Two weeks ago I had the opportunity to participate in ICS training (Incident Command System) offered by the United States Coast Guard. I was so impressed with the professionalism, enthusiasm, and commitment to protecting our nation’s waterways that was shown by all the “Coasties” that I met during the four-day course. When I sometimes start to wonder if all our efforts are making a difference, all I really need to do is re-energize by spending a little time talking with the amazing people that make up our partner organizations and affiliated agencies.
While you may have heard that ICS training can be a little less than stimulating at times…it really is an essential tool for everyone who wants to work on an oil spill response. It’s the system that our government agencies have agreed on to use to organize the response for any disaster. Therefore a basic knowledge of ICS helps the average citizen to be better prepared for any emergency such as wildfire, earthquake or flood that might occur in their “backyard”. In fact the system works so well, that many non-governmental organizations use the same principles to organize events such as concerts, festivals, and community events (4th of July Fireworks displays, parades, etc.).
If you ask any oil spill response veteran to list the three biggest challenges faced when responding to a large oil spill, they will say, “Communication, communication, communication!”
One of the main objectives of ICS is to solve this problem. It does so by setting up an organization system that is:
- Flexible: Can be scaled to the size of the “event”
- Establishes a Chain of Command: All responders know who their supervisor is (i.e. who they should report to and who will hold them accountable) and all supervisors know who and what information they are responsible for communicating to their staff.
- Establishes a common communications plan that includes use of common terminology and protocols.
- Establishes a single command structure where the most qualified on-scene authority becomes the Incident Commander (single person, mostly in small response) or the Unified Command (Small team of experts that act as single command, larger responses).
- The response is managed by Incident Objectives that are based on the following priorities:
- Human safety
- Incident stabilization & protection of the environment
- Protection of property or commerce
If you are interested in learning more about ICS, there are several free, online courses. They are offered through FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute. Allow approximately 3 hours to take each course. You must complete the course in a single uninterrupted session in order to receive your certificate. If you have to leave the course for a break, do not exit from the course or close your browser window. Follow the links below, and then click on “Interactive Web Based Course” in the upper right corner of the page.
- The Introduction to Incident Command System (ICS-100) introduces the Incident Command System (ICS) and provides the foundation for higher level ICS training. This course describes the history, features and principles, and organizational structure of the Incident Command System. It also explains the relationship between ICS and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS100b.asp
- ICS-200, or ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents, is designed to enable personnel to operate efficiently during an incident or event within the Incident Command System, and provides training on and resources for personnel who are likely to assume a supervisory position within the ICS. http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS200b.asp
- Additionally, IS-700, which provides an overview of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), is useful and provides additional information related to how government, private-sector, and nongovernmental organizations work together during domestic incidents. http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/is/is700a.asp
If you find ICS training helpful, the FEMA website provides other opportunities for additional on line trainings. It can never hurt to be more prepared!