Quick Post: All aboard the FEMA train – the Incident Command System


Now, I know a lot of us on the site have political views that are to the right of Patrick Henry and we get suspicious of anything Federal that comes up. I’m hip.

However, when you extract three to four trillion of tax money from the citizenry each year, there are some things that come out once in a while that are actually worth checking out. One of those things is the Incident Command System (ICS), which is a subset of the National Incident Management System (NIMS). In layman’s terms, NIMS and ICS are organizational and operational models that are used to guide responses from a simple three car accident all the way up to dealing with the caldera at Yellowstone exploding and eating the center of the country.

In federal-ese, NIMS is explained as:

The National Incident Management System (NIMS) is a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together seamlessly and manage incidents involving all threats and hazards—regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity—in order to reduce loss of life, property and harm to the environment. The NIMS is the essential foundation to the National Preparedness System (NPS) and provides the template for the management of incidents and operations in support of all five National Planning Frameworks.

The purpose of the NIMS is to provide a common approach for managing incidents. The concepts […] provide for a flexible but standardized set of incident management practices with emphasis on common principles, a consistent approach to operational structures and supporting mechanisms, and an integrated approach to resource management.

In my work, we see it all the time when operating with fire and police. It is the core of any Mass Casualty Incident (MCI) drill. I have seen it used to great effect first hand in a real MCI where 80 casualties were moved off a scene and into care in just over 60 minutes. It empowers the first people to respond to a scene to start organizing how the incident will be responded to. It establishes chains of command, organization, communications protocols, operations, resources, and ensures that everyone working the scene has one boss to report to, thus reducing freelancing and general chaos. It helps people get their bearings and focus on getting help in and hurt people treated and out while at the same time enabling a transition to a bigger, longer term response.


The reason I bring this up is that any big SHTF or grid-down scenario you may find yourself in is going to be using ICS in some form or another. Over at Max Velocity’s place, Leatherneck556 explores using ICS as a standard operating procedure in a Command and Control (C2) system for keeping the peace and helping neighbors when security is disrupted.

The cool part is that you can take courses online for free at FEMA.gov to get an overview of both NIMS and ICS. If you want to go further, there are more in-depth classes, like ICS 300 and ICS 400, that can be taken in meatspace. That’s probably overkill if emergency management isn’t your main source of income.

The courses you want to take are:

On the linked pages for each class, the right hand column has links to downloadable classroom materials, the online course, and the online final exam. Once you complete the course, you will get a certificate of completion (woohoo!) and can hang that on your wall next to your mom’s picture.

Having these under your belt will help if you decide to do CERT training, and are also requirements for most emergency services organizations as well as disaster response teams like Team Rubicon.

So hop on board the FEMA train and bathe in the bureaucratic goodness. I wouldn’t be pushing it if I didn’t see it work well in real life.

10 responses to “Quick Post: All aboard the FEMA train – the Incident Command System

  1. Pingback: Hogwarts: ALL ABOARD THE FEMA TRAIN – THE INCIDENT COMMAND SYSTEM | Western Rifle Shooters Association·

  2. Good points. I’ve taken the -100 course, and while it’s likely overcomplex for what I’ll ever need (I hope) it was part of the required coursework for both C.E.R.T. And A.R.E.S./R.A.C.E.S. Both are worthwhile, IMHO. May as well get what I’m being forced to pay for…

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s where I am coming from. We paid for it, might as well use as much as we can. Good to know about ARES/RACES, too. That I did not know. I need to get my HAM business in gear. Yet another thing on an ever-expanding list.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. We might not like Fedgov too much, but if they have a decent system in the emergency response it can be copied if they fail or have to be replaced/paralleled. And improved on, if the model is lacking.

    It’s also not always the fedgov that’s the problem, sometimes it’s a state or local official. During Katrina, the governor of LA refused help at first and compounded the problem.

    The ones who were confiscating weapons door to door in a non-flooded area were only a few people. They tried to get the NG to do it. Many NG went to their superior officers and recused themselves from doing it. And again, it was a local official ordering it. Afterwards, laws were passed forbidding the confiscation of weapons in an emergency. It’s bad that it even happened in the first place, but at least those laws are there now and it only happened to a few people.

    Prison guards in one prison abandoned their posts, leaving the prisoners on the lower levels to drown in their cells. Those prisoners’ lives were in their care, and I would call that premeditated murder. It would have been better to get the prisoners out, even if it meant they got free and had to be rounded back up.

    It’s also sometimes non-LE getting thrown into LE roles, and doing it wrong. There was a man on the bridge to Mississippi who was shot while begging for water. The ones who shot him were locals, not LE, who were guarding the bridge. I’m guessing there was a shortage of men and they seemed convenient to leave there, but they killed a man who was not even a threat to them.

    If you propose to one day replace the existing structure, you should know what worked and what didn’t, take any training you can get from anyone, and try not to repeat the mistakes that were made. In some kind of SHTF situation we might see many situations similar to those that occurred at Katrina, all over the country, just from people winging it.


    • “In some kind of SHTF situation we might see many situations similar to those that occurred at Katrina, all over the country, just from people winging it.”

      Spot on, sir. Chaos is first on scene to anything and takes firm command until someone takes it away from him. ICS helps mitigate it. It sure doesn’t eliminate it, but the more people have a common framework to refer to, the less harm chaos is going to do.


  4. Will read as I do many govt. taxpayer funded classes/military manuals ect.,tis already paid for and gaining knowledge that can be useful and perhaps practiced/modified for your situation ect.might help whatever situation comes ones way.


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