The Incident Command System

Quick Reference

Keys to Emergency Planning

• Form an Emergency Planning Team (include local responders!)

• Conduct a hazard and risk assessment

• Mitigate as many hazards as you can

• Utilize the Incident Command System (ICS)

• Identify training needs and receive training

• Develop procedures for each position (under ICS)

• Gather needed supplies

• Conduct drills

• Have multiple off-site evacuation areas

• Exercise, train and exercise and train some more!

Since the school shootings of the 1990s, the terrorist attacks of 2001, the Station Night Club fire in Rhode Island, the California mudslides, Western wildfires other tragic events, most of us are increasingly aware of the importance of mitigation and emergency preparedness, especially those who are responsible for the safety and security of our children.

Camp owners, administrators and personnel are among those whose shoulders feel the full weight of the responsibility of keeping children safe.

Setting the Stage

I’m assuming that the reader has gone through some of the first steps of Emergency Response Plan (ERP) development such as forming an emergency planning team made up of key staff and local first responders, conducting an assessment of local hazards and mitigating as many of these as possible, establishing multiple off-site evacuation areas and collecting the supplies needed to conduct an effective response.

I have seen many ERPs fail when they were put into action, either during an actual event or through drills and exercises.

Plans that may look good on paper and seem to cover any foreseeable event many times are found wanting when needed the most. Either they are too bulky to be of use in the chaos of an emergency, or personnel are unaware of the roles they are expected to perform.

Through the use of a system of management called The Incident Command System (ICS) camp personnel can alleviate some of these problems and better coordinate their actions with the first responders, parents and the community at large.

I wish to make it clear that this is a quick overview of ICS. For more information camp personnel should ask their local emergency management, fire or police personnel for training opportunities and guidance.

Also, the Federal Emergency Management Agency offers many no cost home study courses in the field of emergency management, including basic ICS, at www.training.fema.gov.

Very simply, all emergencies and disasters have common themes that run through them. It doesn’t matter if a tornado, wildfire, earthquake, mudslide or an armed intruder impacts you — though some of the initial response actions may differ — your overall concerns and possible impacts are the same.

With any of these scenarios you may have deaths, injuries, damage to your structures, problems accounting for and taking care of campers and staff, difficulties communicating within and outside of your camp, or perhaps the need to abandon the camp altogether for a safer area.

Any one or all of these may confront a camp director within a matter of minutes or over the course of hours. In either case factual information must be collected and analyzed, responders must be notified, children must be cared for and the media and parents are going to want information.

Commanding the System

The Incident Command System was born out of the wildfires in the western United States. These fires can envelope large areas of land that necessitate the use of fire crews and equipment from many jurisdictions.

Some of the problems that confront firefighters are: Who’s responsible for direction and control? What’s the overall plan? What equipment is needed and where do we find it? How do we feed and care for the fire crews? And, of course, how much does all this cost? These and other problems have largely been mitigated by the adoption of ICS.

The eight primary elements of ICS are:

Common Terminology: When organizations and agencies have different meanings for terms, it can lead to confusion. For example, most response agencies have done away with “ten codes” and recommend plain English to avoid confusion.

Modular Organization: ICS organizational structure is from the top down. At the very least, every event will have the Command function established. As the event’s needs dictate, additional functional areas may be assigned.

Integrated Communications: Effective two-way communications is critical. Under ICS a common communications plan is used.

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  1. The Incident Command System
  2. Where To Start
  3. Just In Case
  4. Tragedy & Healing
  5. IPDE
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