Effective response to disasters and emergencies is becoming more and more complex. Rescue teams involved in responding to emergencies caused by manmade or natural events have to understand certain systems. Responding personnel have to understand human behavior, chemicals involved, transport systems, laws, and agency regulations governing emergencies. The incident command system provides a clear structure for diverse activities necessary to control an incident. The incident can be a natural disaster, road accident, chemical spill, collapsed building, and so forth. The incident model contains a single person in command and several other people offering assistance to victims. The incident commander is responsible for the establishment of goals and objectives at the scene. This allows for effective utilization of resources when dealing with an emergency. A well-structured ICS allows for a controlled and well-organized emergency response. During emergency response, team members and other personnel are exposed to risks in the scene. A controlled incident management reduces risks and secondary incidents that can occur in an emergency scene (Moynihan, 2007).
The law requires organizations such as fire departments and transport systems to have an ICS. The SARA act of 1986 requires emergency response organizations dealing with hazardous materials operate within an ICS. Regulations from OSHA and EPA require emergency response teams to have a functional ICS. Response teams have several personnel form different institutions working together at the scene. An ICS helps divide the available labor and coordinates different personnel units. The 9/11 attacks in New York involved rescue teams from the military, fire brigade, medical teams, and the police department. These teams had different training and responsibilities within the scene of attacks. By using an ICS, the responding teams are divided into units each performing a well-planned rescue activity. Every unit of the response team is allocated duties depending on training and capabilities of the personnel. A multi-agency rescue operation requires a unified command. This coordinates the resources and expertise of every agency responding to the incident (Moynihan, 2007).
An ICS creates preparedness within an organization for fast and effective response to an emergency. The ICS outlines critical tasks and activities necessary for building and sustaining operational capabilities when responding to incidents. This helps develop and sustain a prescribed level of institutional response and recovery capabilities. By implementing an ICS, an institution identifies partner agencies that are needed when responding for emergencies. This helps enact multi-aid agreements between agencies for offering assistance and personnel when requested. For example, the Washington State Patrol provides training and disaster management for Washington State Department of Transportation during highway incidents. An ICS makes communication and information management across all responding teams effective. This enables functional operations such as tactical planning, resource identification, and issuing assignment. Communication and information flow uses standardized protocol and channels (Moynihan, 2007).
An ICS helps response teams assess activities in the scene that require the participation of specialized units. When an incident escalates, more qualified ICs are brought to be in charge replacing the former ICs. For example, a forest fire may start as a Type 5 fire but develop to a Type 3 fire by the third day, which requires the involvement of a Type 3 IC. An ICS helps streamline the activities of an incident response team. The rescue team has to assess the scene, divide personnel, evacuate people, deal with the emergency, and maintain security within the scene. A well-established ICS streamlines the flow of activities and commands within the scene (Molino, 2006).
Problems in response to occasional disasters amount of inadequacies in response mechanisms. The Californian fire tragedy of the 1970s was coupled by unusual command, disorderly communication, lack of designated command structures and lack of common criteria for designating roles. Different agencies were involved in the rescue operation, and a unified command was required to control the rescue operations. The response team lacked a universal language which made personnel from different agencies work contrary to each other. Responding teams to an incident may be unable to assess the scene to prevent risks and hazards to the rescue personnel. An ICS requires the first team on site to assess the scene and identify hazards that can pose risks to rescue teams (Molino, 2006). Lack of an ICS causes disjointed operations within the rescue teams.
The 9/11 attacks in New York found the NYPD, FDNY, and PAPD ill-equipped to respond to emergencies of such intensity. The three agencies had not outlined the agency that would assume command when disaster happened in the city. Due to ill preparations and autonomy in their operations, the city departments could not respond effectively to the terror attacks. An ICS identifies a unified command structure when multiple agencies are involved in the rescue operations. Participating agencies are well prepared and equipped to respond to emergencies of any magnitude. Incidence response during the terror attacks was disjointed since different agencies had different rescue operations plans. A multi-agency response team has to utilize the same plan for effective rescue operations (National Commission on Terrorist Attacks, 2010).
The terror attacks and forest fires that have occurred in USA depict the importance of disaster management. Prior planning is necessary for tackling hazards that occur due to occasional emergencies. Some emergencies involve a hybrid of events that necessitate the participation of several agencies. Effective rescue operations require well outlined roles, command structure, communication and information flow, and a unified rescue plan. An ICS helps plan for the occurrence of incidents. The involved institutions are prepared in advance and equipment and other resources set aside to respond to emergencies. This increases the effectiveness of response teams and reduces the number of casualties.
Molino, L. N. (2006). Emergency incident management systems: Fundamentals and applications. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Moynihan, D. P. (2007). From forest fires to hurricane Katrina: Case studies of incident command systems. Networks and Networks series: IBM Center for the Business of Government.
National Commission on Terrorist Attacks (2010). The 9/11 Commission Report: Final Report of the National Commission on terrorist attacks upon the United States. New York, NY: Cosimo, Inc.