The role of the Incident Command System

William C. Nicholson, JD





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Homeland Security Act of 2002, H.R. 5005, 107th Cong. (2002) (enacted).

Id. at § 501 (5) The HS Act requires “[b]uilding a comprehensive incident management system with Federal, state, and local government personnel, agencies, and authorities, to respond to. . . [terrorist] attacks and disasters.”

National Incident Management System may be accessed on the web at:

Incident Command is a system that uses a “command” model, while incident management uses a “management” model. Paul M. Maniscalco & Hank T. Christen, Understanding Terrorism and Managing the Consequences 24 (2001). Experienced responder leaders, however, do not see a difference other than in terminology between the two. Scott Baltic, ICS For Everyone, 3 Homeland Preparedness Professional No. 1, 22 (January/February 2004).

National Fire Service Incident Management System, Model Procedures for Structural Firefighting, Second Edition 1 (2000). See generally Scott Baltic, ICS For Everyone, 3 Homeland Preparedness Professional No. 1, 20 (January/February 2004).

Nicholson WC: The Incident Command System: Legal and Practical Reasons for Incident Management, OUR WATCH, July - Sept. 1999, at 3, 5. See generally BRUNACINI. Brunacini has been termed “the Godfather of incident command.” His “well-respected” work places him as the “pre-eminent expert in incident command.” Telephone Interview with Tracey Boatwright, Indiana State Fire Marshal (Apr. 24, 2002). Marshal Boatwright served on the Executive Board of the National Association of State Fire Marshals from 1995-2000, and was Secretary/Treasurer from 1999-2000. A long time paid and volunteer firefighter, Boatwright has been State Fire Marshal since 1993.

West P, Senior Ed.: NIMS: The Last Word on Incident Command? Fire Chief on Line (March 5, 2004) Found at: (Last consulted March 9, 2004). “What we’ve said now with the NIMS document is that it’s not just a fire service issue. We’re expanding (incident management) to include all the agencies involved in response to emergencies — beyond police, EMS and fire — to include all the government agencies that will respond to a disaster as well as some private organizations.”

“[T]he National Emergency Management Association adopted a position in September 1996 adopting the National Interagency Incident Management System and its Incident Command System (ICS) as the model for all risk/hazard response activities by state and local governments. . . “ National Emergency Management Association Terrorism Committee, A Resolution Advocating the Incident Command/Management System for all WMD Operations By All Levels Of Government, February 25 - March 1, 2000.


Nicholson WC: Legal Issues in Emergency Response to Terrorism Incidents Involving Hazardous Materials: The Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response (“HAZWOPER”) Standard, Standard Operating Procedures, Mutual Aid and the Incident Command System. Widener Symposium Law Journal. 2003; 9(2): 295, note 116 at 309.

“Clearly, ICS is gaining momentum, though there’s still a long road before it’s a truly universal structure and language for managing incidents.” Scott Baltic, ICS For Everyone. 3 Homeland Preparedness Professional 2004; 1: 26.

Jensen RA: Mass Fatality and Casualty Incidents, A Field Guide. Boca Raton, FL: CRC Press, 1999.

Id. “The goal of SEMS was to organize the response to any incident starting with the lowest level of resources and support required . . . SEMS incorporates . . . [the] Incident Command System. . . .” Id.

NFPA 1600 § 5.8.

NIMS at 1-2.

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(i) requires that during an emergency response the most senior emergency response official becomes the individual in charge of a site-specific Incident Command System (ICS). All emergency responders and their communications shall be coordinated and controlled through the individual in charge of the ICS assisted by the senior official present for each employer. Id.

See, e.g., William C. Nicholson, Beating the System to Death: A Case Study in Incident Command and Mutual Aid, 152 Fire Engineering at 128, 129-30 (Oct. 1999).

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3) requires these characteristics at all HAZMAT response sites.

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(i). NFPA 472 requires use of IMS and contains detailed competencies for the IC at 472-22 to 472-25.

Note to (q)(3)(i) specifies that the “senior official” at an emergency response is the most senior official on the site who has the responsibility for controlling the operations at the site. That person is the senior officer on the first-due piece of responding emergency apparatus to arrive on the incident scene. Id. More senior arriving officers (i.e., battalion chief, fire chief, state law enforcement official, site coordinator, etc.) assume the position, which is passed up the previously established line of authority. Id.

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(ii).

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(iii) requires personal protective equipment to “meet, at a minimum, the criteria contained in 29 CFR § 1910.156(e) when worn while performing fire fighting operations beyond the incipient stage for . . . [the] incident.”

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120 (q)(3)(iv).

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(v).

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(v).

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(vi).

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(vii). “The individual in charge of the ISC shall designate a safety official, who is knowledgeable in the operations being implemented at the emergency response site. . . .”

29 C.F.R. § 1910.120(q)(3)(viii).

See Victor Microwave, Inc., 1996 OSAHRC LEXIS 57, at *44-47. Failure to designate a separate safety officer was found to be a serious violation.



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