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Incident Command System in Disaster Management

Executive Summary
The very studies that has been done on ICS in the U.S, and published in peer-reviewed journals indicate that there are several factors that have to be considered in understanding the science behind ICS. The state of science in ICS can be placed into the following categories: leaders within the system, individual organization, individual participants, the response network, how the system is implemented, and the local area.
Concerning the state of practice and science behind ICS the structure of the ICS is should include the following components for it work properly. These components include common terminology, a modular organization, integrated communications, unity of command, a unified structure, consolidated Incident Action Plan (IAPs), a manageable span of control, designated incident facilities, and comprehensive resource management.
Emergency departments that have used the ICS have found it effective despite the criticisms that have been leveled against the system. The departments that have used the system have learnt a valuable lesson, while saving resources and time. Integrating the theory of the ICS in the daily operations of an organization assist agencies in responding to emergency situations quicker.

Incident Command System in Disaster Management
            The U.S Department of Homeland Security, after its creation in 2002, came up with two key policy documents. The first policy document was NIMS (National Incident Management System), which was meant to encourage the utilization of specific crisis policy tools, and the second policy documents was ICS (Incident Command System) (Jensen & Waugh, 2014). NIMS basically provide details on the characteristics of ICS, and the logic used to defend its application. The ICS is just a structural system that is aimed at making responding to crises easier. This system places all the authority on a central command system that controls all the organizations under ICS during emergency operation, logistics, finance/administration, and planning (Jensen & Waugh, 2014).
Summary of the State Of Science of the Incident Command System
            The little research that has been done on ICS in the U.S, and published in peer-reviewed journals indicate that there are several factors that have to be considered in understanding the science behind ICS. The state of science in ICS can be placed into the following categories: leaders within the system, individual organization, individual participants, the response network, how the system is implemented, and the local area (Wilson, 2013). Concerning individual participants, studies have shown that understanding the characteristics of people who take part in the response process is crucial in knowing the uses of ICS, and whether it is effective. Research indicates that the ICS is most effective when people working in the system are paid and have job security (Jensen & Waugh, 2014).
In addition, studies have shown that the ICS is most effective when people taking part in it have proper training. In regard to individual organizations, studies have found that understanding the overall usefulness of ICS require the understanding of both per-incident and pre-incident characteristics (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006). The usefulness of ICS in responding to emergency situations requires the organizations involved to train all the employees in the organization. Moreover, for organizations to respond effectively to an emergency using ICS, they need to carryout drills or exercises based on the provisions of ICS (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006).
Understanding the science behind ICS also requires an understanding of leaders in the system. Studies done on ICS have found that several factors related to people in the ICS are useful in understanding the effectiveness of ICS and the people and organizations within it. Some leadership traits have been found to be useful in improving the efficiency of the system compared to others (Wilson, 2013). For example, leaders who improve the effectiveness of ICS have been found to possess characteristics such as responsibility, accountability, flexibility, technical competence, and adaptive management style. However, for the system to be useful, leaders must have interacted with one another before collaborating in responding to incidents (Moynihan, 2008).
Apart from the character of the leader, the decision making capability of leaders also affect the usefulness and effectiveness of the ICS. Studies that have examined the ICS have noted that the pre-incident traits and characteristics unique to an incident affect the usefulness and effectiveness of the ICS. Evidence indicates that ICS is more likely to work best when there are few organizations taking part in the response process (Villa, 2013). In addition, the ICS works best when there is enough staff to support the functions of ICS, and this staff remains capable in the entire emergency response process. It is important for the agencies in the ICS response network to have a worked together before an incident that require collaboration (Wilson, 2013).
Apart from the pre-incident and incident-related characteristics mentioned above, the local area where an incident has taken place is another factor that determines the usefulness and effectiveness of the ICS. For example, some studies have found that communities that have emergency management system in place respond well to the disaster management efforts made by the ICS (Kim, Sharman, Cook-Cottone, & Rao, 2012). The emergency incident or the hazard event also determines the usefulness and effectiveness of the response systems found in the ICS. Studies have found that ICS is not always effective in responding to all types of emergencies as initially thought. On the contrary, studies have found that the ICS works best in common emergency situations, and not large scale emergency situations such as big humanitarian crisis, catastrophes and disasters (Wilson, 2013).
Experts in emergency response have generally praised the ICS for its effectiveness. Proponents of the ICS have supported it mainly because of the control and command capability of the system, while the opponents of the system have criticized the system because of the poor coordination between agencies and different levels of governments responding to the disaster (Wilson, 2013). The debate on the ICS has become important because at the time, 2006, the federal government was planning to make the ICS the central law in disaster management and operation. The opponents argued that if the government implemented the ICS with the problems it was having at the time, the use of ICS may have aggravated the difficulty experienced in organizing emergency response (Wilson, 2013).
Social scientists and experts in disaster management and response have identified the difference between agent-generated demands and response generated demands. Agent-generated demands refer to the demands that are unique to the incident, and cannot be predicted. On the other hand, response-generated demands refer to the demands that are generated by the act of responding to disasters (Wilson, 2013). These demands can be addressed by strategic planning during the preparation and mitigation stages of disaster management planning. Those who support the ICS, consider the model to be the most effective approach of coming up with management models that are universally applicable. The critics of the ICS have argued that the system often fail to recognized the organized responders such as volunteers (Minnesota Department of Public Safety, 2004).
Some scholars have observed that the ICS works best when it is aimed at a goal that is reasonable, consistent, and clear. This is why the ICS works best for specialized emergency responders such as firefighters. In large disasters, the effectiveness of ICS is significantly reduced (The Statewide Radio Board, 2012). Other types of scenarios that studies have found the ICS to work poorly in include disasters that require response from multiple agencies; disasters that generate multiple demands; and trying to satisfy contrary goals that cannot be reconciled and anticipated (The Statewide Radio Board, 2012).
The State Of Practice or Science in the ICS
            The structure of the ICS is made up of parts that ensure speedy and effective resource commitment and lowers the disruption of regular operation procedures and policies in the responding organizations. The practice and science behind the ICS has been tested and proven effective to responding agencies at all levels of the government. Moreover, the training that the ICS provides makes sure that all the people involved in response are trained and familiar with the principles that govern the working of the ICS (Moynihan, 2008). The structure of the ICS is should include the following components for it work properly. These components include common terminology, a modular organization, integrated communications, unity of command, a unified structure, consolidated Incident Action Plans (IAPs), a manageable span of control, designated incident facilities, and comprehensive resource management (Moynihan, 2008).
Having shared or common terminology is a crucial aspect of emergency management, especially when they are several responders taking part in the management. In cases where agencies have terminologies that are different, then inefficiency and confusion are the results. The terminology used by the ICS is similar and consistent across all the agencies that are involved in disaster management (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006). In preventing confusion when there several emergency incidents at the same time within the same locality, or when the same channel of communication is use at the same time to address multiple incidents, then the commander in charge of the incident will refer to his/her incident using names during communication (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006).
The principle of modular organization operates from the top most structure to the bottom structures during an emergency. According to the principle of modular organization, top-down means that the command function in the ICS should be created by the officer who arrives at the scene first, and the officer assumes the role of the Incident Commander (Jensen & Waugh, 2014). The incident commander is charged with the responsibility of ensuring that other parts of the ICS are operational. In 95 percent of the cases, the organizational structure established by the ICS is made up of a single resource and command, for example, one ambulance, two truck and fire truck. However, in serious emergencies, the incident structure is normally made up of several layers of response (Jensen & Waugh, 2014).
The third principle of the ICS is integrated communications, and this refers to a system that utilizes regular communication plan, clear text, established operating procedures, common terminology, and common frequencies. Under the ICS, several communication networks may be created, and this is determined by the complexity and size of the incident (Kim, Sharman, Cook-Cottone, & Rao, 2012). However, using a unified command system does not necessarily mean that the ICS is losing its accountability, responsibility and authority. The principle of unified command implies that all the agencies involved in disaster response should contribute to the command process (Kim, Sharman, Cook-Cottone, & Rao, 2012).
The agencies involved can contribute to the emergency process by setting the overall objectives, planning together for joint operation while carrying out integrated operations, and utilizing all the assigned resources to the maximum. The principle of consolidated IAPs establishes the response goals, support activities, and operational objectives (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006). The incident commander normally determines whether the consolidated Incident Action Plan (IAP) should be written or not. The ICS requires a consolidated plan whenever several agencies are and jurisdictions are involved, resources are availed by several agencies, and when the incident is complicated. In practice, the Incident Action Plans (IAPs) should address all the support activities and objectives that are required during the entire process of responding to an emergency (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006).
Experts have recommended having a written emergency response plan as opposed to an oral plan because it clearly states responsibilities, and assist the community from being sued for liability. In addition, a written emergency plan provides documentary evidence when requesting for additional resources from the federal or state governments (Jensen & Waugh, 2014). Incident Action Plans (IAPs) that take into consideration the measurable objective and goals to be attained are always constituted within a time frame called the operation period. Operation periods vary with time, but should not last for over 24 hours (Jensen & Waugh, 2014).
Another principle that determines the operation of the ICS is manageable span of control, which is defined as the number of people one supervisor can manage to handle effectively. In the ICS, any supervisor has a span of control, which can be categorized into a series of three to seven resources, and five of these resources are crucial for optimum operation. The principle of designated incident facilities requires the inclusion of incident command post and staging areas (Moynihan, 2008). The incident command post normally has an incident commander, general staff and the command staff who are tasked with the responsibility of overseeing all incident operation. Staging areas are designations in which resources for responding to emergencies are kept (Moynihan, 2008).
The last principle of the ICS is comprehensive resource management. Comprehensive resource management entails several activities, which include maximizing the use of resources; combining control of different resources; lowering the communication load; ensuring accountability; lowering freelancing; and ensuring safety (Moynihan, 2008). Other activities in comprehensive resource management include ensuring that all the resources are given a status condition; ensuring that the resources that are assigned to different activities are performing their functions; ensuring that the resources that are available are ready to be assigned; and ensuring that out-of-service are not assigned or made available during emergency operations (Moynihan, 2008).
The effectiveness of the ICS in disaster management is seen in cases where the system has been used to manage major disasters. For example the pentagon used the ICS in responding to the air crash in Florida in 1982. The success of ICS in managing this disaster was attributed to the fact that military personnel who were highly disciplined and trained using the ICS were involved (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006). Another incident in which ICS proved successful is the North Ridge Earthquake in 1994 that required extensive search and rescue efforts. Again the Pentagon used ICS to successful manage the disaster. A third incident in which the ICS has been used effectively is the Oklahoma City bombing. In this incident, the Oklahoma City fire department retained the central command, but the officers had been trained using the ICS, which made it easier for the fire department to collaborate with other agencies (Buck, Trainor, & Aguirre, 2006).
Analysis and Conclusion
            An examination of the science behind the ICS in disaster management indicate that the system is driven by six key variables, which include leaders within the system, individual organization, individual participants, the response network, how the system is implemented, and the local area. These are the broad factors that determine the usefulness and effectiveness of the ICS. If the above key variables are executed correctly, then the responses executed through ICS become effective (Phibbs & Snawder, 2014). On the contrary, factors that determine the usefulness and effectiveness of the ICS from a practical approach are different from the theoretical factors. Practical factors that determines the effectiveness of the ICS include common terminology, a modular organization, integrated communications, unity of command, a unified structure, consolidated IAPs, A manageable span of control, designated incident facilities, and comprehensive resource management (Phibbs & Snawder, 2014).
However, experts have observed that regardless of the policy or approach used, the ICS is a universal system that can be implemented in any emergency department, and it establishes a common ground that can be used by all emergency responders to create strategies for dealing with incidents (Phibbs & Snawder, 2014). The ICS improves the ability to create and concentrate on objectives that enable the creation and planning of strategies that work, enable clear communication, and improve the accountability of supervisors and officers. Experts have noted that personnel are likely to encounter challenges when implementing ICS, but organizations that have addressed the challenges have reaped the benefits of the system (Phibbs & Snawder, 2014).
Despite the potential of ICS in dealing with emergencies, the system has been criticized for not being effective. The claims that the ICS is effective are based on studies done 30 years ago. According to opponents, the ICS utilizes too many resources in activities that are not related to management and design emergency operation (Phibbs & Snawder, 2014). However, proponents of the ICS have argued that the system is effective especially in enhancing communication and coordination among different agents responding to an emergency. The negative effects of poor communication and lack of coordination during an emergency became evident 20 years during the shooting incident that occurred in a school after opponents had rejected the ICS (Phibbs & Snawder, 2014).
During the incident mentioned above, the police and firefighter had never conducted a joint emergency management operation before, and this resulted in a massive failure during response. The failure was not caused by the ICS, but the poor implementation of the system (Moynihan, 2009). If the ICS had been implemented properly at the time, there would be unified command system based on the ICS framework; the heads of the police and the fire department would have met; established a set of objectives; and deploy discharge resources that were needed. This is the main advantage of the ICS system because it ensures that all officers from various ranks work together in setting plans, objectives and priorities during emergency response (Moynihan, 2009).
Authorities in the U.S have been reluctant to transition to the ICS, and the adoption of the system has remained incomplete. Several years after the September 11 tragedy many emergency departments are struggling with integrating the ICS within their daily routine. Departs and regions that have been reluctant to implement the provisions of ICS could face major huddles when responding to emergencies, especially large scale emergencies that attract multiple responders (Moynihan, 2009). The theory or the philosophy behind the effectiveness of ICS stipulates the possible ways of making the system useful and efficient. On the other hand, the practical aspects of ICS operationalize the philosophy or theory (Moynihan, 2009).
When operationalizing the principles of the ICS, the relevant agencies are required to consider three points, and they include supervision, risk frequency, scalability. For example, small scale incident may just require the response of a single officer, and it would be unnecessary to activate the operations (Moynihan, 2009). For the ICS to be effective, it must be integrated in the daily operations of the organization and become a second nature. Moreover, the departments that have implemented the ICS should note that the system only recognizes positions, and not the ranks of officers responding to an emergency (Moynihan, 2009).
Some scholars have that observed the ICS is more effective in management of wildfire and not emergency situation. As noted earlier, the ICS has been criticized for poor emergency response. Critics of the ICS have argued that the one central command system found in the ICS is ineffective in responding to emergency situation (Wilson, 2013).
Departments that have used the ICS have found it effective despite the criticisms, and have learnt a valuable lesson, while saving resources and time. Integrating the theory of the ICS in the daily operations of an organization assist agencies in responding to emergency situations quicker (Moynihan, 2009).
Buck, D. A., Trainor, J. E., & Aguirre, B. E. (2006). A Critical Evaluation of the Incident Command System and NIMS. ournal of Homeland Security and Emergency Management, 3(3), 1-29.
Jensen, J., & Waugh, W. L. (2014). The United States’ Experience with the Incident Command System:What We Think We Know and What We Need to Know More About. Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management, 22(1), 1-13.
Kim, M., Sharman, R., Cook-Cottone, C. P., & Rao, R. (2012). Assessing roles of people, technology and structure in emergency management systems:a public sector perspective. Behaviour & Information Technology, 31(12), 1147–1160.
Minnesota Department of Public Safety. (2004). Minnesota Disaster Management Handbook. Saint Paul, MA: HSEM.
Moynihan, D. P. ((2009). The Network Governance of Crisis Response: Case Studies of Incident Command Systems. J Public Adm Res Theory, 19 (4), 895-915.
Moynihan, D. P. (2008). Combining Structural Forms in the Search for Policy Tools: Incident Command Systems in U.S. Crisis Management. Governance: An International Journal of Policy, Administration, and Institutions, 21(2), 205-229.
Phibbs, W. M., & Snawder, M. A. (2014, April 11). Embracing the Incident Command System Above and Beyond Theory. Retrieved December 17, 2015, from FBI Law Enforcement Bulletin: https://leb.fbi.gov/2014/november/embracing-the-incident-command-system-above-and-beyond-theory
The Statewide Radio Board. (2012). Minnesota Emergency Management/Public Health: Communications Best Practice Guide . MA: The Statewide Radio Board.
Villa, C. J. (2013). Law and Lawyers in the Incident Command System . Seattle University Law Review, 36, 1855-1918.
Wilson, E. K. (2013). Lessons Learned The Hard Way: Incident Command System Learning And Training. The University of Delaware.

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