14 Principals
Strengthening Incident Command System Structure
As Management Characteristics – ICS

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a widely applicable management system designed to enable flexible, effective, efficient all-hazards incident management.  By integrating a common and unified emergency planning organizational structure, response operations can be streamlined and coherent.

“If you are not using all 14 principles, you are not using ICS” – ICS is not the organization chart.

ICS is not a “pick and choose” list of things you like. Either you do all 14 principles or you are not doing ICS. Most organizations and senior officials do not understand this.

ICS is not a vest. Putting on a vest that says “Incident Commander” doesn’t mean you are doing ICS. The 14 principles are what indicates you are doing ICS.

Successful Incident Command System deployment – “ICS is based on the following 14 proven management characteristics as principals that contribute to the strength and efficiency of the overall system

  1. Common Terminology

NIMS establishes common terminology that allows different organizations to work together in a wide variety of emergency functions and hazard scenarios.

Common terminology helps by reducing confusion and enhancing interoperability.

This common terminology covers:

      • Organizational Functions: Major functions and units are named and defined using standardized terms
      • Resource Descriptions: Resources (personnel, equipment, teams and facilities) have common naming based on their type and capabilities
      • Incident Facilities: Facilities in an incident area are designated using common terms

2. Modular Organization

Organizational structures for incident management (ICS and EOCs) are modular, meaning that they are each building blocks that are put in place as needed based on an incident’s size, complexity and hazards.

The ICS Commander and EOC director are responsible for the establishment and expansion of the modular organization based on the specific requirements for their incident.

As incident complexity increases, the organizational structure expands and management responsibilities are further divided.

The number of management, supervisory, and support positions expand as needed to meet the needs of the incident

3. Management by Objectives

In an incident, all activities are directed to accomplish defined objectives. This is called Management by Objectives.

Under ICS the Incident Commander (or Unified Command) establishes incident objectives.

Management by objectives includes:

      • Establishing specific, measurable objectives
      • Identifying strategies, tactics, tasks, and activities to achieve the objectives
      • Developing and issuing assignments, plans, procedures and protocols to accomplish tasks
      • Documenting results against objectives to measure performance, facilitate corrective actions, and inform development of objectives for the next operational period

4. Incident Action Planning

Incident action planning guides incident management activities.

Incident Action Plans:

      • Record and communicate incident objectives, tactics, and assignments for operations and support
      • Are recommended for all incidents
      • Are not always written, but a written IAP is increasingly important when an incident or activation:
        • Is likely to extend beyond one operational period
        • Becomes more complex
        • Involves multiple jurisdictions or agencies

5. Manageable Span of Control

Span of control refers to the number of subordinates that directly report to a supervisor.

Maintaining an appropriate span of control ensures effective incident management by enabling supervisors to:

      • Direct and supervise subordinates
      • Communicate with and manage resources
      • The optimal span of control for incident management is one supervisor to five subordinates; however, the 1:5 ratio is only a guideline and effective incident management often calls for different ratios.

When a supervisor’s span of control becomes unmanageable, they can assign subordinate supervisors or redistribute subordinates to manage portions of the organization in order to regain a manageable span of control.

Span of control can change based on:

      • Type of incident
      • Nature of the task
      • Existing hazards and safety factors
      • Distances between personnel and resources

6. Incident Facilities and Locations

The Incident Commander, Unified Command or EOC director establishes incident support facilities for specific purposes.

These facilities are identified and located based on the requirements of the situation.

Incident size and complexity will influence the designation of facilities and locations.

Typical designated facilities include:

      • Incident Command Post (ICP)
      • Incident base
      • Staging Areas
      • Camps
      • Mass casualty triage areas
      • Points-of-distribution
      • Emergency shelters

7.  Comprehensive Resource Management

Maintaining accurate and up-to-date resource inventories and resource tracking are essential components of incident management.

Resources include personnel, equipment, teams, supplies, and facilities available or potentially available for assignment or allocation.

8. Integrated Communications

Integrated communications allow units from diverse agencies to connect, share information and achieve situational awareness.

Incident managers facilitate communications through the development and use of:

      • A common communications plan
      • Interoperable communications processes and systems
      • Systems that include both voice and data links
      • Integrated Communications Planning occurs both before and during an incident to provide equipment, systems, and protocols needed to achieve integrated voice and data communications.

9. Establishment and Transfer of Command

When an incident is anticipated or occurs the organization with primary responsibility for the incident establishes command by designating the Incident Commander (IC) or Unified Command (UC). Command may need to be transferred to a different IC/UC one or more times over the course of a long duration or increasingly complex incident.

The current command determines the protocol for transferring command. This transfer process should always include a briefing for the incoming IC/UC on all essential information for continuing safe and effective operations. The transfer of command should also be communicated to all incident personnel.

10. Chain of Command and Unity of Command

Chain of command refers to the orderly command hierarchy within an incident management organization.

Unity of command means that each individual reports to only one designated supervisor.

These principles:

      • Clarify reporting relationships
      • Eliminate confusion caused by conflicting instructions
      • Enable incident managers at all levels to direct the actions of all personnel under their supervision

11. Unified Command

In some incidents the Incident Command function is performed by a Unified Command (UC).

UC is typically used for incidents involving:

      • Multiple jurisdictions
      • A single jurisdiction with multiagency involvement
      • Multiple jurisdictions with multiagency involvement
      • UC allows agencies with different authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability.

12. Accountability

Accountability for all resources during an incident is essential.

Incident management personnel should adhere to principles of accountability, including:

      • Check-in/checkout
      • Incident action planning
      • Unity of command
      1. Personal responsibility
        Span of control
        Resource tracking

13. Dispatch/Deployment

Resources should deploy only when requested and dispatched through established procedures by appropriate authorities.

Resources that authorities do not request should not deploy spontaneously – unrequested resources can overburden the IC/UC and increase accountability challenges.

14. Information and Intelligence Management

Incident-related information and intelligence is managed by the incident management organization through established processes for:

      • Gathering
      • Analyzing
      • Assessing
      • Sharing
      • Managing

Information and intelligence management includes identifying essential elements of information (EEI). EEI ensures incident personnel gather the most accurate and appropriate data, translate it into useful information, and communicate it with appropriate personnel.

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