Having already proven their worth in various parts of the country, All-Hazard Type 3 Incident Management Teams (IMT) are now catching on in other areas — and their growth within the last five years is punctuated by the creation of the All-Hazards Incident Management Teams Association, incorporated in December 2010.
Incident management teams are nothing new, but the All-Hazards IMTs were derived from the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS), both of which started principally after the breakdowns in the response and recovery efforts to hurricanes Katrina and Rita.
The concept is to assemble a trained team that can immediately respond to a major, widespread emergency or catastrophic event anywhere in the nation, and help manage any incident that would extend to multiple days. That could include a tornado, flood, terrorist event or a planned mass gathering.
After Katrina and Rita, there was a sense of urgency to develop All-Hazards teams — but not necessarily the Type 1 and 2 teams developed for wildland firefighting. The credentials and experience for Type 1 and 2 teams take decades to develop, according to Steve Grainer, president of the All-Hazards Incident Management Teams Association.
“Basically DHS and FEMA said, ‘We don’t think we want to wait that long, so we’re going to foster the development of the All-Hazard [Type 3] IMTs.’ It doesn’t matter whether it’s a so-called All-Hazards Type 1 or 2, it’s a function of experience and practice,” Grainer said.
All hazards basically means any incident or event, and that the teams are composed of individuals from various disciplines, including police, fire, public health, public works, emergency medical and even lifeguards in Southern California.
“Basically it’s all discipline as opposed to all hazards,” Grainer said. “An IMT can manage any kind of hazard if it’s a well prepared team.”
FEMA National Incident Management Assistance Team Leader Mike Byrne said the agency is working toward developing more Type 1 teams to deploy to large, catastrophic events, but for now, the growth is in Type 3 teams. The development of the All-Hazards association, he says, is indicative of the value of the All-Hazard Type 3 teams. “People realize they are multipurpose project-execution-capable and we don’t have to reinvent the wheel every time we want a job done,” he said. “You need that core structure to be in place.”
According to the U.S. Fire Administration, the Type 1 IMT is a self-contained team of 35 to 50 people that require decades of experience and training. Type 2 is a self-contained, All-Hazard or wildland teams, ranging from 20 to 35 individuals and are deployed to manage regional incidents like wildfires. And Type 3 teams typically have 10 to 20 trained personnel.
“A reasonable, well constituted All-Hazards Type 3 team is going to consist of 30 to 50 individuals. I’ve seen some organizations that call themselves a team of a dozen folks,” Grainer said. “That’s good for a day or two. Optimally a well developed team is at least three deep in every one of the key command and general staff and significant unit level positions.”
At a minimum, a Type 3 team should consist of: an incident commander; operations section chief; plans section chief; finance section chief; and logistics section chief. It also can include a communications unit leader; food unit leader; medical unit leader; supply unit leader; public information officer; liaison officer and safety officer.
Grainer, who also is the chief of Incident Management Programs for the Virginia Department of Fire Programs, said the number of teams around the country is unknown, but the association is planning to send out a survey this year to get an idea. “We’ve got folks all over the place,” he said. “Here, in Virginia, I’ve got probably seven or eight jurisdictions that say they have a team, but ask them what their team is composed of and what their qualifications are, and they start backtracking. Are there a lot of teams? Yes. But what are their qualifications? That starts to trim the numbers back a little. Some are very good.”
There are many teams in the Southwest, and Texas teams have been managing wildfires, floods and events for several years. Some of those teams have recently managed incidents like the Texas wildfires in 2011, the Alabama tornadoes and the storms in Indiana, to name a few.
Patrick Repman, who heads the Permian Basin Type 3 IMT in Texas, said the team was created to help manage the influx of refugees after Katrina and Rita. Since then, the team has been used to assist a neighboring community during a refinery explosion; aided a community facing potentially catastrophic flooding; and help when a plane carrying both Mexican and United States officials crashed during a reconnaissance flight over the Mexican border.
Teams generally manage resources brought in for the incident and more, including:
• maintenance and upkeep of assets, including food, water, sanitary needs, fuel and equipment;
• tracking costs and other data related to the use of resources;
• provides orderly and manageable systems for the supervision of assets or span of control;
• providing information sharing and management;
• provides a systemic approach to ensuring safety of the resources and the public; and
• provides basic and detailed planning for operational needs, forecasting trends and probabilities and recording the incident scenario as it progresses.
There are guidelines for the necessary training and experience someone needs to join a team, but to a large extent, it’s hypothesis, according to Grainer. Candidates are encouraged to complete certain core ICS and NIMS courses, and to take a course detailed to one of the various positions in a team. A candidate should also initiate a position task book, which is a mechanism whereby a person is evaluated and his or her capabilities and understanding are documented during real operating conditions.
The problem so far with the task book is that there aren’t enough people with the proper experience and qualifications to evaluate others.
“This is one of the challenges — standardization,” Grainer said. “When we say standardization, we also have to acknowledge the fact that we’re not going to be able to adopt a national standard until we know where we want that standard to take us.”
Byrne said standardization is already happening. “We’re saying, if you join one of these teams, here’s a core set of things you need to know to be able to certify or qualify for say, plan session chief. That means you have to have a certain experience that’s been demonstrated and you have to have gone through a certain amount of training. What can you imagine is more NIMS compliant than that?”
The core courses provide standardization across the country, Byrne said, so anyone who has received certification can travel to an incident and know where they fit in and what to expect.
California, with its history of wildfires, has developed a number of efficient Type 1 and 2 teams, but is behind the curve on developing Type 3 teams, according to Brian Fennessy, assistant fire chief of the San Diego Fire-Rescue Department.
Fennessy said developing a Type 3 team has come with certain hurdles, namely credentialing and qualifications. “Incident management teams have for so long been fire-based, and the qualifications and standards really kind of surround the wildland fire community qualifications. It’s difficult to get a law enforcement officer to meet what the fire community views as say, operations chief qualifications.”
Once candidates complete the classroom training, they join Fennessy’s team during a real incident to acquire hands-on training and experience. Last year, the team worked the Texas wildfires and brought with it individuals who shadowed experienced team members. Although it’s called “shadowing,” there are hands-on activities, such as giving briefings to large groups. The hands-on experience during a real incident helps individuals apply what they’ve learned in the classroom.
“The light goes on and they say, ‘Oh, the ICS training,’” Fennessy said. But those field mentorship assignments, as they’re called, are expensive (salaries and overtime are paid through grant funding), and it’s difficult to find a number of people available at the same time. Fennessy said he called 40 to 50 people on his team to respond to the Texas wildfires, but only 12 could go.
At some point, he said, there’s going to be a very large incident in Southern California — whether an earthquake, tsunami or wildfire — and they’ll have to rally the entire group to support the region. “And the locals are going to have to take care of themselves, so I think you’ll see more of these teams develop throughout the state.”
Byrne said he hopes the All-Hazards Type 3 teams continue to gain momentum nationally. “We’re at a tipping point,” he said. “The planets are lined up, there’s been a lot of effort, we have the association. We’re at that point where it will become part of the way we talk about emergency management. It will be foundational in every community.”
He also desires expansion to include the whole community. “I hope to see the use of these types of structures go beyond just government organizations — that [nongovernmental organizations] start to reflect the creation of this structure and that private-sector organizations follow suit, because it’s that important.”