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What Emergency Managers Need to Know about ISO 22320

Been involved in large-scale disaster response? Then, you know all about the unique challenges of interagency operations, from delays in getting assistance and rescue underway to lack of clarity in command and control structures once on the ground, plus variable decision making throughout.

Sure, improvements will start with better inter-agency planning. But planning without a tested framework won’t get you far. What’s a framework that’s sure to work?

The international, emergency management and societal security standard, ISO 22320 offers common-sense prescriptions for implementing best-practice emergency management systems and measures. Generic in nature, the standard aims to help organizations of any shape or size, in any sector, respond effectively to all categories of major incident or emergency.

So, how did it come about? First, the incident management community had to diagnose what was going wrong with interagency response, more generally. The clearest explanation proffered was that individual agencies develop independently of each other, creating heterogeneity in their practices that get exacerbated during a response. Another rationale: inadequate information and knowledge flow between participants, springing either from a lack of trust, confusion on the ground, or competition between agencies.

Fortunately for emergency managers, those weren’t insoluble problems, especially the absence of an industry-wide command and control structure for facilitating collaboration and interoperability. The intervention yielded the development of the ISO 22320 standard.

How does ISO 22320 work, exactly? The standard focuses centrally on achieving efficient coordination and cooperation between multiple actors involved in large-scale disaster management, targeting one of the major pain points in interagency response. Its explicit goal is to boost various types of interoperability, while enhancing response capabilities and minimizing impact.

Specifically, ISO 22320 lays out a loose framework for establishing the basics of command and control within a single incident response organization. The aspects the standard touches include structures and procedures, decision support, traceability, information management, and, of course, interoperability.

It’s important to note, though, that the standard itself is not intended as a standalone solution. Instead, ISO 22320 is meant to be implemented as part of a larger incident preparedness and operational continuity management program, with a broad scope applicable to any of the following activities:

  • Incident prevention and preparedness to ensure disaster resilience
  • Guidance and direction in incident response
  • Planning for command and control systems
  • Multi-organizational coordination and cooperation
  • Information and communication systems for emergency management
  • Public affairs

And that’s not all. ISO 22320, like the Incident Command System, is quickly becoming the default standard for interoperable operations. 


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