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Incident Command System

Incident Commander

Incident Commander
The following sections provide information on this position:

Related Information:





Incident Commander - General

The Incident Commander - (IC) is responsible for directing and/or controlling resources by virtue of explicit legal, agency, or delegated authority. The individual responsible for the overall management of the response is called the Incident Commander. For responses under the National Response System (NRS), the pre-designated On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) generally assumes the role of Incident Commander. 

The IC is responsible for all aspects of the response, including developing incident objectives and managing all incident operations. The IC sets priorities and defines the ICS organization for the particular response. Even if other positions are not assigned, the IC will always be designated.

The IC may assign deputies, who may be from the same agency, or from assisting agencies. Deputies may also be used at section and branch levels of the ICS organization. Deputies must have the same qualifications as the person for whom they work, as they must be ready to take over that position at any time.



Incident Commander - Specific Responsibilities

The IC is faced with many responsibilities when he/she arrives on scene. Unless specifically assigned to another member of the Command or General Staffs, these responsibilities remain with the IC. Some of the more complex responsibilities include:

  • Review Common Responsibilities.

  • Assess the situation and/or obtain a briefing from the prior IC.

  • Brief Command Staff and Section Chiefs.

  • Review meetings and briefings.

  • Establish immediate priorities especially the safety of responders, other emergency workers, bystanders, and people involved in the incident.

  • Establish an appropriate organization.

  • Approve the use of trainees, volunteers, and auxiliary personnel.

  • Stabilize the incident by ensuring life safety and managing resources efficiently and cost effectively.

  • Determine incident objectives and strategy to achieve the objectives.

  • Authorize release of information to the news media.

  • Ensure planning meetings are scheduled as required.

  • Establish and monitor incident organization.

  • Approve the implementation of the written or oral Incident Action Plan (IAP).

  • Ensure that adequate safety measures are in place.

  • Coordinate activity for all Command and General Staff.

  • Coordinate with key people and officials.

  • Approve requests for additional resources or for the release of resources.

  • Keep agency administrator informed of incident status.

  • Ensure incident Status Summary (ICS Form 209, 8 KB PDF*) is completed and forwarded to appropriate higher authority.

  • Order the demobilization of the incident when appropriate.



Incident Commander - Relation to ICS Structure

The modular organization of the ICS allows responders to scale their efforts and apply the parts of the ICS structure that best meet the demands of the incident. In other words, there are no hard and fast rules for when or how to expand the ICS organization. Many incidents will never require the activation of Planning, Logistics, or Finance/Administration Sections, while others will require some or all of them to be established. A major advantage of the ICS organization is the ability to fill only those parts of the organization that are required. For some incidents, and in some applications, only a few of the organizations functional elements may be required. However, if there is a need to expand the organization, additional positions exist within the ICS framework to meet virtually any need. For example, in responses involving responders from a single jurisdiction, the ICS establishes an organization for comprehensive response management. However, when an incident involves more than one agency or jurisdiction, responders can expand the ICS framework to address a multi-jurisdictional incident.

The roles of the ICS participants will also vary depending on the incident and may even vary during the same incident. Staffing considerations are always based on the needs of the incident. The number of personnel and the organization structure are totally dependent on the size and complexity of the incident. There is no absolute standard to follow. However, large-scale incidents will usually require that each component, or section, is set up separately with different staff members managing each section. A basic operating guideline is that the Incident Commander (IC) is responsible for all activities until command authority is transferred to another person.

Another key aspect of an ICS that warrants mention is the development of an Incident Action Plan (IAP). A planning cycle is typically established by the IC and Planning Section Chief, and an IAP is then developed by the Planning Section for the next operational period (usually 12- or 24-hours in length) and submitted to the IC for approval. Creation of a planning cycle and development of an IAP for a particular operational period help focus available resources on the highest priorities/incident objectives. The planning cycle, if properly practiced, brings together everyone's input and identifies critical shortfalls that need to be addressed to carry out the IC's objectives for that period.



Incident Commander - Related OSHA Standards
  • Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response 29 CFR 1910.120

    • Paragraph Q relates directly to Emergency Response. It says:

    • The senior emergency response official respondingto an emergency shall become the individualin charge of a site-specific Incident CommandSystem (ICS). All emergency responders and theircommunications shall be coordinated and controlledthrough the individual in charge of the ICSassisted by the senior official present foreach employer. [1910.120(q)(3)(i)]

      NOTE TO PARAGRAPH (q)(3)(i). - The "senior official" at an emergency response is the most senior official on the site who has the responsibility for controlling the operations at the site. Initially it is the senior officer on the first-due piece of responding emergency apparatus to arrive on the incident scene. As more senior officers arrive (i.e. , battalion chief, fire chief, state law enforcement official, site coordinator, etc.) the position is passed up the line of authority which has been previously established. You should italicize that.

    • The individual in charge of the ICS shallidentify, to the extent possible, all hazardoussubstances or conditions present and shall addressas appropriate site analysis, use of engineeringcontrols, maximum exposure limits, hazardoussubstance handling procedures, and use of anynew technologies. [1910.120(q)(3)(ii)]

    • Based on the hazardous substances and/or conditionspresent, the individual in charge of the ICSshall implement appropriate emergency operations,and assure that the personal protective equipmentworn is appropriate for the hazards to be encountered.However, personal protective equipment shallmeet, at a minimum, the criteria contained in [1910.156(e)] when worn while performingfire fighting operations beyond the incipientstage for any incident. [1910.120(q)(3)(iii)]

    • Employees engaged in emergency response andexposed to hazardous substances presenting aninhalation hazard or potential inhalation hazardshall wear positive pressure self-containedbreathing apparatus while engaged in emergencyresponse, until such time that the individualin charge of the ICS determines through theuse of air monitoring that a decreased levelof respiratory protection will not result inhazardous exposures to employees. [1910.120(q)(3)(iv)]

    • The individual in charge of the ICS shalllimit the number of emergency response personnelat the emergency site, in those areas of potentialor actual exposure to incident or site hazards,to those who are actively performing emergencyoperations. However, operations in hazardousareas shall be performed using the buddy systemin groups of two or more. [1910.120(q)(3)(v)]

    • The individual in charge of the ICS shalldesignate a safety officer, who is knowledgeablein the operations being implemented at the emergencyresponse site, with specific responsibilityto identify and evaluate hazards and to providedirection with respect to the safety of operationsfor the emergency at hand. [1910.120(q)(3)(vii)]

    • When activities are judged by the safety officerto be an IDLH and/or to involve an imminentdanger condition, the safety officer shall havethe authority to alter, suspend, or terminatethose activities. The safety official shallimmediately inform the individual in chargeof the ICS of any actions needed to be takento correct these hazards at the emergency scene.[1910.120(q)(3)(viii)]

    • After emergency operations have terminated,the individual in charge of the ICS shall implementappropriate decontamination procedures. [1910.120(q)(3)(ix)]

    • On scene incident commander. Incident commanders,who will assume control of the incident scenebeyond the first responder awareness level,shall receive at least 24 hours of trainingequal to the first responder operations leveland in addition have competency in the followingareas and the employer shall so certify: [1910.120(q)(6)(v)]



Accessibility Assistance: Contact the OSHA Directorate of Technical Support and Emergency Management at (202) 693-2300 for assistance accessing PDF materials.

*These files are provided for downloading.


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