Components of the ICS

The Incident Command System has a number of components. These eights components working together interactively provide the basis for an effective incident management system:

Common Terminology

It is essential for any management system, and especially one which will be used in joint operations by many diverse users, that common terminology be established for the following elements:

  • Organizational Functions – A standard set of major functions and functional units has been predesignated and named for the ICS. Terminology for the organizational elements is standard and consistent.

  • Resource Elements – Resources refer to the combination of personnel and equipment used in tactical incident operations. Common names have been established for all resources used within ICS. Any resource that varies in capability because of size or power, for example, helicopters, engines, or rescue units, is clearly typed as to capability.

  • Facilities – Common identifiers are used for those facilities in and around the incident area that will be used during the course of the incident. These facilities include such things as the command post, incident base, and staging areas.

Modular Organization

The ICS organizational structure develops in a modular fashion based upon the kind and size of an incident. The organization’s staff build from the top down with responsibility and performance placed initially with the incident commander.

As the need exists, four separate sections can be developed, each with several units that may be established. The specific organizational structure established for any given incident will be based upon the management needs of the incident. If one individual can simultaneously manage all major functional areas, no further organization is required. If one or more of the areas requires independent management, an individual is named to be responsible for that area.

For ease of reference and understanding, personnel assigned to manage at each level of the organization will carry a distinctive organizational title:

  • Incident Command “Incident Commander”

  • Command Staff “Officer”

  • Section “Section Chief”

  • Branch “Branch Director” (optional level)

  • Division/Group/Sector “Division/Group/Sector Supervisor”

  • Unit “Unit Leader”

In the ICS, the first management assignments by the initial attack incident commander will normally be one or more section chiefs to manage the major functional areas. Section chiefs will further delegate management authority for their areas only as required. If the section chief sees the need, functional units may be established within the section. Similarly, each functional unit leader will further assign individual tasks within the unit only as needed.

Integrated Communications

Communications at the incident are managed through the use of a common communications plan and an incident based communications center established solely for the use of tactical and support resources assigned to the incident. All communications between organizational elements at an incident should be in plain English. No codes should be used, and all communications should be confined only to essential messages. The communications unit is responsible for all communications planning at the incident. This will include incident-established radio networks, on-site telephone, public address, and off-incident telephone/microwave/radio systems.

RADIO NETWORKS (NETS) – Radio networks for large incidents will normally be organized as follows:

  • Command Net – this net should link together: incident command, key staff members, section chiefs, division and group supervisors.

  • Tactical Nets – there may be several tactical nets. they may be established around agencies, departments, geographical areas, or even specific functions. The determination of how nets are set up should be a joint planning/operations function. The communications unit leader will develop the plan.

  • Support Net – A support net will be established primarily to handle status – changing for resources as well as for support requests and certain other one-tactical or command functions.

  • Ground to Air Net – A ground to air tactical frequency may be designated, or regular tactical nets may be used to coordinate ground to air traffic.

  • Air to Air Nets – Air to air nets will normally be predesignated and assigned for use at the incident.

Unified Command Structure

The need for unified command is brought about because:

  • Incidents have no regard for jurisdictional boundaries. Wildland fires, transportation route incidents, floods, hurricanes, earthquakes, and hazardous material spills usually cause multi-jurisdictional major incident situations.

  • Individual agency responsibility and authority is normally legally confined to a single jurisdiction.

The concept of unified command simply means that all agencies who have a jurisdictional responsibility at a multi-jurisdiction incident contribute to the process of:

  • Determining overall incident objectives Selection of strategies

  • Ensuring that joint planning for tactical activities will be accomplished

  • Ensuring that integrated tactical operations are conducted

  • Making maximum use of all assigned resources.

The proper selection of participants to work within a unified command structure will depend upon:

  • The location of the incident – which political jurisdictions are involved.

  • The type of incident – which functional agencies of the involved jurisdiction(s) are required.

A unified command structure could consist of a key responsible official from each jurisdiction in a multi-jurisdictional situation or it could consist of several functional departments within a single political jurisdiction.

Common objectives and strategy on major multi-jurisdictional incidents should be written. The objectives and strategies then guide development of the plan. Under a unified command structure in the ICS, the implementation of the action plan will be done under the direction of a single individual – the operations chief.

The operations chief will normally be from the agency that has the greatest jurisdictional involvement. Designation of the operations chief must be agreed upon by all agencies having jurisdictional and functional responsibility at the incident.

Consolidated Action Plans

Every incident needs some form of an action plan. For small incidents of short duration, the plan need not be written. The following are examples of when written action plans should be used:

  • When resources from multiple agencies are being used.

  • When several jurisdictions are involved.

  • When the incident will require changes in shifts of personnel and/or equipment.

The incident commander will establish objectives and make strategy determinations for the incident based upon the requirements of the jurisdiction.

In the case of a unified command, the incident objectives must adequately reflect the policy and need of all the jurisdictional agencies. The action plan for the incident should cover all tactical and support activities required for the operational period.

Manageable Span-of-Control

Safety factors as well as sound management planning will both influence and dictate span-of-control considerations. In general, within the ICS, the span-of control of any individual with emergency management responsibility should range from three to seven with a span-of-control of five being established as a rule of thumb. Of course, there will always be exceptions (e.g, an individual medical crew leader will normally have more than five personnel under supervision).

The kind of an incident, the nature of the task, hazard and safety factors, and distances between elements all will influence span-of-control considerations. An important consideration in span-of-control is to anticipate change and prepare for it. This is especially true during rapid build up of the organization when good management is made difficult because of too many reporting elements.

Predesignated Incident Facilities

There are several kinds and types of facilities that can be established in and around the incident area. The determination of kinds of facilities and their locations will be based upon the requirements of the incident and the direction of

Incident Command. The following facilities are defined for use with the ICS:

  • Command Post – Designated as the CP, the command post will be the location from which all incident operations are directed. There should only be one command post for one incident site. In a unified command structure where several agencies or jurisdictions are involved, the responsible individuals designated by their respective agencies would be co-located at the command post. The planning function is also performed at the command post. Normally the communications center would be established at this location. The command post may be co-located with the incident base if communications requirements can be met.

  • Incident Base – The incident base is the location at which primary support activities are performed. The base will house all equipment and personnel support operations, and can support several incident sites. The incident logistics section, which is responsible for ordering all resources and supplies, is also located at the base. There should only be one incident base established; and normally, the base will not be relocated. If possible, incident base locations should always be included in the pre-attack plans. The incident base should be distinguished from a staging area which is a temporary support area.

  • Camps – Camps are locations from which resources may be located to better support incident operations. At camps, certain essential support operations (e.g, feeding, sleeping, sanitation) can be maintained. Also at camps, minor maintenance and service of equipment will be done. Camps may be relocated, if necessary, to meet tactical operations requirements.

  • Staging Areas – Staging areas are established for temporary location of available resources on three-minute notice. Staging areas will be established by the operations chief at each incident site to locate resources not immediately assigned. A staging area can be anywhere in which mobile equipment can be temporarily parked awaiting assignment.

  • Staging areas may include temporary sanitation services and fueling. Feeding of personnel would be provided by mobile kitchens or sack lunches. Staging areas should be highly mobile. The operations chief will assign a Staging Area Manager for each staging area. This manager is responsible for the check-in of all incoming resources; to dispatch resources at the request of the operations chief, and to request logistics section support as necessary for resources located in the staging area.

  • Helibases – Helibases are locations in and around the incident area at which helicopters may be parked, maintained, fueled and loaded with retardants, personnel or equipment. More than one helibase may be required on very large incidents. Once established on an incident, a helibase will usually not be relocated.

  • Helispots – Helispots are more temporary and less used locations than helibases at which helicopters can land, take off, and in some cases, load patients or supplies. They may be co-located near Casualty Collection Points (CCPs).

Comprehensive Resource Management

Resources may be managed in three different ways, depending upon the needs of the incident.

  • Single Resources – These are individual engines, bulldozers, crews, helicopters, plow units, ladders, rescuers or other, that will be assigned as primary tactical units. A single resource will be the equipment plus the required individuals to properly utilize it.

  • Task Forces – A task force is any combination of resources that can be assembled for a specific mission. All resource elements within a task force must have common communications and a leader. The leader sometimes will have a separate vehicle. Task forces should be established to meet specific tactical needs and should be demobilized as single resources.

  • Strike Teams – Strike teams are a set number of resources of the same kind and type that have an established minimum number of personnel. Strike teams will always have a leader (usually in a separate vehicle) and will have common communications among resource elements. Strike teams can be made up of engines, hand crews, plows, water tankers, or any other kind of resource where common elements become a useful tactical resource.