Incident Command System (ICS)

The National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS) is a national system that integrates common communication terminology, training, qualifications, and supporting technology to insure that emergency agencies can communicate and work together anywhere in the United States for any type of emergency (wildfire, tornado, flood, hurricane, hazardous waste spill). The backbone of NIIMS is the Incident Command System.

The Incident Command System (ICS) provides an organizational chart of all the jobs that may be needed during an emergency.

With the Georgia Forestry Commission, for instance, every wildfire has an Incident Commander (IC). On a small wildfire the IC is a County Ranger with a tractor-plow unit. These resources are usually enough to extinguish most wildfires in Georgia.

If a fire situation increases in size or complexity, though, the District Forester or the State Forest Fire Chief becomes the Incident Commander and additional resources may be requested for the following support:

Logistics
People to provide meals and repair equipment
Planning
People to plan for needed resources
Operations
People to be in charge of the ground forces
Finance
People to keep up with expenses and time

Interagency cooperation plays an important role in filling all of these positions. There are some operational differences managing a large wildfire versus a small one, but the management principles are the same.

An important part of the Incident Command System is the Unified Command concept.


Unified Command

A wildfire may become so large it crosses jurisdictional boundaries. Several agencies may be involved and each agency may have different policies and responsibilities.

The Georgia Forestry Commission (GFC) is responsible for wildfire suppression in the State of Georgia. Rural and city fire departments are charged to protect their communities. Timber companies are responsible for protecting their forest investments. Federal land managers are charged to manage nationally owned forest lands. If fire threatens safety on a roadway, the Department of Transportation, Georgia State Patrol, and county Sheriff(s) are responsible for traffic safety. The Georgia Emergency Management Agency (GEMA) helps when emergencies overwhelm local government. The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) helps when emergencies overwhelm the states. In an emergency situation, all resources are needed to work together to protect life and property.

In a Unified Command situation the agency with jurisdiction over the incident would serve as Incident Commander (IC). The agency with the next most responsible jurisdiction would serve as Deputy IC, or each agency involved would appoint representatives from each jurisdiction to a panel to discuss how to best handle the incident. The panel sets priorities for protection of life, property, and natural resources until all agencies involved are satisfied.


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