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Incident Command System

About ICS/UC and the NRS

Fireman fighting a fire
Managing a major response – especially a complex, multi-jurisdictional response – is one of the most important challenges facing the National Response System (NRS). Effective coordination among local, state, and federal responders at the scene of a response is a key factor in ensuring successful responses to major incidents. An Incident Command System/Unified Command (ICS/UC) is an efficient on-site tool to manage all emergency response incidents, and UC is a necessary tool for managing multi-jurisdictional responses to oil spills or hazardous substance releases. Understanding the concepts of ICS/UC is as important for local responders, who generally arrive on-scene first and thus are most likely to implement the management system, as it is for state and federal organizations that may be joining the ICS/UC.

The National Oil and Hazardous Substances Pollution Contingency Plan (NCP) states that the NRS functions as an ICS under the direction of the On-Scene Coordinator (OSC). The NCP also states that the basic framework for the NRS response management structure is a system (such as a unified command system) that brings together the functions of the local government, state government, federal government, and the Responsible Party (RP) to achieve an effective and efficient response. In addition, the Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (HAZWOPER) standards include the Incident Command System for emergency response.

When planned for and practiced, ICS/UC is viewed as the most effective response management system to address discharges or releases. As a result, the U.S. National Response Team (NRT) and Regional Response Teams (RRTs) endorse the use of ICS/UC and hope that this document helps the entire response community understand the basic concepts of ICS/UC. ICS/UC is an integrated and flexible structure that emphasizes cooperation and coordination in local, state, and federal responses to complex multi-jurisdictional, multi-agency incidents. This structure is necessary to use resources effectively – whether the resource comes from the parties responsible for the release or discharge, the NRT and RRT federal agencies, or the affected local governments and states. Although ICS/UC was originally developed for multi-jurisdictional incidents, the NRT advocates ICS/UC as an effective tool for managing both large and small incidents, especially those involving hazardous substance releases or oil spills.

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