In the last segment, we introduced the Incident Command System (ICS). In this post, we will cover the day-to-day workings of the Incident Command Post (ICP). This is the facility where the Command and General Staff work.
The size of the incident determines the size of the ICP. In small, short responses, the ICP can be the tailgate of the IC’s pickup. The ICP needs to grow as the response expands and positions are filled. Many fire departments and law enforcement agencies have mobile command posts. These are busses or RVs that have been specially designed to arrive on an incident and immediately go to work.
Unified Command and Area Command
In the event of a large and prolonged incident, a permanent structure is needed. Current agency offices can be converted to house the ICP for a localized response. Offices may need to be rented if no agency offices are close enough to the incident.
If the incident spreads across multiple jurisdictions, Unified Command can be implemented. This allows different agencies to pool resources for effective management of the incident. An example of this is state and local governments responding together to a tornado.
If the incident spreads geographically, logistics of moving resources becomes problematic. Think of a disease outbreak moving across a state. In this case, Area Command is set up. This allows for a more targeted response to each segment of the incident.
Each incident is different, yet all are very similar. Once the IC stands up and staffs an ICP, the work begins. Most mornings start with a briefing, to advise responders of the day’s planned activities. Afterwards, the responders are dismissed to the field to begin work.
Life in the ICP
Life in the ICP consists of meetings, planning, reporting, and responding to issues as they arise. Each section has tactical meetings to determine the direction of the response for the following operational period. The planning meeting brings all sections together to address needs and the ability to meet them. The Plans Chief lays out the desired tactical response. The Ops Chief determines if that response can be met, and the resources needed. The Logs Chief advises of resources on hand, what has been ordered, and expected arrival times. The Finance Chief ensures that all orders fall within budget. If all needs are met, the IC approves the plan.
The Plans Section then drafts and publishes the Incident Action Plan (IAP). This document contains the overall goals of the response; important information such as weather forecasts, basic safety information, maps to local hospitals, and phone numbers of supporting agencies; has an ICS chart showing each responder in their appropriate section; and lists each responder’s contact information. Every responder receives a copy of the IAP before the operational period. In larger incidents, the IAP is published and distributed electronically.
Evolution of the ICP
Large incidents can get hectic and busy quickly. ICS is designed to manage resources in a way that limits confusion. First, a resource is ordered. This could be a piece of equipment or a responder. When the resource arrives, it is checked into the response and assigned to a Section. Most of the resources go to Ops. If the resource is a responder, that person needs to be credentialed and briefed on expected duties.
Once the resource is no longer needed, it must be demobilized. This process gets the resource ready to be returned to its home unit. Equipment is inspected for any repairs needed, and then checked out of the incident. Responders are debriefed and checked out of the incident. Responders complete an After Action Report upon returning to their home unit. This report helps the Plans Section to improve the deployment process for future incidents.
In the final stages of the incident, the ICP begins to stand down and all resources are demobilized. Often, the IC and Section Chiefs will gather for a hot wash to discuss lessons learned and to plan for the next incident.
If you are interested in becoming part of the response, start your training now. Begin with the basic ICS classes. Keep your CPR and First Aid trainings current. Have a Go Bag packed and ready. Despite our best planning and training, there will always be a need for emergency responders.