The Incident Command System

In the event of a disaster, leadership for emergency management is assumed and maintained by local government officials. However, due to differences between the structures of the many state, federal, and other response agencies involved in response and recovery efforts, a standardized system for communication, command, and control is required.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized hierarchical structure that allows for a cooperative response by multiple agencies, both within and outside of government, to organize and coordinate response activities without compromising the decision-making authority of local command. ICS ensures that the most pressing needs are met, and that precious resources are used without duplication or waste.

The Role of ICS

The primary role of ICS is to establish planning and management functions for responding partners to work in a coordinated and systematic approach. These functions can include:

    • using common terminology,
    • integrating communication media,
    • creating a unified command structure,
    • coordinating resource management and allocation, and
    • planning.

The function of ICS includes assigning one central coordinator, the incident commander, to manage response activities by assigning personnel, deploying equipment, obtaining additional resources, and coordinating with participating partners as needed. The incident commander delegates emergency management responsibilities as needed, and thereby maintains necessary focus on the overall picture of the disaster situation. Often, the incident commander is the local fire chief or commissioner.

Unified Command

Unified Command within ICS is used when there is a multi-agency response during a large disaster. Unified Command allows for the integration of local, state, and federal agencies to operate under one overall management structure with greater authority.

ICS functions are performed in a facility called the Command Center or Operations Center from which emergency management operations are conducted.

ICS Management Systems

    1. The Command Section is responsible for developing, directing, and maintaining communication and collaboration with the multiple agencies on site, and working with the local officials, the public, and the media to provide up-to-date information regarding the disaster.

    2. The Operations Section handles tactical operations, coordinates the command objectives, and organizes and directs all resources to the disaster site.

    3. The Planning Section provides the necessary information to the Command Center to develop the action plan that will accomplish the objectives. They also collect and evaluate information as it is made available.

    4. The Logistics Section provides personnel, equipment, and support for the Command Center. They handle the coordination of all services involved in the response, from locating rescue equipment to coordinating the response for volunteer organizations.

    5. The Finance Section is responsible for accounting for funds used during the response and recovery aspect of the disaster. They monitor costs related to the incident and provide accounting analyses.

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For More Information

More information on about ICS can be accessed online at: