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Incident command

WHEN planning for emergency responses to incidents, it's always better to have a plan in place that addresses major accidents. Something that begins as a minor problem could escalate.

“If it gets worse, you're prepared,” said Todd Farley of Command School Inc at the Operations Seminar and Trade Show (OPSEM) September 13-15 in Indianapolis, Indiana.

He and Brian Long, also of Command School Inc, conducted a session on confronting plausible, chemically based critical-incident scenarios that include threats from terrorism.

They suggested organizing emergency response plans based on the National Incident Command System of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The system is structured on communication, coordination, cooperation, and command. Training for the system is being developed and offered for a variety of disciplines, including federal disaster workers, public works, law enforcement, and public health.

A basic premise of the system is that it is widely applicable. It can be used to organize both near-term and long-term field-level operations for a broad spectrum of emergencies, from small to complex incidents, both natural and manmade, and fits the private sector as well as government organizations. The plan is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration.

“Egos have to go away,” said Farley. If an incident command system is in place, company and community responders understand each person's role and how they can work together to achieve their goals.

A chain of command allows for an orderly line of authority within the ranks of the incident management organization where each individual has a designated supervisor to whom he or she reports at the scene of the incident. These principles clarify reporting relationships and eliminate confusion caused by multiple, conflicting directives.

Assigning a person to be in charge of resource management removes that responsibility from others who may be needed at the scene or for other more direct response. That means that the person isn't preoccupied with the action at the scene and can address such needs as ordering supplies, dispatching, tracking, and recovering resources.

Farley and Long emphasized the importance of company managers establishing a relationship with local emergency responders so that when an incident occurs, communication links already are in place. “Get to know your fire chief,” said Farley.

More information about the system can be found on the FEMA Web site at and searching Incident Command System.

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