The terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, caused the nationwide emergency-management community to examine how it operates. The result was the National Incident Management System.
As the 10-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon draws near, the emergency-management community at all levels of government is reflecting on the lessons learned from the events of Sept. 11, 2001. The National Incident Management System (NIMS), which was born in the wake of the attacks, represents a set of concepts and principles that answer how to manage disasters and emergencies regardless of their cause, size, location or complexity.
As a result, NIMS is this nation’s blueprint for effective and efficient incident management. It provides a consistent, nationwide approach and vocabulary for federal, state, tribal and local governments to work together to prepare for, respond to and recover from domestic incidents.
Since 2005, as a condition to receive federal preparedness assistance, states and local organizations were required to adopt NIMS and report their progress regarding its adoption and implementation through the NIMS Compliance Assistance Support Tool (NIMSCAST). This is a free, Web-based, self-assessment that allows states, tribes, local governments and response organizations to evaluate and report achievement of NIMS implementation activities. NIMSCAST assessments are due prior to the end of each fiscal year. These assessments assist with grant eligibility and award determinations the following year.
In June 2004, the National Integration Center (NIC), a component of the (FEMA). The center collaborates with federal, state, tribal, and local partners to provide strategic direction for and oversight of NIMS, including the continuous refinement and maintenance of the system and its components, as well as its implementation.— which also was created in response to the 9/11 attacks — established the
States and territories have an important role in ensuring effective NIMS implementation. One responsibility is to ensure that the systems and processes needed to communicate and support NIMS concepts and principles at all jurisdictional levels are in place. In some instances, tribal nations or local governments may not have the resources to implement NIMS elements on their own. States and territories support their efforts by encouraging them to cooperate with other localities and response agencies in their regions, and to pool their resources to implement NIMS.
A basic premise of NIMS is that all incidents begin and end locally. The federal government supports state, tribal and local authorities when their resources are overwhelmed or anticipated to be overwhelmed. In such situations, the federal government coordinates assistance to affected authorities. Federal support is most efficient when all participating organizations — regardless of level of government or response discipline — practice NIMS.
The NIC has identified activities that assist NIMS implementation. The activities are categorized by the essential components of NIMS: preparedness; communications and information management; resource management; and command and management. Let’s examine each of these components individually.
Preparedness. NIMS outlines a set of processes for incident management that is flexible and scalable. Agencies can adapt NIMS to meet changing incident needs or to allow for the integration of resources from other agencies and jurisdictions through mutual-aid agreements. These agreements are very important as they facilitate rapid, short-term deployment of emergency support prior to, during, and after an incident.
In 2005, the NIC teamed up with the National Fire Service Intrastate Mutual Aid System (IMAS) to tie local fire districts and departments into statewide mutual-aid networks. The IMAS initiative provides assistance to state fire chiefs associations to develop formal, comprehensive mutual-aid plans for the efficient mobilization and deployment of fire service assets to incidents within their states. These plans identify a mutual-aid model that is both adoptable and adaptable to the needs of other emergency services and disciplines.to develop a
In the first year, 10 states agreed to participate in the project. At present, IMAS has completed plans in 22 states and is actively working with all remaining states and territories to develop their plans. The IMAS initiative has extended to tribal nations as well. The IMAS project strengthens the foundation for effective interstate mutual aid by assuring that individual states are experienced in providing mutual aid within their own boundaries.
In February 2008, the NIC released its “Five-Year NIMS Training Plan” to help state, tribal and local governments build and strengthen their respective NIMS training programs. (Revised training guidance is forthcoming from the NIC.) In conjunction with state and local authorities, local response agencies should use hazard/threat analyses to determine the types of incidents most likely to occur, in order to tailor their training programs to meet their needs.
In addition, FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute offers the following courses related to NIMS and the Incident Command System via its free online independent study program:
IS-700 National Incident Management System: An Introduction
ICS-100 Introduction to Incident Command System
Both courses are taught in a classroom setting as well. Classroom deliveries can be coordinated through local, tribal and state training and/or emergency management agencies.
The NIMS training program is just one element of a continuous cycle of planning, organizing, equipping, exercising, evaluating, and taking corrective action. Exercises are necessary to assess and improve performance in preparation for major incidents or events.
Exercises are opportunities to test the training of response personnel and to practice prevention, protection, response and recovery capabilities. Successful implementation of NIMS depends on exercises that integrate all personnel, teams and resources that are identified in state or local strategic and operations plans.
Communications and information management. NIMS requires that agencies involved in a multijurisdictional response use plain-language communications — both oral and written — because doing so “ensures that information dissemination is timely, clear, acknowledged and understood by all intended recipients.” NIMS defines plain language as “communication that can be understood by the intended audience and meets the purpose of the communicator, and which is designed to eliminate or limit the use of codes and acronyms, as appropriate, during incident response involving more than a single agency.”
In 2008, the NIC recognized that the transition to plain-language communications can be difficult for response agencies and conducted a case study of the Mesa (Ariz.) Police Department, which had begun the transition from the use of “10 codes” in daily operations to the use of plain-language communications.
To minimize confusion and ensure that all officers were able to speak plainly during multiagency responses, the department instituted a plain-language requirement for day-to-day operations. While mutual aid and collaboration is common practice for the police departments in the region surrounding Mesa, the practice of using plain language when communicating in response to an incident was new. By incorporating plain language into daily operations, Mesa’s personnel confidently can provide support and communicate with other jurisdictions, making them a valuable asset to the region.
The DHS since has published a plain-language guide, “Making the Transition from Ten Codes to Plain Language,” which outlines an approach for emergency response agencies, localities, and states to replace coded-language radio transmissions with plain language. This guide explains why response agencies should adopt plain language, identifies the processes for making the practice of plain language a reality and identifies the resources necessary for the transition.
Resource management. Careful management of resources is essential before, during and after incidents. NIMS describes standardized resource-management practices. When used in conjunction with mutual-aid agreements, such practices allow for the effective sharing and integration of critical resources — equipment and personnel — across jurisdictions.
For expertise and input regarding NIMS support guidance and job aides related to resource management, the NIC has relied on 300 practitioners from state, tribal and local governments, as well as the private sector, to assist in defining 120 resource types and nearly 150 job titles. State, tribal and local response agencies rely on these definitions to identify and inventory their own equipment, personnel and teams.
Command and management. This component may be the most recognized within NIMS, as it outlines the systems and processes for creating standardized operations through consistent terminology and established organizational structure. NIMS relies on the concepts of the Incident Command System, Multiagency Coordination System and public information for effective and efficient incident command and management.
FEMA offers a variety of all-hazards training to support the adoption and implementation of ICS. The NIC identified much of this training as NIMS implementation activities. As a result, response personnel may likely recognize the following training courses:
- ICS-100: Introduction to Incident Command System
- ICS-200: ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
- ICS-300: Intermediate ICS for Expanding Incidents
- ICS-400: Advanced ICS
FEMA, however, through EMI, also administers the All-Hazards Position Specific Training Program to provide additional training that is needed by personnel who are responsible for managing non-routine and complex incidents. This program focuses on the ability of response personnel to assume particular position responsibilities, lead assigned personnel, communicate effectively and ensure the completion of assigned tasks in order to meet pre-identified objectives.
Currently, the NIC is working to develop the following guidance in support of ICS implementation:
- Emergency Response Field Operations Guide
- Area Command Guide
- Multiagency Coordination System Guide
Public information consists of the processes and procedures to communicate incident-related information to responders and the public alike in a timely and accurate manner. Difficulties often arise because public information must be coordinated and integrated across various jurisdictions, agencies and organizations. These include among federal, state, tribal and local governments; response agencies; and the private sector.
In November 2007, the NIC released “Basic Guidance for Public Information Officers,” which provides fundamental guidance for any person or group that is delegated PIO responsibilities. This guidance identifies how to perform such duties within ICS and operate an effective Joint Information System.
In the decade since the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the creation of DHS and NIMS has changed emergency management. FEMA, through the NIC, is dedicated to the definition, the implementation and the continuous improvement of incident-management practices. As a result, all levels of government have taken critical steps to train and certify emergency management and incident response personnel to use common incident management standards, practices and procedures as called for in NIMS. Recognizing the diversity of the NIMS user community and the varied levels of implementation that are underway, FEMA must continue to engage its public and private partners to ensure that the nation successfully moves from initial implementation to enthusiastic sustainment of the incident management best practices identified in NIMS.
Marc C. Tagliento is a program specialist with the Policy, Doctrine Coordination Branch of FEMA’s National integration Center (NIC). He primarily oversees NIMS implementation and outreach, and was a principle developer of the NIMS Compliance Assistance Support Tool (NIMSCAST).
- NIMS: The Lasting Legacy of 9/11
- Fire Departments Slow to Adopt NIMS
- National Response Plan Released, Training Begins