Global Incident Management Systems

Greg Solecki – GoCrisis, Senior Associate

The history of a number of well-practiced incident management systems can be traced back through the respective countries of origin. These systems are commonly recognised as having surfaced after the cold war era and have been based upon intentional or natural risks and hazards. The UK has the Gold, Silver, Bronze (GSB) system, developed in part due to various security incidents and threats. Canada has Incident Site Management (ISM) that was first practiced in the late 1960s as an all-hazards approach to major events and emergencies, and the US has the Incident Command System (ICS), which was borne out of the deadly urban interface wildfires in California that occurred in the 1970s. Commonalities between these systems exist that include a hierarchy of leadership and information flow to communicate and coordinate issues management through the identification and implementation of mitigating objectives.

For the most part, these emergent structures ensure information for decision making occurs throughout the organization during a crisis, while their inherent processes and procedures allow for the safe and successful deployment of resources. This communication is paramount when a multitude of services are working towards achieving overarching goals. These high-performance teams are in part created through identifying emergency management competencies and the requisite training.

Although emergency management competencies have been debated for decades, the next generation of emergency managers (FEMA, Next Generation Core Competency Focus Group, April 28, 2016) solidifies a base in Broad Knowledge, Organizational Acumen, Problem Solving and Leadership. Important to note is that the training in ICS or any other incident management system is meant to satisfy a skill to achieve one or more of these core competencies.

Incident management systems and the tactical operations required of single resources are comprised of a certain level of command, control and rank structure. The leader or commander in charge of the scene is providing a required response and ensuring coordination and communication amongst all the responders that are on scene. There is rarely a question of the actions taken since the responders have been given the authority and responsibility of making decisions.

At a certain point of the expanding incident there may be a greater need for strategic, long-term decision making which may constitute the opening of the Emergency Operations Centre (EOC). The mandate to support the responders on scene should allow for a more nebulous and free forming approach to ensure new information is also met with new ideas. Furthermore, emergency managers must be able to ensure that their incident management system allows for the flexibility to incorporate the cultural intricacies of a community. One size does not fit all during a disaster, nor does “one way” fit all. During a disaster we are not “all in the same boat” we are all in the same situation and some are on yachts, canoes, and rafts while others are swimming. This is where leadership and sociocultural factors meet to ensure an empathetic response for an improved and timely community recovery.

So how do we get there? Embed these three elements into a response and incident management system to ensure an incident, crisis or disaster is managed well:

  1. Decision making models that support mitigative actions for leaders;
  2. Coordination of information throughout an organizational structure;
  3. Emotional intelligence supporting community recovery.

The ICS is not the perfect solution, nor is GSB or ISM, but the inherent processes and methodologies of these systems allow for the opportunity to make better decisions and produce better emergency managers. As we consider core competencies and incident management training such as ICS, we also need to incorporate training for skills to support community recovery and cultural differences.