14 ICS Management Characteristics – 5 Tips for ICS Common Terminology

Common Terminology: ICS establishes common terminology that allows diverse incident management and support organizations to work together across a wide variety of incident management functions and hazard scenarios. This common terminology covers the following:

Organizational Functions: Major functions and functional units with incident management responsibilities are named and defined. Terminology for the organizational elements is standard and consistent.

Resource Descriptions: Major resources—including personnel, facilities, and major equipment and supply items—that support incident management activities are given common names and are “typed” with respect to their capabilities, to help avoid confusion and to enhance interoperability.

Incident Facilities: Common terminology is used to designate the facilities in the vicinity of the incident area that will be used during the course of the incident.

Incident response communications (during exercises and actual incidents) should feature plain language commands so they will be able to function in a multijurisdictional environment. Field manuals and training should be revised to reflect the plain language standard.

Tip #1 – Resist the desire to tinker with  the ICS structure and terminology

Changing any of the common terminology will lead to confusion during an event and reduce the effectiveness of the Incident Command System.

Tip #2 – Common terminology precedes incident response

The need for common terminology precedes incident response. Pre-incident planning and coordination require a common language to articulate needs, describe processes, establish policies, craft joint SOPs, and ultimately command resources during interagency operations. Interagency communications SOPs require a common dialect for describing the “who, when, why, where, what, and how” of operations.

Tip #3 – Have standard naming conventions for channels and other communications resources

From a communications standpoint, it is critical to have standard naming conventions for channels and other communications resources across jurisdictions. It is fairly common for agencies that work together to have common radio channels at their disposal that they are unaware of or that are named so differently that nobody would associate them. Some regions go so far as to establish not only standard names for shared channels or talk groups, but also standard programmed positions in the radios for interagency resources.

Tip #4 – Eliminate codes and jargon

This is a simple idea, but every vocation and avocation has its own terminology. When these diverge across agencies and disciplines, responders don’t communicate.

Tip #5 – Don’t use technical or other acronyms.

Even if the members of the ICS organization are all from the same discipline and would understand the acronyms, there will come a time when an interface will occur with an independent organization.

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