14 ICS Management Characteristics – 5 Tips for ICS Chain of Command and Unity of Command

Chain of Command: Chain of command refers to the orderly line of authority within the ranks of the incident management organization.

Unity of Command: Unity of command means that all individuals have a designated supervisor to whom they report at the scene of the incident. These principles clarify reporting relationships and eliminate the confusion caused by multiple, conflicting directives. Incident managers at all levels must be able to direct the actions of all personnel under their supervision.

Tip #1 – Use Deputies where possible

Tip #2 – Follow command transfer procedures

Tip #3 – Communicate “through channels.”

ICS provides a hierarchical chain of command that expands and contracts based on the size and needs of incidents. Through this classical organization of human functions, each person fulfilling a role has a clear route, if not means, of communications up and down the chain of command.

ICS responders speak of the need to “talk up one and down one,” meaning that they need to talk up the command chain one slot to their supervisor and down one to everyone they supervise. Beside the Incident Commander (IC), who is the top-level supervisor from an incident command perspective, and the lowest crew member, who supervises no one, every other person in the command chain needs to talk through channels up one and down one.

Tip #4 – Incident Commanders should be willing to allow independent action

Events may be moving so rapidly that a central command cannot keep up and therefore needs to be willing to allow independent action within and under control of the Section Chiefs.

Tip #5 – Strengthen network relationships by communicating shared challenge and purpose

Crises can create a sense of common challenge and mutual trust, which in turn can foster a sense of esprit de corps (Moynihan, 2005). As responders perceive that they are working together to overcome the same challenge, they perceive the ICS less as a collection of organizations and more as a single team. Once a crisis begins, ICS managers should communicate to their staff the shared nature of the challenges they face, the difficulties they may encounter, and the goals they are pursuing.

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