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.



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.


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.

14 ICS Management Characteristics – 5 Tips for ICS Accountability

Effective accountability of resources at all jurisdictional levels and within individual functional areas during incident operations is essential. Adherence to the following ICS principles and processes helps to ensure accountability:

  • Resource Check-In/Check-Out Procedures
  • Incident Action Planning
  • Unity of Command
  • Personal Responsibility
  • Span of Control
  • Resource Tracking

Tip #1 – Commander and Planning Section Chief set Tone
The Incident Commander and the Planning Section Chief set the tone for accountability across the organization ensuring that the principles of ICS are upheld.

Tip #2 – Keep unit and personal logs
This will demonstrate transparency and allow for learning post incident.

Tip #3 – Ensure Meeting Schedules are kept

Tip #4 – Use a standardized status reporting procedure for operational units
It provides basic information for command decision-making and responder accountability, while making efficient and effective use of communications channels.
The unit can prepare a quick report that provides its current position, progress with its current task, a statement of any resource or support needs, and a simple statement accounting for personnel assigned to the person preparing the report. Such a personnel accountability report provides a positive acknowledgment that the unit is intact and safe.

Tip #5 – Ensure unity of the chain of command
Accountability relies on each individual in the active ICS structure having a direct supervisor and that the supervisor accepts responsibility for subordinates.

Why should you use the Incident Management System within your Business Continuity plan?

Vanguard EMC and other business continuity management experts recommend the incident management system to their clients as part of business continuity planning. The incident management system or incident command system is a standardized approach to incident management that is scalable and flexible.

In the United States, all federal departments and agencies, and state and local governments are required to adopt the National Incident Management System.

As a Canadian organisation, why would you want to learn and apply this system to your organisation? Here are five reasons that your organization should look into IMS for BCP:

  1. It will provide structure and allows for control over the response and recovery environment
  2. It will provide senior management with a proven structure and method to manage significant interruption to the organization
  3. It will provide a framework for tracking the resources and cost directly related to the interruption
  4. It will provide common terminology between yourself and emergency responders
  5. It will address the disparity of communications between organizations and emergency management teams during an emergency

Vanguard EMC is offering free courses introducing you to the incident management system (ICS100). If you have already received this introduction and are ready to start applying IMS to your business continuity program, you will benefit from BCIMS200. This course will provide practical guidance on how to adopt the IMS/ICS for business continuity for business or government organisations.

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