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FEMA IS-200.B: ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents Course Summary

IS-200.b – ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents


Lesson 1: Course Overview

Course Welcome

The Emergency Management Institute developed ICS 200, ICS for Single Resources and Initial Action Incidents (IS-200) course, in collaboration with:

  • National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)
  • U.S. Department of Agriculture
  • USFA’s National Fire Programs Branch

IS-200 follows NIMS guidelines and meets the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Baseline Training requirements for IS-200.

This is the second in a series of ICS courses designed to meet the all-hazards, all-agency NIMS ICS requirement for operational personnel. Descriptions and details about the other ICS courses in the series may be found on our Web site:


Lesson Overview

This course is designed to enable personnel to operate efficiently during an incident or event within the Incident Command System (ICS). This course focuses on the management of an initial response to an internal incident.


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Describe the ICS organization appropriate to the complexity of the incident or event.
  • Use ICS to manage an incident or event.


Incident Command System (ICS)


  • Is a standardized management tool for meeting the demands of small or large emergency or nonemergency situations.
  • Represents “best practices,” and has become the standard for emergency management across the country.
  • May be used for planned events, natural disasters, and acts of terrorism.
  • Is a key feature of the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

ICS is not just a standardized organizational chart, but an entire management system.


Why ICS?

All levels of government, the private sector, and nongovernmental agencies must be prepared to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from a wide spectrum of major events and natural disasters that exceed the capabilities of any single entity. Threats from natural disasters and human-caused events, such as terrorism, require a unified and coordinated national approach to planning and to domestic incident management.

Click on this link to access the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA) 1600, Standard on Disaster/Emergency Management and Business Continuity Programs (recommended by the 9/11 Commission as the national preparedness standard).


Homeland Security Presidential Directives

  • HSPD-5, Management of Domestic Incidents, identified steps for improved coordination in response to incidents. It required the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to coordinate with other Federal departments and agencies and State, local, and tribal governments to establish a National Response Framework (NRF) and a National Incident Management System (NIMS).
  • PPD-8, National Preparedness, describes the Nation’s approach to preparedness-one that involves the whole community, including individuals, businesses, community- and faith-based organizations, schools, tribes, and all levels of government (Federal, State, local, tribal and territorial).


National Incident Management System (NIMS)

NIMS provides a consistent framework for incident management at all jurisdictional levels regardless of the cause, size, or complexity of the incident. Building upon the Incident Command System (ICS), NIMS provides the Nation’s first responders and authorities with the same foundation for incident management for terrorist attacks, natural disasters, and other emergencies. NIMS requires that ICS be institutionalized.

Institutionalizing ICS

According to the National Integration Center, “institutionalizing the use of ICS” means that government officials, incident managers, and emergency response organizations at all jurisdictional levels adopt the Incident Command System. Actions to institutionalize the use of ICS take place at two levels — policy and organizational/operational.

At the policy level, institutionalizing ICS means government officials, i.e., governors, mayors, county and city managers, tribal leaders, and others:

  • Adopt the ICS through executive order, proclamation, or legislation as the jurisdiction’s official incident response system; and
  • Direct that incident managers and response organizations in their jurisdictions train, exercise, and use the ICS in their response operations.

At the organizational/operational level, evidence that incident managers and emergency response organizations are institutionalizing ICS would include the following:

  • ICS is being integrated into functional and system-wide emergency operations policies, plans, and procedures;
  • ICS training is planned or under way for responders, supervisors, and command level officers; and
  • Responders at all levels are participating in and/or coordinating ICS-oriented exercises that involve responders from multiple disciplines and jurisdictions.


NIMS Components

NIMS integrates existing best practices into a consistent, nationwide approach to domestic incident management. As illustrated below, five major components make up the NIMS systems approach.

Five major components make up the NIMS systems approach: Command and Management, Preparedness, Resource Management, Communications and Information Management, and Ongoing Management and Maintenance. The Incident Command System, Multiagency Coordination Systems, and Public Information all fall under Command and Management.

Five major components make up the NIMS systems approach. Following is a synopsis of each major component of NIMS, as well as a description of how these components work together as a system to provide the national framework for preparing for, preventing, responding to, and recovering from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity.

  • Command and Management. NIMS standard incident command structures are based on three key organizational systems:
    • ICS. ICS defines the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and structure of incident management and emergency response organizations engaged throughout the life cycle of an incident.
    • Multiagency Coordination Systems. These systems define the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and organizational structure of supporting incident management entities engaged at the Federal, State, local, tribal, and regional levels through mutual aid agreements and other assistance arrangements.
    • Public Information. Public Information refers to processes, procedures, and systems for communicating timely and accurate information to the public during crisis or emergency situations.
  • Preparedness. Effective incident management begins with a host of preparedness activities conducted on a “steady-state” basis, well in advance of any potential incident. Preparedness involves an integrated combination of planning, training, exercises, personnel qualification and certification standards, equipment acquisition and certification standards, and publication management processes and activities.
  • Resource Management. NIMS defines standardized mechanisms and establishes requirements for processes to describe, inventory, mobilize, dispatch, track, and recover resources over the life cycle of an incident.
  • Communications and Information Management. NIMS identifies the requirement for a standardized framework for communications, information management (collection, analysis, and dissemination), and information-sharing at all levels of incident management.
  • Ongoing Management and Maintenance. This component establishes an activity to provide strategic direction for and oversight of NIMS, supporting both routine review and the continuous refinement of the system and its components over the long term.


ICS Features

ICS is based on proven management principles, which contribute to the strength and efficiency of the overall system. ICS principles are implemented through a wide range of management features including the use of common terminology and clear text, and a modular organizational structure.

You may wish to watch this video to review information on ICS features.

ICS is based on proven management principles, which contribute to the strength and efficiency of the overall system.

ICS incorporates a wide range of management features and principles, beginning with the use of common terminology and clear text.

[David Burns, Emergency Preparedness Manager, University of California Los Angeles]
Communication is probably one of the most essential elements of ICS. It’s important that we know how to communicate.

[Daryl Lee Spiewak, Emergency Programs Manager, the Brazos River Authority]
If the terms that I use mean different things to different people, we’re going to have a hard time communicating and doing what needs to be done to accomplish our mission.

ICS emphasizes effective planning, including management by objectives and reliance on an Incident Action Plan.

[Roberta Runge, EPA National NIMS Coordinator]
You have to coordinate on what your end objective is. All up and down the chain you have to have a common end goal. So you can establish your objectives, you can ensure they’re in the Incident Action Plan, and you can ensure that they are in agreement with the other Incident Action Plans that are produced by agencies.

The ICS features related to command structure include chain of command and unity of command.

[Bill Campbell, Director of Training, New York State Emergency Management Office]
One of the benefits is it gets all of the different organizations working under the same framework.

ICS helps ensure full utilization of all incident resources by:

  • Maintaining a manageable span of control,
  • Establishing predesignated incident locations and facilities,
  • Implementing resource management practices, and
  • Ensuring integrated communications.

ICS supports responders and decisionmakers through effective information and intelligence management and helps establish a common operating picture.

[Kristy Plourde, NIMS Program Coordinator, U.S. Coast Guard]
The common operating picture is a critical thing that the Coast Guard has been working hard on recently for ourselves because it’s something that helps us maintain a better operational picture and it’s more consistent across the board, everyone up and down the chain of command and across to other agencies understand the same picture.

ICS counts on each of us taking personal accountability for our own actions. And finally, the mobilization process helps ensure that incident objectives can be achieved while responders remain safe.

[Kristy Plourde, NIMS Program Coordinator, U.S. Coast Guard]
To have NIMS work effectively, it’s got to be top-down support.

The ICS features covered in this lesson form the basis for effective, team-based incident response at all levels. Federal response coordination entities, such as the Joint Field Office, adopt these ICS features in order to provide effective support to the on-scene incident management teams.


ICS Features

This course builds on what you learned in ICS-100 about ICS features. The ICS features are listed below.

  • Common Terminology. Using common terminology helps to define organizational functions, incident facilities, resource descriptions, and position titles.
  • Modular Organization. The incident command organizational structure develops in a top-down, modular fashion that is based on the size and complexity of the incident, as well as the specifics of the hazard environment created by the incident.
  • Management by Objectives. Includes establishing overarching objectives; developing and issuing assignments, plans, procedures, and protocols; establishing specific, measurable objectives for various incident management functional activities; and directing efforts to attain the established objectives.
  • Reliance on an Incident Action Plan. Incident Action Plans (IAPs) provide a coherent means of communicating the overall incident objectives in the contexts of both operational and support activities.
  • Chain of Command and Unity of Command. Chain of command refers to the orderly line of authority within the ranks of the incident management organization. Unity of command means that every individual has a designated supervisor to whom he or she reports 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 control the actions of all personnel under their supervision.
  • Unified Command. In incidents involving multiple jurisdictions, a single jurisdiction with multiagency involvement, or multiple jurisdictions with multiagency involvement, Unified Command allows agencies with different legal, geographic, and functional authorities and responsibilities to work together effectively without affecting individual agency authority, responsibility, or accountability.
  • Manageable Span of Control. Span of control is key to effective and efficient incident management. Within ICS, the span of control of any individual with incident management supervisory responsibility should range from three to seven subordinates.
  • Predesignated Incident Locations and Facilities. Various types of operational locations and support facilities are established in the vicinity of an incident to accomplish a variety of purposes. Typical predesignated facilities include Incident Command Posts, Bases, Camps, Staging Areas, Helibases, and Helispots. Additional facilities such as Mass Casualty Triage Areas and others may be added as required.
  • Resource Management. Resource management includes processes for categorizing, ordering, dispatching, tracking, and recovering resources. It also includes processes for reimbursement for resources, as appropriate. Resources are defined as personnel, teams, equipment, supplies, and facilities available or potentially available for assignment or allocation in support of incident management and emergency response activities.
  • Information and Intelligence Management. The incident management organization must establish a process for gathering, sharing, and managing incident-related information and intelligence.
  • Integrated Communications. Incident communications are facilitated through the development and use of a common communications plan and interoperable communications processes and architectures.
  • Transfer of Command. The command function must be clearly established from the beginning of an incident. When command is transferred, the process must include a briefing that captures all essential information for continuing safe and effective operations.
  • Accountability. Effective accountability at all jurisdictional levels and within individual functional areas during incident operations is essential. To that end, the following principles must be adhered to:
    • Check-In. All responders, regardless of agency affiliation, must report in to receive an assignment in accordance with the procedures established by the Incident Commander.
    • Incident Action Plan. Response operations must be directed and coordinated as outlined in the IAP.
    • Unity of Command. Each individual involved in incident operations will be assigned to only one supervisor.
    • Span of Control. Supervisors must be able to adequately supervise and control their subordinates, as well as communicate with and manage all resources under their supervision.
    • Resource Tracking. Supervisors must record and report resource status changes as they occur.
  • Mobilization. Personnel and equipment should respond only when requested or when dispatched by an appropriate authority.


Additional Resources

For more information, consult the following resources:



Lesson 2: Leadership & Management

Lesson Overview

The Leadership and Management lesson provides a more detailed look at the following ICS features:

  • Chain of Command and Unity of Command
  • Span of Control
  • Leadership in Incident Management
  • Common Terminology


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe chain of command and formal communication relationships.
  • Identify common leadership responsibilities.
  • Describe span of control and modular development.
  • Describe the use of position titles.

We’ll begin by reviewing chain of command.


Chain of Command

An orderly line of authority is used for the flow of task assignments and resource requests. This line of authority flows down through the organizational structure.

Illustration  showing a typical ICS organizational structure, with a  dotted line labeled Orderly Line of Authority flowing from the Incident Commander to the Operations Section Chief, and from the Operations Section Chief to the Branch Director and Air Operations Branch Director.


Unity of Command

Unity of command means that each individual involved in incident operations will be assigned – and will report – to only one supervisor.

Chain of command and unity of command help to ensure that clear reporting relationships exist and eliminate the confusion caused by multiple, conflicting directives. Incident managers at all levels must be able to control the actions of all personnel under their supervision.

Unity of command clears up many of the potential communication problems encountered in managing incidents or events because each individual maintains a formal communication relationship only with his or her immediate supervisor.

Don’t confuse unity of command with Unified Command!


Unified Command

As shown in this illustration, responsible agencies manage an incident together under a Unified Command. Multiple agencies, each with their own Incident Commander, all work together at an incident under a single Unified Command.
Unified Command:

  • Enables all responsible agencies to manage an incident together by establishing a common set of incident objectives and strategies.
  • Allows Incident Commanders to make joint decisions by establishing a single command structure at one Incident Command Post (ICP).
  • Maintains unity of command. Each employee reports to only one supervisor.
Graphic showing an Incident Command Post tent and three Incident Commanders.


Advantages of Unified Command

Advantages of using Unified Command include:

  • A single set of objectives guides incident response.
  • A collective approach is used to develop strategies to achieve incident objectives.
  • Information flow and coordination are improved between all involved in the incident.
  • All agencies have an understanding of joint priorities and restrictions.
  • No agency’s legal authorities will be compromised or neglected.
  • Agencies’ efforts are optimized as they perform their respective assignments under a single Incident Action Plan.
Incident Action Plan shown surrounded by images of medical emergency response personnel, firefighters, and police.


Communications Overview

Formal communications follow the lines of authority. However, information concerning incident or event can be passed horizontally or vertically within the organization without restriction.

Formal communications follow the lines of authority. However, information concerning incident or event can be passed horizontally or vertically within the organization without restriction.


Formal Communication

As illustrated on the previous screen, formal communication must be used when:

  • Receiving and giving work assignments.
  • Requesting support or additional resources.
  • Reporting progress of assigned tasks.

Other information concerning the incident or event can be passed horizontally or vertically within the organization without restriction. This is known as informal communication.


Informal Communication

Informal communication:

  • Is used to exchange incident or event information only.
  • Is NOT used for:
    • Formal requests for additional resources.
    • Tasking work assignments.

Within the ICS organization, critical information must flow freely!

Examples of informal communication are as follows:

  • The Communications Unit Leader may directly contact the Resources Unit Leader to determine the number of persons requiring communications devices.
  • The Cost Unit Leader may directly discuss and share information on alternative strategies with the Planning Section Chief.
Diagram showing informal communication lines between units.  A member of the Resources Unit, within the Planning Section, communicates with the Communications Unit in the Logistics Section.  A member of the Planning Section communicates with the Cost Unit of the Finance/Admin Section


Common Leadership Responsibilities

A good leader:

  • Communicates by giving specific instructions and asking for feedback.
  • Supervises the scene of action.
  • Evaluates the effectiveness of the plan.
  • Understands and accepts the need to modify plans or instructions.
  • Ensures safe work practices.
  • Takes command of assigned resources.
  • Motivates with a “can do safely” attitude.
  • Demonstrates initiative by taking action.

The safety of all personnel involved in an incident or a planned event is the first duty of ICS leadership. This is the overall responsibility of Team Leaders, Group or Division Supervisors, Branch Directors, Sections Chiefs, and all members of the Command or Unified Command staff. Ensuring safe work practices is the top priority within the ICS common leadership responsibilities.


Leadership & Duty

Leaders should know, understand, and practice the leadership principles. Leaders need to recognize the relationship between these principles and the leadership values.

Duty is how you value your job. Duty begins with everything required of you by law and policy, but it is much more than simply fulfilling requirements. A leader commits to excellence in all aspects of his or her professional responsibility.


Commitment to Duty

What can you do, personally, that demonstrates your commitment to duty to those you lead?

As a leader, you should try to:

  • Take charge within your scope of authority.
  • Be prepared to step out of a tactical role to assume a leadership role.
  • Be proficient in your job.
  • Make sound and timely decisions.
  • Ensure tasks are understood.
  • Develop your subordinates for the future.


Leadership & Respect

In order to maintain leadership and respect, you should:

  • Know your subordinates and look out for their well-being. The workers who follow you are your greatest resource. Not all of your workers will succeed equally, but they all deserve respect.
  • Keep your subordinates and supervisor informed. Provide accurate and timely briefings, and give the reason (intent) for assignments and tasks.
  • Build the team. Conduct frequent briefings and debriefings with the team to monitor progress and identify lessons learned. Consider team experience, fatigue, and physical limitations when accepting assignments.


Communication Responsibilities

To ensure sharing of critical information, all responders must:

  • Brief others as needed.
  • Debrief their actions.
  • Communicate hazards to others.
  • Acknowledge messages.
  • Ask if they do not know.

While not always possible, the most effective form of communication is face-to-face.


Briefing Elements

Provide complete briefings that include clearly stated objectives and the following elements:

Task: What is to be done. Purpose: Why it is to be done. End State: How it should look when done.

Incident Management Assessment

Assessment is an important leadership responsibility, and is conducted after a major activity in order to allow employees and leaders to discover what happened and why. Assessment methods include:

  • Corrective action report/After-action review (AAR).
  • Post-incident analysis (PIA).
  • Debriefing.
  • Post-incident critique.
  • Mitigation plans.


Using Common Terminology

ICS establishes common terminology that allows diverse incident management and support entities to work together.

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


ICS Organization: Review

The ICS organization:

  • Is typically structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration.
  • Is adaptable to any emergency or incident to which domestic incident management agencies would be expected to respond.
  • Has a scalable organizational structure that is based on the size and complexity of the incident.

However, this flexibility does NOT allow for the modification of the standard, common language used to refer to organizational components or positions.

ICS Organization

ICS organization chart showing all parts of the Command and General Staffs.

  • Incident Commander (IC): The individual responsible for all incident activities, including the development of strategies and tactics and the ordering and the release of resources. The IC has overall authority and responsibility for conducting incident operations and is responsible for the management of all incident operations at the incident site.
  • Command Staff: The Command Staff consists of:
    • Liaison Officer: A member of the Command Staff responsible for coordinating with representatives from cooperating and assisting agencies. The Liaison Officer may have Assistants.
    • Public Information Officer: A member of the Command Staff responsible for interfacing with the public and media or with other agencies with incident-related information requirements.
    • Safety Officer: A member of the Command Staff responsible for monitoring and assessing safety hazards or unsafe situations, and for developing measures for ensuring personnel safety. The Safety Officer may have Assistants.
  • General Staff: The organization level having functional responsibility for primary segments of incident management (Operations, Planning, Logistics, Finance/Administration). The Section level is organizationally between Branch and Incident Commander. Sections are as follows:
    • Operations Section: The Section responsible for all tactical operations at the incident. The Operations Section includes:
      • Branch: That organizational level having functional, geographical, or jurisdictional responsibility for major parts of the incident operations. The Branch level is organizationally between Section and Division/Group in the Operations Section, and between Section and Units in the Logistics Section. Branches are identified by the use of Roman numerals, by function, or by jurisdictional name.
      • Division: That organization level having responsibility for operations within a defined geographic area. The Division level is organizationally between the Strike Team and the Branch.
      • Group: Groups are established to divide the incident into functional areas of operation. Groups are located between Branches (when activated) and Resources in the Operations Section.
      • Unit: That organization element having functional responsibility for a specific incident planning, logistics, or finance activity.
      • Task Force: A group of resources with common communications and a leader that may be preestablished and sent to an incident, or formed at an incident.
      • Strike Team: Specified combinations of the same kind and type of resources, with common communications and a leader.
      • Single Resource: An individual, a piece of equipment and its personnel complement, or an established crew or team of individuals with an identified work supervisor, that can be used on an incident.
    • Planning Section: Responsible for the collection, evaluation, and dissemination of information related to the incident, and for the preparation and documentation of the Incident Action Plan. The Planning Section also maintains information on the current and forecasted situation, and on the status of resources assigned to the incident. This Section includes the Situation, Resources, Documentation, and Demobilization Units, as well as Technical Specialists.
    • Logistics Section: The Section responsible for providing facilities, services, and materials for the incident. Includes the Service Branch (Communications Unit, Medical Unit, and Food Unit) and Support Branch (Supply Unit, Facilities Unit, and Ground Support Unit).
    • Finance/Administration Section: The Section responsible for all incident costs and financial considerations. The Finance/Administration Section includes the Time Unit, Procurement Unit, Compensation/Claims Unit, and Cost Unit.


ICS Management: Span of Control

ICS span of control for any supervisor is between 3 and 7 subordinates, and optimally does not exceed 5 subordinates.

ICS span of control for any supervisor is between 3 and 7 subordinates, and optimally does not exceed 5 subordinates.


Modular Organization

The ICS organization adheres to a “form follows function” philosophy. The size of the current organization and that of the next operational period is determined through the incident planning process.

Because the ICS is a modular concept, managing span of control is accomplished by organizing resources into Teams, Divisions, Groups, Branches, or Sections when the supervisor-to-subordinate ratio exceeds 7, or by reorganizing or demobilizing Sections, Branches, Divisions, Groups, or Teams when the ratio falls below 3.

Two graphical images – one showing a supervisor with 3 subordinates (the ICS minimum) and the other showing a supervisor with 7 subordinates (the ICS maximum).


Typical Organizational Structure

The initial response to most domestic incidents is typically handled by local “911” dispatch centers, emergency responders within a single jurisdiction, and direct supporters of emergency responders. Most responses need go no further.

Approximately 95% of all incidents are small responses that include:

  • Command: Incident Commander and other Command Staff.
  • Single Resource: An individual, a piece of equipment and its personnel complement, or an established crew or team of individuals with an identified work supervisor that can be used on an incident.
Organizational structure for an initial response with the following three resources reporting to an incident commander: 1. An ambulance and its crew, 2. A fire engine and its crew, and 3. A police officer.


Expanding Incidents

Incidents that begin with single resources may rapidly expand requiring significant additional resources and operational support.

Illustration  showing the growing organizational structure for an expanding incident. At the top is the Incident Commander. Below is the Operations Section, which is divided into branches. Within the branches are divisions – designated by a map showing each division’s geographic area – and functional groups, which are divided into strike teams, task forces, and single resources.

At each level within the ICS organization, individuals with primary responsibility positions have distinct titles. Using specific ICS position titles serves these important purposes:

  • Provides a common standard.
  • Ensures qualified individuals fill positions.
  • Ensures that requested personnel are qualified.
  • Standardizes communication.
  • Describes the responsibilities of the position.


ICS Supervisory Position Titles

Titles for all ICS supervisory levels are shown in the table below:

Organizational Level Title Support Position
Incident Command Incident Commander Deputy
Command Staff Officer Assistant
General Staff (Section) Chief Deputy
Branch Director Deputy
Division/Group Supervisor N/A
Unit Leader Manager
Strike Team/Task Force Leader Single Resource Boss



Lesson 3: Delegation of Authority & Management by Objectives

Lesson Overview

The Delegation of Authority & Management by Objectives lesson introduces you to the delegation of authority process, implementing authorities, management by objectives, and preparedness plans and objectives.


Lesson Objectives

This lesson will:

  • Describe the delegation of authority process.
  • Describe scope of authority.
  • Describe management by objectives.
  • Describe the importance of preparedness plans and agreements.


Delegation of Authority Process

Authority is a right or obligation to act on behalf of a department, agency, or jurisdiction.

  • In most jurisdictions, the responsibility for the protection of the citizens rests with the chief elected official. Elected officials have the authority to make decisions, commit resources, obligate funds, and command the resources necessary to protect the population, stop the spread of damage, and protect the environment.
  • In private industry, this same responsibility and authority rests with the chief executive officer.


Scope of Authority

An Incident Commander’s scope of authority is derived:

  • From existing laws, agency policies, and procedures, and/or
  • Through a delegation of authority from the agency administrator or elected official.


Delegation of Authority

The process of granting authority to carry out specific functions is called the delegation of authority.

Delegation of authority:

  • Grants authority to carry out specific functions.
  • Is issued by the chief elected official, chief executive officer, or agency administrator in writing or verbally.
  • Allows the Incident Commander to assume command.
  • Does NOT relieve the granting authority of the ultimate responsibility for the incident.

Ideally, this authority will be granted in writing. Whether it is granted in writing or verbally, the authorities granted remain with the Incident Commander until such time as the incident is terminated, or a relief shift Incident Commander is appointed, or the Incident Commander is relieved of his or her duties for just cause.


Delegation of Authority: When Not Needed

A delegation of authority may not be required if the Incident Commander is acting within his or her existing authorities.

An emergency manager may already have the authority to deploy response resources to a small flash flood.

A fire chief probably has the authority (as part of the job description) to serve as an Incident Commander at a structure fire.


Delegation of Authority: When Needed

A delegation of authority is needed:

  • If the incident is outside the Incident Commander’s jurisdiction.
  • When the incident scope is complex or beyond existing authorities.
  • If required by law or procedures.


Delegation of Authority: Elements

When issued, delegation of authority should include:

  • Legal authorities and restrictions.
  • Financial authorities and restrictions.
  • Reporting requirements.
  • Demographic issues.
  • Political implications.
  • Agency or jurisdictional priorities.
  • Plan for public information management.
  • Process for communications.
  • Plan for ongoing incident evaluation.

The delegation should also specify which incident conditions will be achieved prior to a transfer of command or release.

Sample Delegation of Authority


_______________________ is assigned as Incident Commander on the __________________ incident.

You have full authority and responsibility for managing the incident activities within the framework of agency policy and direction. Your primary responsibility is to organize and direct your assigned and ordered resources for efficient and effective control of the incident.

You are accountable to _____________________________ or his/her designated representative listed below.

Financial limitations will be consistent with the best approach to the values at risk. Specific direction for this incident covering management and other concerns are:


________________________________ will represent me on any occasion that I am not immediately available. This authority is effective: _________.

Agency Administrator
Incident Commander
Date and Time


Implementing Authorities

Within his or her scope of authority, the Incident Commander establishes incident objectives, then determines strategies, resources, and ICS structure. The Incident Commander must also have the authority to establish an ICS structure adequate to protect the safety of responders and citizens, to control the spread of damage, and to protect the environment.

The Incident Commander establishes incident objectives, strategies, resource requests, and the ICS structure based on these objectives.

ICS is managed by objectives. Objectives are communicated throughout the entire ICS organization through the incident planning process.

Management by objectives includes:

  • Establishing overarching objectives.
  • Developing and issuing assignments, plans, procedures, and protocols.
  • Establishing specific, measurable objectives for various incident management functional activities.
  • Directing efforts to attain them, in support of defined strategic objectives.
  • Documenting results to measure performance and facilitate corrective action.


Establishing and Implementing Objectives

The steps for establishing and implementing incident objectives include:

  • Step 1: Understand agency policy and direction.
  • Step 2: Assess incident situation.
  • Step 3: Establish incident objectives.
  • Step 4: Select appropriate strategy or strategies to achieve objectives.
  • Step 5: Perform tactical direction.
  • Step 6: Provide necessary followup.


Initial Response: Conduct a Size-Up

In an initial incident, a size-up is done to set the immediate incident objectives. The first responder to arrive must assume command and size up the situation by determining:

  • Nature and magnitude of the incident
  • Hazards and safety concerns
    • Hazards facing response personnel and the public
    • Evacuation and warnings
    • Injuries and casualties
    • Need to secure and isolate the area
  • Initial priorities and immediate resource requirements
  • Location of Incident Command Post and Staging Area
  • Entrance and exit routes for responders


Overall Priorities

Throughout the incident, objectives are established based on the following priorities:

  • First Priority: Life Safety
  • Second Priority: Incident Stabilization
  • Third Priority: Property Preservation


Effective Incident Objectives

For full effectiveness, incident objectives must be:

  • Specific and state what’s to be accomplished.
  • Measurable and include a standard and timeframe.
  • Attainable and reasonable.
  • In accordance with the Incident Commander’s authorities.
  • Evaluated to determine effectiveness of strategies and tactics.


Objectives, Strategies, and Tactics

Incident objectives, strategies, and tactics are three fundamental pieces of a successful incident response.

  • Incident objectives state what will be accomplished.
  • Strategies establish the general plan or direction for accomplishing the incident objectives.
  • Tactics specify how the strategies will be executed.

The Incident Commander is responsible for establishing goals and selecting strategies. The Operations Section, if it is established, is responsible for determining appropriate tactics for an incident.

Incident Objectives leading into Strategies leading into Tactics.


Elements of an Incident Action Plan

An Incident Action Plan (IAP) covers an operational period and includes:

  • What must be done.
  • Who is responsible.
  • How information will be communicated.
  • What should be done if someone is injured.

The operational period is the period of time scheduled for execution of a given set of tactical actions as specified in the IAP.

Easel pad with the words, What, Who, How, and What if?


Preparedness Plans and Agreements

The Incident Commander, as well as the Command and General Staffs, should have a working knowledge of jurisdictional and agency preparedness plans and agreements.

Preparedness plans may take many forms. The most common preparedness plans are:

  • Federal, State, or local Emergency Operations Plans (EOPs).
  • Standard operating guidelines (SOGs).
  • Standard operating procedures (SOPs).
  • Jurisdictional or agency policies.


Emergency Operations Plan (EOP)

EOPs are developed at the Federal, State, and local levels to provide a uniform response to all hazards that a community may face.

EOPs written after October 2005 must be consistent with the National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Click on this link to access the NIMS Resource Center.

Click on this link to access the Comprehensive Preparedness Guide (CPG) 101: A Guide for All-Hazard Emergency Operations Planning.


Mutual Aid Agreements and Assistance Agreements

NIMS states that:

  • Mutual aid agreements and assistance agreements are agreements between agencies, organizations, and jurisdictions that provide a mechanism to quickly obtain emergency assistance in the form of personnel, equipment, materials, and other associated services.
  • Jurisdictions should be party to agreements with the appropriate jurisdictions and/or organizations from which they expect to receive, or to which they expect to provide, assistance.

Click this link to review the Resource Management and Mutual Aid page within the NIMS Resource Center.

Mutual aid is the voluntary provision of resources by agencies or organizations to assist each other when existing resources are inadequate.

When combined with NIMS-oriented resource management, mutual aid allows jurisdictions to share resources among mutual aid partners.

At a minimum, mutual aid agreements should include the following elements or provisions:

  • Definitions of key terms used in the agreement;
  • Roles and responsibilities of individual parties;
  • Procedures for requesting and providing assistance;
  • Procedures, authorities, and rules for payment, reimbursement, and allocation of costs;
  • Notification procedures;
  • Protocols for interoperable communications;
  • Relationships with other agreements among jurisdictions;
  • Workers compensation;
  • Treatment of liability and immunity;
  • Recognition of qualifications and certifications; and
  • Sharing agreements, as required.


Mutual Aid and Assistance: All Levels

Mutual aid agreements and assistance agreements are used at all levels of government:

  • Local jurisdictions participate in mutual aid through agreements with neighboring jurisdictions.
  • States can participate in mutual aid through the Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC).
  • Federal agencies offer mutual aid to each other and to States, tribes, and territories under the National Response Framework (NRF).

Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC)

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC), established in 1996, has weathered the storm when put to the test and stands today as the model for providing assistance across State lines. The EMAC mutual aid agreement and partnership between States exist because from hurricanes to earthquakes, wildfires to toxic waste spills, and terrorist attacks to biological and chemical incidents, all States share a common enemy: the threat of disaster.

Since being ratified by Congress and signed into law in 1996 (Public Law 104-321), 48 States, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, and the Virgin Islands have enacted legislation to become members of EMAC. EMAC is the first national disaster-relief compact since the Civil Defense and Disaster Compact of 1950 to be ratified by Congress.

The strength of EMAC and the quality that distinguishes it from other plans and compacts lies in its governance structure and its relationship with Federal organizations, States, counties, territories, and regions.

In addition to providing another avenue for States to receive needed assistance in a disaster, EMAC offers the following benefits:

  • EMAC assistance may be more readily available than other resources.
  • EMAC allows for a quick response to disasters using the unique human resources and expertise possessed by member States.
  • EMAC offers State-to-State assistance during Governor-declared state of emergencies. EMAC offers a responsive and straightforward system for States to send personnel and equipment to help disaster relief efforts in other States. When resources are overwhelmed, EMAC helps to fill the shortfalls.
  • EMAC establishes a firm legal foundation. Once the conditions for providing assistance to a requesting State have been set, the terms constitute a legally binding contractual agreement that make affected States responsible for reimbursement. Responding States can rest assured that sending aid will not be a financial or legal burden and personnel sent are protected under workers compensation and liability provisions. The EMAC legislation solves the problems of liability and responsibilities of cost and allows for credentials to be honored across State lines.
  • EMAC provides fast and flexible assistance. EMAC allows States to ask for whatever assistance they need for any type of emergency, from earthquakes to acts of terrorism. EMAC’s simple procedures help States dispense with bureaucratic wrangling.


Information Derived From Plans

Plans may include information about:

  • Hazards and risks in the area.
  • Resources in the area.
  • Other formal agreements and plans.
  • Contact information for agency administrators and response personnel.
  • Other pertinent information.



Lesson 4: Functional Areas & Positions

Lesson Overview

The Functional Areas & Positions lesson introduces you to ICS organizational components, the Command Staff, the General Staff, and ICS tools.


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the functions of organizational positions within the Incident Command System (ICS).
  • Identify the ICS tools needed to manage an incident.
  • Demonstrate the use of an ICS Form 201.

This lesson provides more indepth information on ICS organizational elements.


Incident Commander

The Incident Commander:

  • Has overall incident management responsibility delegated by the appropriate jurisdictional authority.
  • Develops the incident objectives to guide the incident planning process.
  • Approves the Incident Action Plan and all requests pertaining to the ordering and releasing of incident resources.

In some situations or agencies, a lower ranking but more qualified person may be designated as the Incident Commander.

The Incident Commander performs all major ICS Command and General Staff responsibilities unless these functions are activated.

Command staff positions include Public Information Officer, Liaison Officer, and Safety Officer. General Staff includes Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Admin Sections.

Deputy Incident Commander

The Incident Commander may have one or more Deputies. Deputies may be assigned at the Incident Command, Section, or Branch levels. The only ICS requirement regarding the use of a Deputy is that the Deputy must be fully qualified and equally capable to assume the position.

The three primary reasons to designate a Deputy Incident Commander are to:

  • Perform specific tasks as requested by the Incident Commander.
  • Perform the incident command function in a relief capacity (e.g., to take over for the next operational period). In this case, the Deputy will assume the primary role.
  • Represent an Assisting Agency that may share jurisdiction or have jurisdiction in the future.


Command Staff

The Command Staff is only activated in response to the needs of the incident. Command Staff includes the following positions:

  • Public Information Officer
  • Liaison Officer
  • Safety Officer


Organization chart with Incident Command supervising the Command Staff, including the Public Information Officer, the Safety Officer, and the Liaison Officer.

Command Staff Functions

Command Staff carry out staff functions needed to support the Incident Commander. These functions include interagency liaison, incident safety, and public information. The following Command Staff positions are established to assign responsibility for key activities not specifically identified in the General Staff functional elements.

Command Staff Responsibilities
Public Information Officer (PIO) The PIO is responsible for interfacing with the public and media and/or with other agencies with incident-related information requirements. The PIO develops accurate and complete information on the incident’s cause, size, and current situation; resources committed; and other matters of general interest for both internal and external consumption. The PIO may also perform a key public information-monitoring role.

Only one incident PIO should be designated. Assistants may be assigned from other agencies or departments involved. The Incident Commander must approve the release of all incident-related information.

Safety Officer (SO) The SO monitors incident operations and advises the Incident Commander on all matters relating to operational safety, including the health and safety of emergency responder personnel. The ultimate responsibility for the safe conduct of incident management operations rests with the Incident Commander or Unified Command and supervisors at all levels of incident management. The SO is, in turn, responsible to the Incident Commander for the set of systems and procedures necessary to ensure ongoing assessment of hazardous environments, coordination of multiagency safety efforts, and implementation of measures to promote emergency responder safety, as well as the general safety of incident operations. The SO has emergency authority to stop and/or prevent unsafe acts during incident operations. In a Unified Command structure, a single SO should be designated, in spite of the fact that multiple jurisdictions and/or functional agencies may be involved. The SO must also ensure the coordination of safety management functions and issues across jurisdictions, across functional agencies, and with private-sector and nongovernmental organizations.
Liaison Officer (LNO) The LNO is the point of contact for representatives of other governmental agencies, nongovernmental organizations, and/or private entities. In either a single or Unified Command structure, representatives from assisting or cooperating agencies and organizations coordinate through the LNO. Agency and/or organizational representatives assigned to an incident must have the authority to speak for their parent agencies and/or organizations on all matters, following appropriate consultations with their agency leadership. Assistants and personnel from other agencies or organizations (public or private) involved in incident management activities may be assigned to the LNO to facilitate coordination.

Source: National Incident Management System (NIMS)



In a large or complex incident, Command Staff members may need one or more Assistants to help manage their workloads. Each Command Staff member is responsible for organizing his or her Assistants for maximum efficiency. Assistants are subordinates of principal Command Staff positions.

As the title indicates, Assistants should have a level of technical capability, qualifications, and responsibility subordinate to the primary positions.

Assistants may also be assigned to Unit Leaders (e.g., at camps to supervise unit activities).


Assisting Agency

An agency or jurisdiction will often send resources to assist at an incident. In ICS these are called assisting agencies.

An assisting agency is defined as an agency or organization providing personnel, services, or other resources to the agency with direct responsibility for incident management.


Cooperating Agency

A cooperating agency is an agency supplying assistance other than direct operational or support functions or resources to the incident management effort.

Don’t get confused between an assisting agency and a cooperating agency! An assisting agency has direct responsibility for incident response, whereas a cooperating agency is simply offering assistance.


Agency Representative

An Agency Representative is an individual assigned to an incident from an assisting or cooperating agency. The Agency Representative is delegated authority to make decisions on matters affecting that agency’s participation at the incident.


Expanding Incidents

An incident may start small and then expand. As the incident grows in scope and the number of resources needed increases, there may be a need to activate Teams, Divisions, Groups, Branches, or Sections to maintain an appropriate span of control.

The ability to delegate the supervision of resources not only frees up the Incident Commander to perform critical decisionmaking and evaluation duties, but also clearly defines the lines of communication to everyone involved in the incident.

Next, we’ll review the major organizational elements that may be activated during an expanding incident.


Operations Section

The Operations Section:

  • Directs and coordinates all incident tactical operations.
  • Is typically one of the first organizations to be assigned to the incident.
  • Expands from the bottom up.
  • Has the most incident resources.
  • May have Staging Areas and special organizations.
Organizational chart highlighting the Operations Section, with subordinate Staging Area, Business Continuity Group, and Security Group.


Operations Section Chief

The Operations Section Chief:

  • Is responsible to the Incident Commander for the direct management of all incident-related operational activities.
  • Establishes tactical objectives for each operational period.
  • Has direct involvement in the preparation of the Incident Action Plan.

The Operations Section Chief may have one or more Deputies assigned. The assignment of Deputies from other agencies may be advantageous in the case of multijurisdictional incidents.


Operations Section: Staging Areas

Staging Areas are set up at the incident where resources can wait for a tactical assignment.

All resources in the Staging Area are assigned and ready for deployment. Out-of-service resources are NOT located at the Staging Area.

After a Staging Area has been designated and named, a Staging Area Manager will be assigned. The Staging Area Manager will report to the Operations Section Chief or to the Incident Commander if the Operations Section Chief has not been designated.


Staging Areas: Chain of Command

The graphic below shows where the Staging Area Manager fits into the Operations Section.

Organization chart highlighting the Staging Area within the Operations Section, which also includes a Health Group, Search Group, and Investigation Group.  The Search Group includes a Canine Strike Team and Searchers.

Divisions and Groups

Divisions are established to divide an incident into physical or geographical areas of operation.

Groups are established to divide the incident into functional areas of operation.

For example, a Damage Assessment Task Force, reporting to the Infrastructure Group Leader, could work across divisions established to manage two distinct areas of the building that had been damaged — the west side of the building (West Division) and the north side (North Division).

Divisions organize incident resources by geographic area. Groups divide incident resources into functional areas, not necessarily within a single geographic region. Groups may be assigned to work within existing division boundaries or across multiple divisions.


Branches may be used to serve several purposes, and may be functional or geographic in nature. Branches are established when the number of Divisions or Groups exceeds the recommended span of control of one supervisor to three to seven subordinates for the Operations Section Chief. Branches are identified by Roman numerals or functional name, and are managed by a Branch Director.

Organizational chart showing branches within the Operations Section, including the Emergency Services Branch, which includes the Health and Medical Group and the Shelter and Mass Care Group; the Law Enforcement Branch, which includes the Perimeter Control Group and the Investigation Group; and the Public Works Branch, which includes Debris Removal and Utility Repair Group.


Air Operations Branch

Some incidents may require the use of aviation resources to provide tactical or logistical support. On smaller incidents, aviation resources will be limited in number and will report directly to the Incident Commander or to the Operations Section Chief.

On larger incidents, it may be desirable to activate a separate Air Operations organization to coordinate the use of aviation resources. The Air Operations organization will then be established at the Branch level, reporting directly to the Operations Section Chief.

The Air Operations Branch Director can establish two functional groups. The Air Tactical Group coordinates all airborne activity. The Air Support Group provides all incident ground-based support to aviation resources.


Planning Section

The Planning Section has responsibility for:

  • Maintaining resource status.
  • Maintaining and displaying situation status.
  • Preparing the Incident Action Plan (IAP).
  • Developing alternative strategies.
  • Providing documentation services.
  • Preparing the Demobilization Plan.
  • Providing a primary location for Technical Specialists assigned to an incident.

One of the most important functions of the Planning Section is to look beyond the current and next operational period and anticipate potential problems or events.


Planning Section Key Personnel

The Planning Section will have a Planning Section Chief. The Planning Section Chief may have a Deputy.

Technical Specialists:

  • Are advisors with special skills required at the incident.
  • Will initially report to the Planning Section, work within that Section, or be reassigned to another part of the organization.
  • Can be in any discipline required (e.g., epidemiology, infection control, chemical-biological-nuclear agents, etc.).


Planning Section Units

The major responsibilities of Planning Units are:

  • Resources Unit: Responsible for all check-in activity and for maintaining the status on all personnel and equipment resources assigned to the incident.
  • Situation Unit: Collects and processes information on the current situation, prepares situation displays and situation summaries, and develops maps and projections.
  • Demobilization Unit: On large, complex incidents, assists in ensuring that an orderly, safe, and cost-effective movement of personnel is made when they are no longer required at the incident.
  • Documentation Unit: Prepares the Incident Action Plan, maintains all incident-related documentation, and provides duplication services.
The Planning Section with its subordinates: Resources Unit, Situation Unit, Demobilization Unit, and Documentation Unit.


Logistics Section

Early recognition of the need for a Logistics Section can reduce time and money spent on an incident. The Logistics Section is responsible for all support requirements, including:

  • Communications.
  • Medical support to incident personnel.
  • Food for incident personnel.
  • Supplies, facilities, and ground support.

It is important to remember that Logistics Unit functions, except for the Supply Unit, are geared to supporting personnel and resources directly assigned to the incident.

The Logistics Section with subordinate Service Branch and Support Branch. Under the Service Branch are the Communications Unit, Medical Unit, and Food Unit. Under the Support Branch are the Supply Unit, Faciliites Unit, and Ground Support Unit.


Logistics Section: Service Branch

The Service Branch may be made up of the following units:

  • The Communications Unit is responsible for developing plans for the effective use of incident communications equipment and facilities, installing and testing of communications equipment, supervision of the Incident Communications Center, distribution of communications equipment to incident personnel, and maintenance and repair of communications equipment.
  • The Medical Unit is responsible for the development of the Medical Plan, obtaining medical aid and transportation for injured and ill incident personnel, and preparation of reports and records.
  • The Food Unit is responsible for supplying the food needs for the entire incident, including all remote locations (e.g., Camps, Staging Areas), as well as providing food for personnel unable to leave tactical field assignments.


Logistics Section: Support Branch

The Support Branch within the Logistics Section may include the following units:

  • The Supply Unit is responsible for ordering personnel, equipment, and supplies; receiving and storing all supplies for the incident; maintaining an inventory of supplies; and servicing nonexpendable supplies and equipment.
  • The Facilities Unit is responsible for the layout and activation of incident facilities (e.g., Base, Camp, and Incident Command Post (ICP)). The Facilities Unit Leader provides sleeping and sanitation facilities for incident personnel and manages Base and Camp(s) operations. Each facility (Base, Camp) is assigned a manager who reports to the Facilities Unit Leader and is responsible for managing the operation of the facility. The basic functions or activities of the Base and Camp Managers are to provide security service and general maintenance.
  • The Ground Support Unit is responsible for supporting out-of-service resources; transporting personnel, supplies, food, and equipment; fueling, service, maintenance, and repair of vehicles and other ground support equipment; and implementing the Traffic Plan for the incident.


Finance/Administration Section

The Finance/Administration Section:

  • Is established when incident management activities require finance and other administrative support services.
  • Handles claims related to property damage, injuries, or fatalities at the incident.

Not all incidents will require a separate Finance/Administration Section. If only one specific function is needed (e.g., cost analysis), a Technical Specialist assigned to the Planning Section could provide these services.


Finance/Administration Units

Finance/Administration Units include the following:

  • The Time Unit is responsible for equipment and personnel time recording.
  • The Procurement Unit is responsible for administering all financial matters pertaining to vendor contracts, leases, and fiscal agreements.
  • The Compensation/Claims Unit is responsible for financial concerns resulting from property damage, injuries, or fatalities at the incident.
  • The Cost Unit is responsible for tracking costs, analyzing cost data, making cost estimates, and recommending cost-saving measures.
The Finance/Administration Section and its units: Time, Compensation/Claims, Procurement, and Cost.


ICS Tools

Some important tools you should have available at the incident include:

  • ICS forms.
  • Position description and responsibilities document.
  • Emergency operations plan.
  • Agency policies and procedures manual.
  • Maps.


ICS Forms

When receiving ICS forms, some questions you should ask yourself about each form are:

  • Purpose — What function does the form perform?
  • Preparation — Who is responsible for preparing the form?
  • Distribution — Who needs to receive this information?


ICS Form 201, Incident Briefing

The Incident Briefing Form (ICS Form 201) is an eight-part form that provides an Incident Command/Unified Command with status information that can be used for briefing incoming resources, an incoming Incident Commander or team, or an immediate supervisor. The basic information includes:

  • Incident situation (map, significant events).
  • Incident objectives.
  • Summary of current actions.
  • Status of resources assigned or ordered for the incident or event.

Occasionally, the ICS Form 201 serves as the initial Incident Action Plan (IAP) until a Planning Section has been established and generates, at the direction of the Incident Commander, an IAP.

The ICS Form 201 is also suitable for briefing individuals newly assigned to the Command and General Staffs.


Other Commonly Used ICS Forms

The following commonly used Incident Command System forms can be found on the NIMS Resource Center at

  • ICS Form 201, Incident Briefing
  • ICS Form 202, Incident Objectives
  • ICS Form 203, Organization Assignment List
  • ICS Form 204, Assignment List
  • ICS Form 205, Incident Radio Communications Plan
  • ICS Form 206, Medical Plan
  • ICS Form 207, Organizational Chart
  • ICS Form 209, Incident Status Summary
  • ICS Form 210, Status Change Card
  • ICS Form 211, Check-In List
  • ICS Form 213, General Message
  • ICS Form 214, Unit Log
  • ICS Form 215, Operational Planning Worksheet
  • ICS Form 215a, Incident Action Plan Safety Analysis
  • ICS Form 216, Radio Requirements Worksheet
  • ICS Form 217, Radio Frequency Assignment Worksheet
  • ICS Form 218, Support Vehicle Inventory
  • ICS Form 220, Air Operations Summary
  • ICS Form 221, Demobilization Plan
  • ICS Form 308, Resource Order Form



Lesson 5: Briefings

Lesson Overview

The Briefings lesson introduces you to different types of briefings and meetings.


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Describe components of field, staff, and section briefings/meetings.
  • Plan to give an Operational Period Briefing.


Effective Meetings and Briefings

Effective briefings and meetings are:

  • An essential element to good supervision and incident management.
  • Intended to pass along vital information required in the completion of incident response actions.

Typically, these briefings are concise and do not include long discussions or complex decisionmaking. Rather, they allow incident managers and supervisors to communicate specific information and expectations for the upcoming work period and to answer questions.


Levels of Briefings

There are three types of briefings/meetings used in ICS: staff level, field level, and section level.

  • Staff-Level Briefings

    This level typically involves resources assigned to nonoperational and support tasks that are commonly performed at the Incident Base or Command Post. These briefings will be delivered to individual staff members or full units within a section. These briefings occur at the beginning of the assignment to the incident and as necessary during the assignment.

    The supervisor attempts to clarify tasks and scope of the work as well as define reporting schedule, subordinate responsibilities and delegated authority, and the supervisor’s expectations. The supervisor will also introduce coworkers and define actual workspace, sources of work supplies, and work schedule.

  • Field-Level Briefings

    This level typically involves resources assigned to operational tasks and/or work at or near the incident site. These briefings will be delivered to individual subordinates, full crews, or multiple crews such as Strike Teams or Task Forces and will occur at the beginning of an operational shift.

    The location will usually be near the work site or just prior to mobilization to the field. The supervisor attempts to focus the subordinates on their specific tasks and helps define work area, reporting relationships, and expectations.

  • Section-Level Briefings

    This level typically involves the briefing of an entire Section (Operations, Planning, Logistics, or Finance/Administration) and is done by the specific Section Chief. These briefings occur at the beginning of the assignment to the incident and after the arrival of Section supervisory staff. The Section Chief may schedule periodic briefings at specific times (once per day) or when necessary. A unique briefing in this category is the Operational Period Briefing (also called a Shift Operations Briefing). Here, the Operations Section Chief presents the plan for all operational elements for the specific operational period. This specific briefing is done at the beginning of each operation shift and prior to the operational resources being deployed to the area of work. Often, a field-level briefing will take place subsequent to the completion of the Operational Period Briefing.

    During any section-level briefing, the supervisor attempts to share incident-wide direction from the Incident Commander (IC), how the direction impacts the Section staff, and specific ways the Section will support the IC’s direction. The supervisor will establish Section staffing requirements, Section work tasks, Section-wide scheduling rules, and overall timelines for meetings and completion of work products.


Briefing Topics Checklist

Below is a list of topics that you may want to include in a briefing.

  • Current Situation and Objectives
  • Safety Issues and Emergency Procedures
  • Work Tasks
  • Facilities and Work Areas
  • Communications Protocols
  • Supervisory/Performance Expectations
  • Process for Acquiring Resources, Supplies, and Equipment
  • Work Schedules
  • Questions or Concerns


Operational Period Briefing

The Operational Period Briefing:

  • Is conducted at the beginning of each operational period.
  • Presents the Incident Action Plan for the upcoming period to supervisory personnel within the Operations Section.
  • Should be concise.

In addition to the Operations Section Chief, the other members of the Command and General Staffs as well as specific support elements (i.e., Communications Unit, Medical Unit) can provide important information needed for safe and effective performance during the shift.


Operational Period Briefing: Agenda

The Operational Period Briefing is facilitated by the Planning Section Chief and follows a set agenda. A typical briefing includes the following:

  • The Planning Section Chief reviews the agenda and facilitates the briefing.
  • The Incident Commander presents incident objectives or confirms existing objectives.
    Note: Objectives may be presented by the Planning Section Chief.
  • The current Operations Section Chief provides current assessment and accomplishments.
  • The on-coming Operations Section Chief covers the work assignments and staffing of Divisions and Groups for the upcoming operational period.
  • Technical Specialists present updates on conditions affecting the response (weather, fire behavior, environmental factors).
  • The Safety Officer reviews specific risks to operational resources and the identified safety/mitigation measures.
  • The Special Operations Chief briefs on areas such as Air Operations (if activated).
  • Specific Section Chiefs/Unit Leaders present information related to ensuring safe and efficient operations.
  • The Incident Commander reiterates his or her operational concerns and directs resources to deploy.
  • The Planning Section Chief announces the next planning meeting and Operational Period Briefing, then adjourns the meeting.



Lesson 6: Organizational Flexibility

Lesson Overview

The Organizational Flexibility lesson introduces you to flexibility within the standard ICS organizational structure.


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson you should be able to:

  • Explain how the modular organization expands and contracts.
  • Given a scenario, complete a complexity analysis.
  • Define the five types of incidents.


Flexibility and Standardization

A key principle of ICS is its flexibility. The ICS organization may be expanded easily from a very small size for routine operations to a larger organization capable of handling catastrophic events.

Standardization within ICS does NOT limit flexibility. ICS works for small, routine operations as well as catastrophic events.

Flexibility does NOT mean that the ICS feature of common terminology is superseded. Flexibility is allowed only within the standard ICS organizational structure and position titles.


Modular Organization

Incident command organizational structure is based on:

  • Size and complexity of the incident.
  • Specifics of the hazard environment created by the incident.
  • Incident planning process and incident objectives.


ICS Expansion and Contraction

Although there are no hard-and-fast rules, it is important to remember that:

  • Only functions and positions that are necessary to achieve incident objectives are filled.
  • Each activated element must have a person in charge.
  • An effective span of control must be maintained.
Span of control has a minimum of three individuals to a supervisor.


Activation of Organizational Elements

Many incidents will never require the activation of the entire Command or General Staff or entire list of organizational elements within each Section. Other incidents will require some or all members of the Command Staff and all sub-elements of each General Staff Section.

The decision to activate an element (Section, Branch, Unit, Division, or Group) must be based on incident objectives and resource needs.

An important concept is that many organizational elements may be activated in various Sections without activating the Section Chief.

For example, the Situation Unit can be activated without a Planning Section Chief assigned. In this case, the supervision of the Situation Unit will rest with the Incident Commander.

Situation Unit reporting directly to the Incident Commander.


Avoid Combining Positions

It is tempting to combine ICS positions to gain staffing efficiency. Rather than combining positions, you may assign the same individual to supervise multiple units.

Graphic showing that units should stay as separate entities, even if a single individual supervises them.  On the left, a circle with a line through it shows that Bob should not supervise a single Supply and Ground Support Unit, while on the right, Bob is successfully supervising the separate Supply Unit and Ground Support Unit.

When assigning personnel to multiple positions, do not use nonstandard titles. Creating new titles may be unrecognizable to assisting or cooperating personnel and may cause confusion. Be aware of potential span-of-control issues that may arise from assigning one person to multiple positions.


Resource Management

Maintaining an accurate and up-to-date picture of resource utilization is a critical component of incident management. The incident resource management process consists of the following:

  • Establishment of resource needs (kind/type/quantity)
  • Resource ordering (actually getting what you need)
  • Check-in process and tracking (knowing what resources you have and where they are)
  • Resource utilization and evaluation (using the resources effectively)
  • Resource demobilization (releasing resources that are no longer needed)

This section of the lesson reviews key resource management principles.

Resource status graphic showing three tags:  Assigned, Available, and Out-of-Service


Anticipating Incident Resource Needs

Experience and training will help you to predict workloads and corresponding staffing needs. As the graphic illustrates, an incident may build faster than resources can arrive.

Eventually, a sufficient number of resources arrive and begin to control the incident. As the incident declines, resources then exceed incident needs.

An incident builds faster than resources can arrive. Eventually resources will meet the needs to control the incident, and ultimately exceed the needs of the incident.


Predicting Incident Workload

Incident workload patterns are often predictable throughout the incident life cycle. Several examples are provided below:

  • Operations Section: The workload on Operations is immediate and often massive. On a rapidly escalating incident, the Operations Section Chief must determine appropriate tactics; organize, assign, and supervise resources; and at the same time participate in the planning process.
  • Planning Section: The Resources and Situation Units will be very busy in the initial phases of the incident. In the later stages, the workload of the Documentation and Demobilization Units will increase.
  • Logistics Section: The Supply and Communications Units will be very active in the initial and final stages of the incident.


Analyzing Incident Complexity

It is important to strike the right balance when determining resource needs. Having too few resources can lead to loss of life and property, while having too many resources can result in unqualified personnel deployed without proper supervision.

A complexity analysis can help:

  • Identify resource requirements.
  • Determine if the existing management structure is appropriate.


Incident Complexity and Resource Needs

As illustrated below, when incident complexity increases, your resource needs and ICS structure grow accordingly.

Illustration showing that as incident complexity increases, resource needs and ICS structure grow accordingly.  First, a small incident involving a car accident appears with a single ambulance and a small organizational chart.  Then, an explosion in large building requires many ambulances and a larger org chart.


Resource Kinds and Types

To ensure that responders get the right personnel and equipment, ICS resources are categorized by:

  • Kinds of Resources: Describe what the resource is (for example: registered nurse, emergency physician, engineer, security officer, ambulances).
  • Types of Resources: Describe the size, capability, and staffing qualifications of a specific kind of resource.
Graphic with a female search and rescue worker and an ambulance that says:  Kind=What’s Needed, Type=Qualifications and Capacities.


Importance of Resource Typing

Requesting a resource kind without specifying a resource type could result in an inadequate resource arriving on the scene.

The Order: “We need a HazMat team.”

HazMat in full protective gear
What You Needed
HazMat worker in partial protective gear
What Arrived



Resource Typing

Resource types range from Type I (most capable) to Type IV (least capable), letting you reserve the appropriate level of resource for your incident by describing the size, capability, and staffing qualifications of a specific resource.

Types range from the least capable (Type IV) to the most capable (Type I); an example is a small generator used for personal projects (Type IV) to a massive one for industrial use (Type I).

Resource Typing and NIMS

Resource typing is a key component of NIMS. This effort helps all Federal, State, tribal, and local jurisdictions locate, request, and track resources to assist neighboring jurisdictions when local capability is overwhelmed.

The National Integration Center encourages Federal, State, tribal, and local officials to use the 120 NIMS Resource Typing definitions as they develop or update response assets inventories.


Additional Resource Terminology

As covered in ICS-100, the following terms apply to resources:

  • Task Force is a combination of mixed resources with common communications operating under the direct supervision of a Task Force Leader.
  • Strike Team is a set number of resources of the same kind and type with common communications operating under the direct supervision of a Strike Team Leader.
  • Single Resource is an individual, a piece of equipment and its personnel complement, or a crew or team of individuals with an identified work supervisor that can be used on an incident.
Operations Section with subordinate Task Force, Strike Team, and Single Resource.


Incident Typing: Overview

Incidents, like resources, may be categorized into five types based on complexity. Type 5 incidents are the least complex and Type 1 the most complex.

Incident typing may be used to:

  • Make decisions about resource requirements.
  • Order Incident Management Teams (IMTs). An IMT is made up of the Command and General Staff members in an ICS organization.
Complexity ranges from Type 5 (least complex) to Type 1 (most complex).

95% of all incidents are type 5, 4, or 3. As the type number decreases, the amount of resources required and the anticipated incident duration both increase.


Type 5 Incident

Characteristics of a Type 5 Incident are as follows:

  • Resources: One or two single resources with up to six personnel. Command and General Staff positions (other than the Incident Commander) are not activated.
  • Time Span: Incident is contained within the first operational period and often within a few hours after resources arrive on scene. No written Incident Action Plan is required.

Examples include a vehicle fire, an injured person, or a police traffic stop.


Type 4 Incident

Characteristics of a Type 4 Incident are as follows:

  • Resources: Command Staff and General Staff functions are activated (only if needed). Several single resources are required to mitigate the incident.
  • Time Span: Limited to one operational period in the control phase. No written Incident Action Plan is required for non-HazMat incidents. A documented operational briefing is completed.


Type 3 Incident

Characteristics of a Type 3 Incident are as follows:

  • Resources: When capabilities exceed initial attack, the appropriate ICS positions should be added to match the complexity of the incident. Some or all of the Command and General Staff positions may be activated, as well as Division or Group Supervisor and/or Unit Leader level positions. An Incident Management Team (IMT) or incident command organization manages initial action incidents with a significant number of resources, and an extended attack incident until containment/control is achieved.
  • Time Span: The incident may extend into multiple operational periods and a written Incident Action Plan may be required for each operational period.


Type 2 Incident

Characteristics of a Type 2 Incident are as follows:

  • Resources: Regional and/or national resources are required to safely and effectively manage the operations. Most or all Command and General Staff positions are filled. Operations personnel typically do not exceed 200 per operational period and the total does not exceed 500. The agency administrator/official is responsible for the incident complexity analysis, agency administrator briefings, and written delegation of authority.
  • Time Span: The incident is expected to go into multiple operational periods. A written Incident Action Plan is required for each operational period.


Type 1 Incident

Characteristics of a Type 1 Incident are as follows:

  • Resources: National resources are required to safely and effectively manage the operations. All Command and General Staff positions are activated, and Branches need to be established. Operations personnel often exceed 500 per operational period and total personnel will usually exceed 1,000. There is a high impact on the local jurisdiction, requiring additional staff for office administrative and support functions. The incident may result in a disaster declaration.
  • Time Span: The incident is expected to go into multiple operational periods. A written Incident Action Plan is required for each operational period.


Incident Management Teams (IMTs)

An IMT may be used to respond to an incident. IMTs include Command and General Staff members. IMT types correspond to incident type and include:

Type 5: Local Village and Township Level — a “pool” of primarily fire officers from several neighboring departments trained to serve in Command and General Staff positions during the first 6-12 hours of a major or complex incident.

Type 4: City, County, or Fire District Level — a designated team of fire, EMS, and possibly law enforcement officers from a larger and generally more populated area, typically within a single jurisdiction (city or county), activated when necessary to manage a major or complex incident during the first 6-12 hours and possibly transition to a Type 3 IMT.

Type 3: State or Metropolitan Area Level — a standing team of trained personnel from different departments, organizations, agencies, and jurisdictions within a State or DHS Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) region, activated to support incident management at incidents that extend beyond one operational period. Type 3 IMTs will respond throughout the State or large portions of the State, depending upon State-specific laws, policies, and regulations.

Type 2: National and State Level — a federally or State-certified team; has less staffing and experience than Type 1 IMTs, and is typically used on smaller scale national or State incidents. Several dozen Type 2 IMTs are currently in existence, and operate through the U.S. Forest Service.

Type 1: National and State Level — a federally or State-certified team; is the most robust IMT with the most experience; is fully equipped and self-contained. Sixteen Type 1 IMTs are now in existence, and operate through the U.S. Forest Service.

Team members are certified as having the necessary training and experience to fulfill IMT positions.




Lesson 7: Transfer of Command

Lesson Overview

The Transfer of Command lesson introduces you to transfer of command briefings and procedures.


Lesson Objectives

At the end of this lesson, you should be able to:

  • Describe the process of transfer of command.
  • List the essential elements of information involved in transfer of command.


Transfer of Command

Transfer of command is the process of moving the responsibility for incident command from one Incident Commander to another.


When Command Is Transferred

Transfer of command may take place for many reasons, including when:

  • A jurisdiction or agency is legally required to take command.
  • Change of command is necessary for effectiveness or efficiency.
  • Incident complexity changes.
  • There is a need to relieve personnel on incidents of extended duration.
  • Personal emergencies arise (e.g., Incident Commander has a family emergency).
  • Agency administrator directs a change in command.


A More Qualified Person Arrives

The arrival of a more qualified person does NOT necessarily mean a change in incident command.

The more qualified individual may:

  • Assume command according to agency guidelines.
  • Maintain command as it is and monitor command activity and effectiveness.
  • Request a more qualified Incident Commander from the agency with a higher level of jurisdictional responsibility.


Transfer of Command Procedures

One of the main features of ICS is a procedure to transfer command with minimal disruption to the incident. This procedure may be used any time personnel in supervisory positions change.

Whenever possible, transfer of command should:

  • Take place face-to-face.
  • Include a complete briefing.

The effective time and date of the transfer should be communicated to personnel.


Transfer of Command Briefing Elements

A transfer of command briefing should always take place. The briefing should include:

  • Situation status.
  • Incident objectives and priorities.
  • Current organization.
  • Resource assignments.
  • Resources ordered and en route.
  • Incident facilities.
  • Incident communications plan.
  • Incident prognosis, concerns, and other issues.
  • Introduction of Command and General Staff members.


Incident Briefing Form (ICS Form 201)

Agency policies and incident-specific issues may alter the transfer of command process. In all cases, the information shared must be documented and saved for easy retrieval during and after the incident.

The initial Incident Commander can use the ICS Form 201 to document actions and situational information.

For more complex transfer of command situations, every aspect of the incident must be documented and included in the transfer of command briefing.