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Incident Command System

What takes place in the initial UC meeting?

Emergency Worker
Open and early discussion among members of the UC is critical to ensuring effective implementation of the NRS and use of the ICS/UC when an incident occurs and plans need to be implemented. The establishment of a UC must begin with an initial meeting of the incident commanders and their staffs from each of the involved jurisdictions. During this meeting which should be brief the incident commanders must come to consensus on priorities, a collective set of incident objectives, an overall strategy, and selection of a UC spokesperson before they can effectively work together to carry out the response.

The initial meeting also will provide an opportunity for the incident commanders to establish a Joint Information Center (JIC), as needed. In addition, if not established in pre-planning activities, the incident commanders must use the initial meeting as an opportunity to determine the appropriate roles and responsibilities of all representatives involved in the ICS (such as local and state governments, and the RP). This conversation will help establish the membership of the UC.

Effective planning can facilitate assembly and conduct of the initial UC meeting. The responsibilities discussed above should be preplanned to the greatest extent possible. Although an initial meeting is critical for ensuring the effective integration of all responders into the ICS/UC, the steps involved in the UC meeting (as identified below) may have to be revisited periodically as information on the incident or the demands of the incident change. These meetings will provide a private opportunity for the incident commanders to speak openly and honestly about their priorities, considerations, and concerns. However, once participants in the UC leave this meeting, they must speak with one voice.

Step 1 - Set Priorities and Objectives
Office Staff

For the UC to work, each participant must be committed to working together to solve a common problem. Each responding agency will have individual objectives to carry out. In addition, the primary objectives of each responding agency are established under the NCP as "national response priorities," which state:

  • Preserve the safety of human life;
  • Stabilize the situation to prevent the event from worsening;
  • Use all necessary containment and removal tactics in a coordinated manner to ensure a timely, effective response that minimizes adverse impacts to the environment; and
  • Address all three of these priorities concurrently.

However, each responding entity will likely have other significant priorities requiring consideration, which might include the following factors:

  • Maintaining business survival;
  • Minimizing response costs;
  • Maintaining or improving public image;
  • Minimizing economic or tourism impacts;
  • Minimizing environmental impacts;
  • Evaluating prospects of criminal prosecution; and
  • Meeting certain reasonable stakeholder expectations.
people raising hands

Understanding all the issues facing the UC participants is important in any negotiation. Because consensus must be reached for the UC to be effective, it is critical that the UC engage in coordination whenever necessary. If consensus cannot be reached, the RRT can be used as a forum for achieving consensus. The incident-specific RRT provides a mechanism for the OSC to seek assistance and conflict resolution from the leadership of his or her own agency, other federal agencies, and local and state governments. To do this, the RRT can convene either by telephone or in person.

Step 2 - Present Considerations
People in a meeting

At the onset of the initial meeting, UC members have an obligation to raise and discuss honestly what each response organization can provide in terms of authorities, equipment, skills, and experience, including their response capabilities. All incident commanders must be free to speak openly with the other members of the UC about their constraints or limitations, whether practical or political in nature, because these constraints may have an impact on how the UC's objectives can best be achieved.

Step 3 - Develop a Collective Set of Incident Objectives
People in a race

The planning process for the UC is similar to that used for a single jurisdiction or agency incident. However, because each agency will bring its own set of objectives and considerations to the response, the UC must decide upon a collective set of incident-specific objectives to identify what the UC as a whole needs to accomplish before an overall response strategy can be developed. To be effective, these objectives should be specific, measurable, assignable, reasonable, and time-related. The UC must come to consensus on a set of general objectives that can then be documented to provide focus for the response organization. This process includes establishing and agreeing upon acceptable priorities.

Step 4 - Adopt an Overall Strategy
Game Plan

Strategy is the development of policies and plans to achieve the objectives for a response. If the UC knows exactly how to accomplish an objective, it should specify the strategy. Because there are frequently multiple strategies that would accomplish the same objective, the UC staff will often ask the Planning Section to recommend strategies for later UC approval. This allows for better input and discussion from the responders, and also reduces meeting time for the incident commanders.

Step 5 - Select a UC Spokesperson

Frequently, the UC will establish a JIC and designate a single spokesperson. The spokesperson is typically a member of the UC, and serves as a point of contact and a single voice of the members of the incident management team at external and internal briefings. The spokesperson may change during the course of an incident as the situation develops. For example, a different agency may designate a spokesperson if it has more expertise in a particular area at a certain time. In addition, different departments within the same agency could designate a spokesperson at different times during the same incident, as appropriate.

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