ICPs might perform EOC-like functions in small incidents or during the initial phase of a response to large, complex incidents.
When incidents cross disciplinary or jurisdictional boundaries or involve complex incident management scenarios, a coordinating entity, such as an emergency management agency, may be used to facilitate incident management and policy coordination.
As stated above, coordinating entities typically consist of agency principals or their designees who have 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. For example, the wild land fire community has such an entity, the Multiagency Coordination Group (MAC) Group. In some situations, EOCs may serve a dual function as a coordination entity.
Regardless of the term or organizational structure used, these entities typically provide strategic coordination during domestic incidents. Specifically, their principal functions and responsibilities include the following:
The most common coordinating entities are state emergency management agencies and FEMA.
Figure 2-5: Map of FEMA regions
The JFO uses an ICS structure as discussed in Chapter 3 to implement the five functions of command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration. The JFO may also incorporate a sixth element focused on intelligence and information. This element may be included as a position in the coordination staff, a unit within the planning section, a branch within the operations section, or as a separate general staff section. The JFO differs from the ICP in that 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. The following personnel staff the JFO:
Figure 2-6: A sample JFO organization for natural disaster
Figure 2-7: A sample JFO organization for terrorist incidents
Public Information Systems
Systems and protocols for communicating timely and accurate information to the public are critical during crisis or emergency situations. This section describes the principles, system components, and procedures needed to support effective emergency public information operations.
Public information officer (PIO). Under the ICS, the 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 response; 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). The JIS In a large-scale operation, the on-scene PIO serves as a field PIO with links to the Joint Information Center (JIC).
JIS. The JIS integrates incident information and public affairs into a cohesive organization designed to provide consistent, coordinated, timely information during crisis or incident operations. The mission of the JIS is to provide a structure and system for developing and delivering coordinated interagency messages’ developing, recommending, and executing public information plans and strategies on behalf of the Incident Commander; advising the incident Commander concerning public affairs issues that could affect a response effort; and controlling rumors and inaccurate information that could undermine public confidence in the emergency response effort. The JIS provides the mechanism for integrating public information activities among JICs discussed below, across jurisdictions, and with private-sector and nongovernmental organizations. It includes the plans, protocols, and structures used to provide information to the public during incident operations and encompasses all public information operations related to an incident, including all federal, state, local, tribal and private organization PIOs, staff, and JICs established to support an incident.
JIC. The JIC is a facility established to coordinate all incident related public information activities. It is typically collocated with the federal, regional, state, or local EOCs and is the central point where public affairs professionals from organizations involved in incident management activities can collocate to perform critical emergency information, crisis communications, and public affairs functions. A single JIC location is preferable, but the system should be flexible and adaptable enough to accommodate multiple JIC locations when the circumstances of an incident require. Multiple JICs may be needed for a complex incident spanning a wide geographic area or multiple jurisdictions.
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. The JIC comprises representatives from each organization involved in the management of an incident. In large or complex incidents, particularly those involving complex medical and public health information requirements, JICs may be established at various levels of government. All JICs must communicate and coordinate with each other on an ongoing basis. Public awareness functions must also be coordinated with the information- and operational-security matters that are the responsibility of the information and intelligence function of the ICS, particularly when public awareness activities may affect information or operations security.
Incident commanders and interagency coordinating entities are responsible for establishing and overseeing JICs including processes for coordinating and clearing public communications. In unified commands, the departments, agencies, organizations, or jurisdictions that contribute to joint public information management do not lose their individual identities or responsibility for their own programs or policies. Rather, each entity contributes to the overall unified message.
Last Reviewed: May 18, 2012