Story and photos by PA2 Luke Pinneo 

Here, there are systems within systems. There is order, development - and there is evolution.

It is organically structured within a flexible membrane that allows for change. When placed under stress, all elements morph and adapt until the entire system restructures itself toward higher levels of productivity.

What sounds like something described in a field ecologist's notebook, is instead an emergency response strategy designed and used by U.S. government officials. It is the Incident Command System, and is known to many responders simply as the ICS.

Though it has many uses, a common application of the ICS is responding to oil spills.

In such cases, scores of agencies will flock together to form structures that upon close inspection will often ironically resemble the ecosystems they were formed to protect.

Here, in the case of a spill, there are many diverse parts with different functions: state and local, community groups and trustees, federal agencies - all fused together with a common cause: protect the marine environment. In some cases, the differences between agencies are subtle. Other times, they are more obvious, especially if a spill occurs in a body of water near the border of two countries.

The Passamaquoddy Bay, which empties into the Bay of Fundy, Canada, to the north and into the Gulf of Maine to the south, is a crystal clear example of where this becomes a paramount issue.

"Fish and other marine life don't recognize the border so if there's extreme impact on one side versus the other, everybody's resources are impacted," said U.S. Coast Guard Cmdr. Wyman Briggs, of the Coast Guard First District in Boston .

Briggs is the assistant chief of the incident management branch of the First District, which spans from New Jersey to the Maine/Canada border.

In his job, if there were ever an oil spill in or even close to the Gulf of Maine - it would be his business.

Briggs has served with the Coast Guard for nearly 20 years, half of which he's devoted to the service's environmental protection mission. Armed with an environmental science undergraduate degree and an environmental policy masters degree from Harvard University, he has battled such monster spills as the Exxon Valdez in 1989, and others ranging from 60,000 to 100,000 gallons, each in geographically diverse environments.

His connection to the Gulf of Maine has deeper roots than just the job. As a boy, he said he spent many summers along the coast of Maine fishing, hiking and absorbing the natural splendor of the land.

It made such an impression on him that he chose to stay. He now works at the district building in downtown Boston, and at the end of every day he drives nearly three hours north- back home to Portland, Maine.

The job provides him with a chance to give back to the land. Recently in September 2007, he, other Coast Guardsmen, and a number of agencies and responders from both sides of the U.S./Canadian border met for a week in New Brunswick to train in a true-to-life oil spill scenario. The exercise was designed to resemble a real oil spill where many agencies from the U.S. and Canada would respond. The real challenge that was soon evident to Briggs and others was that the ICS was not used during the drill, but rather Canada's brand-new RMS (Response Management System).

Briggs admitted the RMS was about 80 percent the same as ISC in both structure and function, but the enormous drawback was