A Guide to Understanding the ICS (Incident Command System)

Best Practice Guide

Explaining the Incident Command System (ICS)

Over the last half century, one of the key developments in emergency management has been the creation of the Incident Command System (ICS), an operational incident management structure that provides a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response for organizations across the U.S.

The system’s longstanding success-it’s been in practice for over 40 years-stems directly from its genesis, created as it was, in the aftermath of a string of catastrophic wildfires that struck California in the 1970s. Eventually, fire suppression agencies were able to tame the fires, but only after the loss of tens of lives, hundreds of homes, and hundreds of thousands of acres.

The response itself was deemed suboptimal. But when researchers and practitioners went back to review the missteps, they discovered something curious. The flaw in the response hadn’t been too few resources, as is often the case, nor had it been poor tactics in the field. In fact, the major shortcoming was poor management and synchronization.

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