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Incident Command System

What is the Relationship between an ICS and a UC?

ICS/UC Relationship Chart
Figure 2 - Relationship between ICS and UC
An ICS may be expanded to include a Unified Command (UC) for complex responses, which often require multi-agency resources from the local, state, and federal levels. When it becomes necessary to establish a UC, the UC replaces the Incident Commander function and becomes an essential component of an ICS. In this way, the UC provides the organizational management tool to facilitate and coordinate the effective involvement of the various agencies; it creates the link between the organizations responding to the incident and provides a forum for these agencies to make decisions with which all responders can agree. Figure 2 shows the relationship between a UC and an ICS.

ICS/UC Relation

The decision to include a UC will be based in large part upon the level of the response and the need for additional resources to respond effectively. It is important to remember that ICS/UC should be viewed as a response tool, not a response rule. The ICS/UC organization adheres to a "form follows function" philosophy. In other words, the organization at any given time should reflect only what is required to meet planned tactical objectives. Similarly, while an ICS will generally include the components identified in Figure 2, the ICS/UC response management structure does not attempt to prescribe a specific item-by-item functional description of where particular organizations or individuals fit within a single response structure for a given response. Along those lines, the establishment and administration of an ICS/UC should never detract from response efforts. In the early stages of a response, it may be necessary to commit the limited number of response personnel to field operations and scale back less critical ICS/UC administration procedures until more assets and resources become available.

Ideally, an ICS/UC should allow for information sharing both horizontally and vertically throughout the response organization, allowing a multi-jurisdictional response to be conducted effectively. However, horizontal and vertical information-sharing does not always work, because although the UC integrates different parties, the parties are not always integrated below the UC. This problem has surfaced in exercises and incidents. For example, although a Responsible Party (RP) is in the UC, the RP may not necessarily be

involved in the ICS sections (such as Planning and Operations). The decision to include the RP in the UC may, in part, depend on its relationship with the members of the ICS. For ICS/UC to work effectively, all parties participating in the response need to be integrated throughout the response, not just in the UC. However, this does not mean that each agency should have representatives in each section, only that the responders need to be working together within and throughout the sections.

Furthermore, in many responses, incident-specific issues emerge that have a tendency to dominate the response effort and have a large effect on its eventual outcome. These aspects of a response could include salvage operations, criminal investigations, responder safety, etc. In situations such as these, the ICS must be flexible enough to allow these concerns to be addressed at the appropriate functional level and create an open dialogue between the UC and the section/branch that is handling the issue. For example, when salvage issues become the focal point of a response effort, it is important that the UC have access to correct salvage support and information.

ICS/UC and Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD)

In May 2000, several National Response Team (NRT) member agencies participated in a major WMD exercise, called TOPOFF (Top Officials), and in May 2003 the same agencies participated in TOPOFF II. TOPOFF was designed to assess the nation's crisis and consequence management capabilities to respond to geographically dispersed terrorist threats and acts.

The advantages of using ICS/UC at the incident site were evident during this complex, multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional exercise. As a result, the NRT recommended to Congress via the Department of Justice Exercise Observation Report that the federal government should adopt the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS) ICS/UC system as the standard response management system at incident sites, including WMD incidents.

What are the advantages of an ICS/UC?

An ICS led by a UC has been used to manage local, state, and federal responses to complex multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional incidents. The following is a list of the advantages of an ICS/UC:

  • Uses a common language and response culture;

  • Optimizes combined efforts;

  • Eliminates duplicative efforts;

  • Establishes a single command post;

  • Allows for collective approval of operations, logistics, planning, and finance activities;

  • Encourages a cooperative response environment;

  • Allows for shared facilities, reducing response costs, maximizing efficiency, and minimizing communication breakdowns; and

  • Permits responders to develop and implement one consolidated IAP.

The ICS/UC structure outlines responsibilities and functions, thereby reducing potential conflicts, and improving information flow among all participating organizations. The ICS maintains its modular organizational structure, so that none of the advantages of the ICS are lost by the introduction of a UC.

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