Disaster & Cruelty

Understanding NIMS and ICS

The National Incident Management System (NIMS), a program of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), is a comprehensive approach to incident management that can apply to emergencies of all types and sizes. The NIMS approach is intended to be both:

  • Flexible, to work in all incidents
  • Standardized, to provide a coordinated, efficient response to each incident

Note: If some of the terms used in this article are new to you, check out our glossary of disaster preparedness terms.

Incident Command System (ICS)
ICS Command Structure
Emergency Support Functions (ESFs)
Incident Action Plan (IAP)
Resource Management
ICS Training
Learning More

Incident Command System (ICS)

The NIMS model for incident management is the Incident Command System (ICS). ICS is a standardized on-scene emergency management organization designed to aid in the management of resources during incidents. The ICS model is used by jurisdictions and agencies, both public and private, to organize field-level incident-management operations. ICS is sometimes referred to as the Incident Management System (IMS); the terms are interchangeable.

When organizations use the ICS model as the basis for their disaster planning, they adopt predefined management hierarchy, processes, and protocols that come into play in an emergency:

  • The elements of the ICS model were developed and refined from actual incidents.
  • This common approach enables organizations using ICS to integrate their response with other organizations that are also using ICS.

ICS Command Structure

The ICS command structure provides an orderly chain of command that is consistent across responding organizations. This chain of command may have either a single person, the Incident Commander (IC), at its head, or a multi-agency team, which is referred to as Unified Command. All other elements of the command structure are the same, regardless of how it is commanded.

Below incident command are the four major functional areas, as shown in the following graphic. The fifth major functional area, Command, is the responsibility of the Incident Commander or Unified Command. Each functional area is known as a section and is headed by a section chief.

  • Command
    Develops incident objectives and approves resource orders
  • Operations
    Identifies, assigns, and supervises the resources needed to accomplish the incident objectives
  • Planning
    Tracks resources
  • Logistics
    Orders resources
  • Finance/Administration
    Procures and pays for resources

Emergency Support Functions (ESFs)

The five functional areas are further categorized into 15 emergency support functions (ESFs), each associated with specific emergency-response activities. This ensures a consistent command and reporting structure for these activities. The use of ESFs also helps responding organizations identify exactly where their resources and activities fit into the larger incident response.

The ESFs are:

  1. Transportation
  2. Communications
  3. Public Works and Engineering
  4. Firefighting
  5. Emergency Management
  6. Mass Care, Housing, and Human Services
  7. Resource Support
  8. Public Health and Medical Services
  9. Urban Search and Rescue
  10. Oil and Hazard Materials Response
  11. Agriculture and Natural Resources
  12. Energy
  13. Public Safety and Security
  14. Longterm Community Recovery and Mitigation
  15. External Communications

Incident Action Plan (IAP)

The Incident Commander (or Unified Command) is responsible for preparing the Incident Action Plan (IAP) with the input from the section chiefs. The IAP describes how resources will be used to respond to a specific incident.

The IAP also includes mechanisms for:

  • Setting priorities
  • Integrating functions
  • Establishing relationships
  • Ensuring that systems put in place support all incident management activities

For more detailed information about the elements that make up an IAP, see our article on Creating a Disaster Plan.

Resource Management

In the ICS model, resources for the response to an incident include:

  • Personnel
  • Facilities
  • Equipment and supplies

A critical and very useful element of the ICS is that all of these resources are organized and identified by kind and type:

  • Kind: Describes what the resource is (e.g., medic, firefighter, Planning Section Chief, helicopters, ambulances, combustible gas indicators, bulldozers)
  • Type: Organizes resources by capability. Type 1 is generally considered to be more capable than Types 2, 3, or 4, respectively, because of size, power, capacity, or, in the case of incident management teams, experience and qualifications

This standardization is intended to ensure that all organizations responding with the ICS identify resources in the same way. That is, when Agency A requests a specific resource from Agency B, both agencies know exactly which resource is needed.

ICS Training

The following minimum training in the ICS is required to be a credentialed animal emergency responder (including volunteer responders):

  • IS-100, Introduction to Incident Command System
  • IS-200, ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents
  • IS-700, National Incident Management System: An Introduction
  • IS-800, National Response Plan: An Introduction

Two additional courses are particularly helpful for animal responders:

  • IS-10, Animals in Disaster, Module A: Awareness and Preparedness
  • IS-11, Animals in Disaster, Module B: Community Planning

Job descriptions for responders identify additional training and other requirements for individual disaster-response roles.

Learning More

Numerous resources are available for learning more about NIMS and ICS, including free self-study courses offered by FEMA's Emergency Management Institute. The following links to the FEMA website direct you to more information on the topics introduced in this article:

FEMA NIC Incident Management System Division
This area of the FEMA website contains extensive information and resources that provide guidance and support to jurisdictions and incident management and responder organizations as they adopt the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

FEMA Emergency Management Institute (EMI)
EMI offers both classroom and online training in a wide variety of courses related to disaster preparedness and response, including courses for animal emergency responders.

FEMI EMI Independent Study Program (ISP)
This area of the FEMA EMI website offers free self-study courses, including the four listed above, that are designed for people with emergency management responsibilities.

FEMA Resource Management: Job Titles and Descriptions
This area of the FEMA website contains job descriptions for emergency responders, including animal emergency responders. The descriptions include not only the duties but also training and other prerequisites to be a credentialed responder.

Our Training and Helpful Websites for Professionals pages provide links to additional resources.