The Incident Command System (ICS) is a tool used to standardize on-scene, all-hazards incident management. ICS allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications, operating within a common organizational structure for more effective incident response. Utilizing ICS allows Incident Commanders (IC) to develop incident-specific strategic objectives and facilitate response procedures to ensure a streamlined, effective, and safe response.
The incident may dictate response plan modifications. Early incident evaluations enable the IC to evaluate and determine the appropriate activation level of site personnel, prescribe the necessary sequence of events, and implement appropriate processes. Number of personnel required to staff an onsite Emergency Response Team will depend on the facility operations, and size and complexity of the incident.
Corporate response structures should reflect ICS principles, yet a facility's IC should be authorized the flexibility to modify a response and organizational structure as necessary to accomplish the incident response mission. As a result, company procedures may be altered to align within the context of the ICS and address a particular hazard scenario.
The Incident Commander should be responsible for directing the response activities and be trained to assume the duties of all the primary positions until the role(s) can be handed off to assigned response team members, or delegated to other qualified personnel. The more knowledgeable individuals are of their response roles and responsibilities, the better prepared a team can be to implement a streamlined response. Effective incident command should be maintained from the beginning to the end of operations, particularly if command is transferred. Any lapse in the continuity of command and the transfer of information may reduce the effectiveness of the response.
Incident Commander responsibilities may include, but are not limited to:
- Activate the Emergency Response team
- Activate additional response contractors and local resources
- Evaluate the severity, potential impact, safety concerns, and response requirements based on the initial information provided by the first person on-scene.
- Confirm safety aspects at site, including need for personal protective equipment, ignition sources, and potential need for evacuation.
- Communicate and provide incident briefings to company superiors, as appropriate.
- Coordinate/complete additional internal and external notifications.
- Communicate with Emergency Response Team, as the situation demands
- Direct response and cleanup operation
Priorities of an Incident Commander should include, but are not limited to the following:
Early evaluation and continual incident updates: Through early and continual progress evaluations of current conditions, the IC can establish and alter an incident action plan to counteract the circumstances. The consideration of population and responder safety should be incorporated into every evaluation, response tactic, and impact forecast.
Effective communications: The ability to receive and transmit information, obtain reports to maintain situational awareness, and communicate with all components within the incident response organization is essential to ensure effective supervision and effective response controls.
Strategic decisions: The response team’s risk level is driven by incident circumstances and impeding response strategy. An offensive strategy places members in interior positions where they are likely to have direct contact with the incident or hazard. While an offensive strategy may result in a more timely response, the IC must ensure the team’s training level is adequate with this type of approach. A defensive strategy removes members from interior positions and high-risk activities. The defensive approach may minimize incident escalations until properly trained responders arrive at the scene. The IC, in conjunction with the response plan, may assign basic positioning and functions of internal and external responders and allocates necessary resources at the scene or emergency incident.
Tactical-level management: Tactical response management centers around the tactics used to implement the strategy. The IC may utilize tactical-level management from within the facility or from an off-site command center. Tactical response team members may include operational, communications, safety manager, liaison officers, and/or other managing supervisors. The response team is able to monitor responders while the response is being done and can provide the necessary support. However, it is the responsibility of the IC to ensure tactical objectives are completed effectively. The initial objective priorities of tactical management should include:
- Removing endangered occupants (evacuation or shelter in place), and attend to injured individuals
- Stabilizing the incident to minimize expansion
- Providing for the safety, accountability, and welfare of personnel
- Protecting the environment
- Protecting property
For tips and best practices on designing a crisis management program, download Tips for Effective Exercises.