Following the events of 9/11 and Katrina the Department of Homeland Security fell in love with the Incident Command System (ICS). You can now find ICS for hospitals, schools and yes--emergency management agencies. ICS has been used to plan retirement parties and weddings.
When I was attending an Army training course our class came up with the answer of "22 Trucks" for any problem. Even if it wasn't about logistics, the answer was "22 Trucks." Somehow I feel that we've started to use ICS as the 22 Trucks answer to every problem we encounter. It is as though it is the "Love Potion #9" to everything that ails emergency management and first responders.
Here's my current thinking on ICS:
- ICS is a tool to accomplish something--incident management in the field. It is not a panacea for every issue. It works extremely well for people and organizations that have emergencies and disasters and they need a "hands on response."
- Everyone should have an orientation to ICS so that they know what it is and how it functions, even if they won't ever be expected to function within ICS.
- State emergency management agencies in particular should look at using a hybrid system for organizing their EOCs. This system would include using ICS principals and the National Response Framework of Emergency Support Functions (ESF) because that is how the Feds are organized during response operations.
- In my experience, FEMA may say it is using ICS, but if you look deeply at how a response is functioning - beyond the titles, you will find the program entities running the show versus a pure ICS structure.
- If anyone needs training and practice in using ICS it is the Federal Government. Federal agencies have been slow to conduct training and implement the use of the system for their own departments.
- You should not try to use ICS when it is totally foreign to how you do business day to day and you won't use it except in rare emergencies. It is too difficult to have people retain the nomenclature and structural ideas. Instead, use the principals of ICS and adapt them to your use as it fits your organization. Having an Incident Action Plan (IAP) is a wonderful idea. Call it what you want--but have a plan that gets everyone on the same page.
- ICS needs to learn how to incorporate the information, skills and contributions of the average citizen. It is the future of large and small scale responses here in the United States that people will want to help. We need to be able to channel their efforts to help and not hinder the response. Shutting them out of ICS is the wrong answer!
Lastly, remember that when, as in the song "Love Potion #9" was obtained, the results were not always what was expected.