Everyone has seen some form of disaster. Whether that disaster was a war, civil unrest or rioting, an earthquake, volcanic eruption, or some sort of sudden climatic disaster like a flood, almost everyone with an internet connection has experienced a disaster, even if they do so vicariously. But, unless the viewer is physically present in the disaster area, few people have any idea how “the authorities” are able to handle the disaster of the day, at any level of competence.
The answer, since 1968, has been the Incident Command System, or ICS.
Originally developed at a meeting of fire chiefs in Southern California, the ICS idea began as a development of command processes from the United States Navy. It was not, however, a smooth process. The failures in response management during the massive Laguna Fire of 1970 showed that methods of coordination and control were near-completely divorced from reality, and that a great deal of more work was required to develop a coherent and standardized response to emergencies. Beginning in 1973, with the creation of the FIRESCOPE program, what would evolve into the modern form of ICS began with the Tactical Field Control Operations section of FIRESCOPE, ICS quickly matured as Federal, State and local agencies adopted the idea as a standard system.
Seeing the utility of the idea, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) eventually created a 20-hour long standard training course that would allow the creation of emergency management teams in any area that could assemble the requisite personnel and assets. Coupled to a much more basic training program for civilians to act in disaster operations, this combination has significantly helped bring order out of chaos in many real-world disaster situations.
In doing so, it is a shining example of what government can do when it gets something right.
However, lurking in the background was ICS’s genesis as a military-based command structure. In the US military of the 21st century, this is known as either “Battle Tracking” or “Command Post Operations”.
Because the situation in combat can completely change in a matter of minutes – or less – the idea of having a detailed, yet flexible, set of command protocols has been a very important feature of military operations for decades…And yet, the vast majority of civilians know little or nothing about the process of emergency management.
This is not really surprising, because despite their frequency, natural disasters and wars are very rare occurrences in the lives of most people. But, those dangers can present themselves at any time…and knowing at least something of the process – even if the reader never signs up for a course – will prove helpful should you ever find yourself in a disaster situation, by at least helping to understand at some level what is happening.
The above image depicts the standard notional organization of an Incident Command organization. It is a rather bland, “vanilla” organization, because it is intended to scale to any region, from a small town to the nation as a whole. It outlines the basic departments that would have to function in most emergencies. At the same time, it allows for expansion by adding specialist groups, should the situation call for it. This also allows for “on the spot” recruiting of survivors and volunteers to fill in holes.
A good overview of the process comes from the West Virginia Department of Education, which shows how a specific organization might use the basic ICS format to create its own specialized structure, based on what it deems are its unique needs.
But…How does this apply in any real depth to the individual – in a word, why should you actually care about this process?
To echo the beginning of this article, there are any numbers of dangers, natural and man-made, that can happen suddenly and without warning. There is a greater that 0% chance that you, the Reader, may find yourself in a sudden disaster situation – and help may not be on the immediate horizon. It may come down to you, to start getting things organized.
This is no encouragement to “Walter Mitty” fantasies. The fact that you may have never found yourself in such a desperate situation does not mean that you never will…and with the apparent trajectory of the world, as described by the news every day, the chances that you, personally, may have to either apply the ideas outlined above or step up to take part, is becoming a rapidly increasing possibility.
An article such as this is far too brief to do more than touch on the idea as a general concept. There are videos available that can give you a basic run-down, and the S2 Underground is a great place to start. But, while your author is usually loathe to recommend any government website for any practical purpose, in this case, the Reader should refer to the FEMA links provided above. Most counties in the United States offer some form of emergency management and response classes. Take at least a basic CERT course, to understand the tasks and challenges in responding to disasters – of whatever type – and to become better prepared for whatever might roll in your direction.
The world can be a scary place. But, it becomes significantly less scary if you understand the potential situations, and your options in those situations. You will not be able to learn these skills, nor establish connections with your friends, neighbors and fellow citizens through osmosis – you have to go out and acquire the necessary skills and contacts.
You and your family will appreciate it later.