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Understanding The Ics Incident Command System

Hurricane season is officially here. In these post-Katrina times and in light of the recent BP oil spill, the arrival of Hurricane Alex has caused considerable anxiety. Whenever a natural disaster threatens US soil, it is a good time to recognize and review the United States’ Incident Command System (ICS), a service created to help Americans during these turbulent situations.

The ICS was created in 1970 in response to a massive wildfire outbreak in California. During this disaster, a number of separate emergency agencies responded, but were unable to work as a cohesive unit. Each agency has their own system, hierarchy, and best practices, leading to widespread communication issues. Their inability to work effectively ultimately prolonged the disaster, resulting in a large death toll and significant infrastructure damage. It became clear to the government and general public, that the different agencies were not equipped to work as a collective when they needed to. This inability posed a major threat to the safety of American citizens. Thus the ICS was created to resolve the following issues:

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  • A lack of order & accountability
  • Poor communication
  • An unclear chain of command

According to the Center of Excellence in Disaster Humanitarian Assistance, the ICS is a set of “a set of personnel, policies, procedures, facilities, and equipment, integrated into a common organizational structure designed to improve emergency response operations of all types and complexities.” In layman’s terms, the ICS provides a common first-on-the-scene structure for emergency response organizations. It designates everything from incident command vest usage to injury triage. The ICS allows for separate agencies to operate together efficiently using common emergency practices thus reducing miscommunications and general chaos.

Today the ICS is a scalable emergency response organization. Its purpose is to maximize the effectiveness of emergency responders by creating a cohesive network of the different agencies. Situations that merit ICS intervention vary widely, from emergency medical situations such as a car crashes, to terrorist attacks, search and rescue operations, and wide-spread natural disasters such as a floods, fires or hurricanes.

Richard Condon is the Director of Safety Depot, a wholesale supplier of safety gear, including ANSI regulation safety vests, reflective jackets, and hi visibility rain gear.

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