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Managing Multiple Incidents Through ICS

Posted on Mon, Feb 18, 2013

Managing a single incident can be challenging.  Managing multiple incidents demands an organized, coordinated, and thoroughly exercised response plan. The ability to restore “normal” operations and minimize the impact of the incidents requires dedicated emergency management preparedness with a thorough understanding of response capabilities, both internal and external.

“Emergency management describes the science of managing complex systems and multidisciplinary personnel to address extreme events, across all hazards, and through the phases of mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery.”  - U.S Department of Health and Human Services, Public Health Emergency Division

The main objective in a multi-faceted incident is to identify safety and security concerns as soon as possible. This will potentially limit any impact to responders and others in the area.  In the event that multiple incidents occur simultaneously, the following priorities should be considered:

Priority 1:      Threat to or loss of human life

Priority 2:      Threat to the public or the environment

Priority 3:      Threat to the company’s reputation

Priority 4:      Threat to or loss of company property

The use of the Incident Command System (ICS), a common organizational structure designed to aid in incident management activities, should be implemented to coordinate multiple responders under a single framework. Utilizing ICS can consolidate a response that includes multiple combinations of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communication methods. According to FEMA, ICS can be used for a broad spectrum of incidents, from routine to complex, by all levels of government, including Federal, State, tribal, and local, as well as nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) and the private sector.

The following core ICS concepts can greatly assist in the overall response of a multiple incident or crisis event and should be incorporated into any preparedness program.

  • Common terminology - use of similar terms and definitions for resource descriptions, organizational functions, and incident facilities across disciplines.
  • Integrated communications - ability to send and receive information within an organization, as well as externally to other disciplines.
  • Modular organization -response resources are organized according to their responsibilities. Assets within each functional unit may be expanded or contracted based on the requirements of the event.
  • Unified command structure - multiple disciplines work through their designated managers to establish common objectives and strategies to prevent conflict or duplication of effort.
  • Manageable span of control - response organization is structured so that each supervisory level oversees an appropriate number of assets (varies based on size and complexity of the event) so it can maintain effective supervision.
  • Consolidated action plans - a single, formal documentation of incident goals, objectives, and strategies defined by unified incident command.
  • Comprehensive resource management - systems in place to describe, maintain, identify, request, and track resources.
  • Pre-designated incident facilities - assignment of locations where expected critical incident-related functions will occur.

In order to minimize various strategies and objectives, an incident response should be directed by one Incident Commander (IC). This IC is responsible for overseeing the entire scope of the incident.  This authority directs incident activities, including the development and implementation of strategic decisions and approves the ordering and releasing of resources. In a multi-incident scenario, each incident may require different allocated resources or an abundance of the same resource. In order to allocate appropriate resources in an optimal manner, the response plan should identify initial and alternate suppliers and available equipment. As multiple incidents occur and resource conflicts and lack of availability become more likely, it is important that the incident- management teams continue to function as an umbrella organization to designate response activities.

The IC should remain focused on the cumulative impacts of the incident on the company, as well as on the details of each incident. Incident management team (IMT) managers should oversee a specific response team, and integrate and coordinate the multiple functions required for plan effectiveness and efficiency. The IMT managers should remain in communication with each other, monitoring each ongoing incident, prioritizing associated response activities, and continue to inform the IC of the status and requirements of their response.

For an understanding of the necessary elements in creating an effective fire pre plan, download our Fire Pre Planning Guide.

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Tags: Emergency Management, Crisis Management, Incident Management