Removing Barriers to Incident Command System Training

Incident commander vest Vanguard EMC is proud to introduce our new, free online course “Orientation to the Incident Command System” (ICS 100). How does it work? Simply take the course and follow through to the 20-question exam. Students who achieve over 80% on the online exam will be sent a digital certificate.

This course is available free of charge and at any time. It is self-directed and interactive with periodic knowledge checks to help learners reinforce their knowledge. It is designed to leave someone who has no previous knowledge of ICS with a ‘big picture’ overview of how and why ICS works. Time to completion will vary but should be a couple hours to a half-day for most participants.

Why should I learn about ICS?

ICS is the standard for managing the incidents requiring multiple agencies across North America. Its effectiveness in practice, like that of email or a fax machine, is tied to how many people have adopted it into use. Promoting the adoption of ICS among Canadians is an objective of Vanguard EMC.

In Canada, ICS was first adopted as a way to coordinate efforts among many organizations in fighting forest fires on the West Coast. Since then, it has grown to encompass all first response organizations, including paramedics, police and firefighters. It is quickly becoming the norm for proactive private companies and government departments to use ICS in their emergency planning. Operations Chief vest

Vanguard EMC and ICS

Vanguard EMC’s objectives in providing free training are threefold. First, we aim to raise awareness and understanding of the Incident Command System in Canada among professionals who do not work in emergency management. Second, we want to lower barriers to ICS implementation for organizations. The online option will give planners the ability to quickly introduce many in their workforce to the concepts of ICS. Third, we hope to provide a sample of Vanguard EMC’s expertise to a broader audience and encourage you to enrol in our more advanced training.

Professionals who want to know more about ICS are welcome to register for our ICS 200, 300 and 400 level courses or a related course in emergency management, listed here. In addition to training, Vanguard EMC offers auditing and consulting services in emergency management and business continuity.


DRI CANADA Lifetime Achievement Award 2015 – Brian Miller

Award Ceremony at WCDM

Brian Miller takes the stage at WCDM to accept the 2015 DRI CANADA Lifetime Achievement Award.

Vanguard EMC is proud to announce that our president Brian Miller was awarded the DRI CANADA Lifetime Achievement award at the World Conference on Disaster Management June 10, 2015.  I wanted to share his acceptance speech in order to inspire the next generation of Business Continuity and Emergency Management professional to become active in the industry:

Pictures at the DRI Booth with the Award

John Yamniuk, Brian Miller and Brock Holowachuk

Friends, colleagues and conference delegates; as I stand here before you this morning, I feel somewhat uneasy because I know of others who are also deserving of this award. Ironically I prepared the nomination papers for someone else before learning that I had also been nominated. And so I wish to thank the people who took the time to consider me as a candidate and most specifically to my alma mater in the world of BC and EM, the Ottawa Chapter of the Disaster Recovery Information Exchange.

It is indeed a great honour to be recommended and selected by my peers and it is many of those same people to whom I owe such gratitude for supporting me through the times when difficult decisions were made and significant risks taken to ensure and enhance our profession in Canada. Not every battle was successful but in the end we prevailed.

My career in business continuity and emergency management has been enhanced by my involvement in DRIE, DRI CANADA and the CCEP. While I contributed to these organizations in support and leadership roles, they gave back so much more than I put in. It is like having a bank account that pays 125% interest on deposits.

The words “lifetime achievement” sound like it is the end of a great period but there remains much more to come! I am looking forward to achieving many more milestones in our profession  and I ask you to join me on the rest of the journey. I am appealing to you to seek opportunities to volunteer within our profession, it is only through selfless dedication that we can all move forward.

Lockdown? Shelter-in-place? Hold and Secure?

Pop quiz!

You are the Chief Emergency Warden of a workplace two blocks from an escalating protest. The crowd could become unruly and shift toward to your building. You decide to lock the exterior doors, close blinds, advise employees of the situation and ask them to remain indoors, away from exterior windows, until the protest has been resolved. You place signs in the main doors advising that your business is closed until further notice.

Now, from the list below, which procedure did you just perform?

  • Lockdown
  • Shelter-in-Place
  • Hold and Secure

Chances are, regardless of which you chose, a significant number of your peers will have chosen something else. Your answer was likely determined by some combination of your organization’s own terminology, when and where you were trained in emergency management, and your role within emergency management.Picture Blog May 2015

The inconsistency of emergency management terminology across industries, geography, and various schools of thought may create additional confusion or miscommunication during an emergency, thereby placing people and property at risk. We, as an industry, should strive for common terminology among roles and organizations to mitigate this risk.

Vanguard EMC’s presentation at the upcoming DRIE Ottawa’s 2015 Annual Conference will address this inconsistency and will appeal for a push toward standardization in terminology across the industry.

How do you define these terms? Which publications do you consider ‘authoritative’ on EM terminology? Have you witnessed inconsistent communication cause harm in your organization? Please comment below or join us June 3rd in Ottawa!

(My answer: Hold and Secure)

Enhanced Exercise Implementation at Vanguard

What would happen if your organization was affected by multiple incidents at more than one location? Have your plans ever been tested or your employees exercised in a multifaceted scenario?

In February of 2015, the Vanguard EMC team successfully navigated their most complex exercise to date. It was multi-location (3400 km apart), multi-functional, multi-scenario and included the use of the Incident Command System (ICS) for response and recovery.

The multi-location aspect necessitated tight control of timing in the design phase to keep the exercise sites synchronised. In preparation, the exercise design team worked tirelessly to refine each inject to support the exercise objectives and ensure each participant had the opportunity to practice their role.

Multiple dry-runs were instrumental in achieving a successful outcome. These dry-runs helped to identify and resolve many small issues that, if unchecked, could have become ‘disconnects’ during the live exercise.

The team learned that direct voice communication for the facilitator support is not always required; email and text work well. Facilitator support proved essential to the smooth coordination of the complex exercise.

Vanguard provided an ICS expert for each of the response and recovery teams to guide the players through the implementation of the Incident Management system. Access to an ICS coach was helpful to the participants as it provided them with more confidence.

The Vanguard EMC team was explicitly thanked for our expertise and support by an Executive VP and several Directors of the client organization.

We look forward to sharing our skills with other organizations, helping them to achieve a higher resilience through advanced exercise implementation.


Tips on Preparing a 72 hour kit

The following list is credited to  CEO at UNITED SPIRIT OF AMERICA from a LinkedIn posting entitled “Experts defined the 12 Biggest Mistakes when preparing for a disaster… I like your comments, additions and objections to them.” As this LinkedIn group is a members only site, we have edited and posted the information to this blog.

Tip 01

Buy products that do not require clean water to work.
One of the most common effects of a disaster zone is the inability to get clean water.

Tip 02

Buy products that are light and easy to carry.
Assume that you may be injured and/or may not have the strength to carry heavy objects after a disaster occur.

Tip 03

Buy products that are not scented or do not have strong odors.
Wildlife is attracted to scent. From mosquitoes to large predators their sense of smell is one of their most effective sources for finding food.

Tip 04

Buy products that do not depend on electrical power.
One of the first things that fail when a disaster of any kind strikes is electrical power, buying products that require electrical power may be just a waste of money.

Tip 05

Buy products with long shelf life.
Products with less than 3 years of shelf life may be expired and unusable when you really need them.

Tip 06

Buy first aid products and hygiene products that are needed on a daily basis.
People will use hygiene products regardless if they are injured or not, but most people buy first aid products and forget what they use on a daily basis.

Tip 07

Buy based on how good it works not how cheap it is.
Everybody wants to save money but when a disaster call you need to have the best most reliable products… your life my depend on them

Tip 08

Buy products that can perform for a least 72 hours.
The first 72 hours after a disaster are key, most emergency and survival support agencies and institutions can’t reach you. If you don’t have enough to survive those 72 hours a simple thing such as antibacterial protection could become a serious health issue.

Tip 09

Do not take wind, sunshine, protection from bugs and water for granted.
When disaster strikes your “normal” environment disappears and too much wind, sunshine and/or bugs can make your survival very challenging.

Tip 10

After food and shelter is secured the most important issue is your hygiene.
In a disaster the possibility of getting sick by contagious diseases grow exponentially with time, hygiene products are just as essential as shelter and food, make sure you have enough.

Tip 11

Whenever possible, include extra supplies rather than the minimum.
When people buy their products they should take into account that some people close to them (neighbors for example) may not have theirs or could have lost them in the disaster and then everyone would have to share…

Tip 12

Buy products that were designed for an emergency.
People sometimes buy products based on price rather than effectiveness and at the time of a disaster they wonder why their products don’t perform to the task ahead.

Tip 13 (Credited to a comment by Jennifer Robitaille )

Do not forget about your pets.
Pets are like a member of your family and will need access to clean water, shelter and food.

Tip 14 (Credited to a comment by Guy Cullum)

Include simple entertainment like books or cards.  Most survival is waiting and dealing with the waiting. Having things to keep the mind active and people not focused on what has happened is vital for mental health for adults and children.

The Multi Purpose Emergency Tool at DRIE Ottawa Conference


Thank-you to everyone who provided us with new idea’s for our multi purpose tool at DRIE Ottawa June 2014. Vanguard EMC Inc recommends including equipment within your emergency operations centre or recovery kit(s) that can be used for a variety of purposes.  This will often make your kit smaller, lighter and easier to store.  As part of our promotional items, Vanguard gives away a free multipurpose item. These six ideas were suggested to us today:

  • Rain Gauge: Place outside on the ground to collect rain.
  • Gopher hole cover: To keep the critters in.
  • Wheel for my little red wagon?
  • Automotive oil catcher: Drip, drip, drip…
  • Bright Bird Bath:
  • Flower pot dish:
  • Vanguardspring2012 017

If you think of more uses for this item, please let us know below. To obtain your free multipurpose tool speak with us at the DRIE Ottawa annual conference in June or at any of the quarterly meetings.

The Many Uses of the Vanguard EMC Inc. Multi Purpose Emergency Tool


Vanguard EMC Inc recommends including equipment within your emergency operations centre or recovery kit(s) that can be used for a variety of purposes.  This will often make your kit smaller, lighter and easier to store.  As part of our promotional items, Vanguard gives away a free multipurpose item that can be used as a:


  • Plate
  • Water Dish: Place outside on the ground to collect rain.
  • Umbrella: Place inverted over head to protect from torrential downpours.
  • Communication accelerator: Print message, tape to disk and throw to intended recipient.
  • Communication deterrent: Aim at nose of speaker and throw hard.
  • Stress Alleviator: Keeps children, pets and Senior Management relaxed.
  • Vanguardspring2012 017


If you think of more uses for this item, please let us know below. To obtain your free multipurpose tool speak with us at the DRIE Ottawa annual conference in June or at any of the quarterly meetings.

14 ICS Management Characteristics – 4 Tips for ICS Modular Organization

The ICS organizational structure develops in a modular fashion based on the size, complexity of the incident, the quantity of resources required, as well as the specifics of the hazard environment created by the incident. When needed, separate functional elements can be established, each of which may be further subdivided to enhance internal organizational management and external coordination. Responsibility for the establishment and expansion of the ICS modular organization ultimately rests with Incident Command, which bases the ICS organization on the requirements of the situation. As incident complexity increases, the organization expands from the top down as functional responsibilities are delegated. Concurrently with structural expansion, the number of management and supervisory positions expands to address the requirements of the incident adequately.

Tip #1 – Beware of insufficient staffing of necessary positions

If necessary positions are not staffed, the inherited responsibilities can overcome staff. Emergency response personnel can quickly became overwhelmed with duties as the incident progresses and expands, and the lack of command staff support can led to operational impediments. Emergency responders should consider establishing command staff positions at the outset of an incident in order to improve incident command’s ability to effectively and efficiently coordinate response operations.

Tip #2 – Have everyone stay in their box/role

Everyone, including the Incident Commander, should concentrate on the duties and responsibilities assigned to their role. Operating outside the scope of their function can lead to duplication of efforts, wasted resources, and confusion. Freelancing is not conducive with an effective response.

Tip #3 – Strengthen network relationships by highlighting the contributions of different members

As responders come to appreciate the skills of other network members and observe these members fulfilling their commitments, they develop trust in them. Such trust forms a virtuous circle of reciprocity and coordination. But vicious circles can form if a response is faltering. As network members perceive other members as incompetent or failing to meet their responsibilities, they are less likely to rely on them and more likely to favor unilateral action rather than coordinate their resources.  ICS managers can overcome this by communicating to their staff and to the media the positive contributions that network members have provided, establishing the credibility and competence of ICS members and thereby building a basis for intra-network trust.

Tip #4 – Separate the pool of technical specialist from the trained ICS command structure positions

It is vital to separate the pool of technical specialist from the trained ICS command structure positions (command staff, planning, logistics, situation, finance, and resource personnel)

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.

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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