Office of Operations
21st Century Operations Using 21st Century Technologies Incident Command System

An incident command system is identified in the literature as an item that should be in place and used during an evacuation incident. According to National Fire Protection Association 1600: Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs:“In disasters/emergencies, an incident management system would be used to systematically identify management functions assigned to various personnel. The system used varies among entities and among jurisdictions within entities. In minor disasters/emergencies, incident management functions might be handled by one person, the incident commander.”

Establishing Priority – As reported in the literature, the first on the scene sometimes establishes the command of the situation and the priorities. I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response reported: “On January 13, with more than 20 agencies at the crash scene and controlling traffic in the surrounding areas, the unified command enabled responders to address the situation quickly and efficiently (at the I-95 tanker explosion site). Chief Herr’s first moves were to meet with leaders from all the attending agencies, establish his command, and assess the situation from the multiple viewpoints represented. Since no rescues were possible, Chief Herr and the other incident commanders established five priorities to ensure continued safe and efficient operations for the duration of the event.”

Incident Command and Planning Efforts – The use of an incident command system was cited favorably in San Bernardino County Fire Chiefs’ Association: Lessons Learned Report: Fire Storm 2003: “Old Fire”: “As expected, the Incident Command System (during the southern California wildfires) worked as it was designed to function. It provided a common operational area which enabled participants to function effectively, even in the initial absence of an effective, unified command. From the onset of the fire, unified incident commanders successfully used the Mountain Area Safety Taskforce planning effort for critical, strategic, and tactical decisions. The Mountain Area Safety Taskforce effort proved critical to a successful evacuation effort when winds shifted and blew the fire into the mountain communities. 70,000 citizens were evacuated. The Mountain Area Safety Taskforce project that had cleared dead trees from the evacuation routes proved successful as firefighters used these corridors for a major backfire in an attempt to keep fire out of the mountain communities.”

Jurisdictions – Incident command center jurisdictions vary from location to location. For example, during the I-95 tanker explosion, I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response reports that in the State of Maryland, “today the Maryland’s Coordinated Highways Action Response Team no longer focuses on a single need but assists with highway management systems statewide. The response team is now a multi-agency organization with a governing board featuring representatives from the Maryland State Highway Administration, the Maryland State Police, Maryland Transportation Authority, Federal Highway Administration, and local governments.”

Lead Agencies – Incident command centers establish “a unified command—[by] taking into account the missions of all responding agencies when making decisions at the scene of an incident—[which] is the job of the incident commander. Characteristic of the unified command structure, fire and rescue emergency response agencies sometimes are the first on the scene of an incident and normally are the first lead agencies to establish incident command. In the Maryland crash [I-95 tanker explosion]; therefore, the first incident command was established under Chief Herr, who managed the crash within a familiar and practiced organizational structure that is standard for most emergency response situations,” as reported in I-95 Shutdown: Coordinating Transportation and Emergency Response.

New York City – Incident command centers have been established by various cities. According to Effects of Catastrophic Events on Transportation System Management and Operations: August 2003 Northeast Blackout New York City: “Established in 1996, the New York City Office of Emergency Management oversees emergency preparedness for the city, including the transportation agencies’ response efforts. On August 14, the Office of Emergency Management activated the City’s Emergency Operations Center at 4:20 p.m. to begin the process of providing coordination and direction to agencies (during the blackout), including the region’s 13 traffic management centers. During an emergency, the Emergency Operations Center is staffed by senior officials from City agencies, as well as representatives from state and federal agencies.”

Use of Incident Command Southern California Wildfires – The use of an incident command was cited during the southern California wildfires of 2003 in Southern California Firestorm 2003: Report for the Wildland Fire Lessons Learned Center: “Respondents said that the Incident Command System proved its worth as common doctrine. The Incident Command System provided common ground around which diverse cooperators could rally and begin to function effectively, even in the initial absence of effective, centralized command.”

February 7, 2006
Publication #FHWA–HOP-08-015