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Incident Command System

How do responders prepare for ICS/UC implementation?

Emergency Response Team
The key to successful implementation of an ICS/UC is planning and exercising at the regional and area levels. Practice using an ICS/UC prior to an incident will help responders understand their roles and responsibilities and prepared them to work together in the ICS. According to the National Contingency Plan (NCP), the area contingency planning process, which brings together appropriate representatives from local, state, and federal agencies to enhance contingency planning, is the forum for working out the details of how the ICS will be applied in each area. When responders understand each other's roles and responsibilities and have a plan for working together, they are more likely to be able to reach consensus on response strategies and tactics. The On-Scene Coordinator (OSC) and the Area Committee are responsible for developing, adopting, and implementing a response management system, such as ICS/UC, through the Area Contingency Plan (ACP). Use of a National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS)-based ICS/UC as the model for response management in the ACP can be helpful in ensuring an effective response.
Four Keys to Successful Implementation 

To be most effective, there are four keys to implementing an ICS with a UC:

Learn. The National Response Team (NRT) encourages all responders to learn ICS/UC. The better it is understood, and the more familiar it is, the easier it will be to form a common structure when demanded by an incident.

Plan. How the ICS/UC will be implemented in varying situations should be decided well in advance of an incident. The ACP process should be used to identify roles and responsibilities of the various participants during different response scenarios.


Start early. As soon as two organizations are determined to have responsibility for, or in, a response, an ICS/UC should be implemented.

Stop watch

Man playing piano Practice. Periodic training and drills are crucial to providing training and role-playing opportunities. To maintain proficiency, using ICS on smaller spills and non-spill events should be considered. Planners and responders at all levels need to understand the authorities and resources each response organization brings to a specific incident. When plans and procedures are understood, agencies can support each other effectively. However, each response results in new lessons learned, which necessitates continuing refinement of the procedures and processes, development of better methods, and meshing of agency needs and actions.
Memoranda of Agreement (MOA): Effective Planning Tools to Implement a Successful ICS/UC
Using a unique approach to ensure coordination and cooperation at the scene of an incident, the State of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources (DNR) established an MOA with EPA Region V and the USCG 9th District for emergency response to discharges of oil and releases of hazardous substances occurring within their jurisdictions. The MOA acknowledges the respective authorities of local, state, and federal responders and stresses the importance of including local authorities in the UC. The MOA also advocates that roles and responsibilities of all involved parties be clearly defined well in advance of an incident by using the area, state, and regional contingency planning processes.

Scenario-Based Planning and Exercises 

Because most responses that require an ICS with a UC will be multi-agency and may be multi-jurisdictional, all participating organizations must understand the complexities of coordination. The question is not "Who is in charge?" but "How can all responders work together for the best results?" The goal of an ICS is to enhance response efficiency by eliminating duplication of effort and lessening response time and consequently response costs. The best way to reduce confusion and conflict is to anticipate problems and develop possible solutions. This requires scenario-based planning and exercises with constant communications and coordination among all participants, working together as a team. The following is a list of elements that should be in place and documented in relevant plans well before an incident occurs for an ICS/UC to be effective:

  • The structure must be formalized and accepted by all parties concerned;

  • Specific ICS functions and responsibilities must be well defined;

  • Individuals must be designated for each function and the reporting mechanisms defined and accepted. However, it is important to note that the scope and complexity of the incident will determine the extent of the organizational positions actually staffed;

  • Establish a methodology for developing an Incident Action Plan (IAP) and Site Safety Plan;

  • The participating organizations must make a committed effort to respond as a team;

  • Contingency plans (including ACP's, facility and vessel response plans, and local emergency response plans) must address training and ensure familiarity with an ICS/UC;

  • Relationships and interactions with entities outside the ICS but relevant to the NRS (such as RRT, natural resource trustees) must be defined.

Organizational Components

Each ACP should fully addressand describe key organizational components of theNRS, such as the role of the RRT. Under OPA, theArea Committees are required to include local andstate governments in the planning process and areencouraged to invite the private sector to participate.Because key participants differ from area to area,however, Area Committees must have flexibilityto adapt the ICS/UC to be effective in each specificarea.

The following items should be considered when developing ACP's particularly when considering the implementation of ICS:


  • Jurisdictional responsibilities;

  • Roles of all levels of government in the UC (such as local, state, and federal);

  • Existing local, state, and federal laws, regulations, policies, and procedures;

  • Financial agreements;

  • Information dissemination;

  • Communications;

  • Training and exercising;

  • Logistics;

  • Potentially responsible parties;

  • Response organization;

  • NRS organizational components; and

  • Lessons learned.

The ICS as described in the ACP should be sufficient to assist the OSC in directing, monitoring, and coordinating response efforts. Assuming that a significant discharge will tax and possibly overwhelm EPA, USCG, or other federal agency personnel in the region(s) in which the incident occurs, the ACP should plan to fully integrate other response resources into the ICS. In addition, the ACP should include a specialized "ICS expansion plan" that covers drastic changes in the size and/or scope of the response effort.

Related Information:

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