Planning to Succeed Using NIMS in Your Daily Operations


CarolinaFireJournal - By Joe Mancos and Scot Brooks
By Joe Mancos and Scot Brooks
10/26/2015 -

“Is your organization NIMS compliant?” We as managers hear that question from time to time. Most of the time we hear “Yes, we meet the federal requirements” as the answer. Does this mean all employees have had the mandatory online classes, or does it mean that your crews can effectively use the concepts of NIMS?  In the past several years we have seen many examples of how the National Incident Management System (NIMS) works in resource management and communication in major incidents. The question for this discussion is, “Can using the concepts of NIMS in our daily operations make our department more proficient?”

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When many public safety personnel think of NIMS they probably think of one of two things; major incidents, boring hours of training and learning how to use forms they will not use in their daily lives. This seems to be the norm in many departments, but believe it or not, you are probably already using the NIMS concepts in everyday tasks. The practices and concepts are not just for big incidents but will not only streamline your daily operations, but also get your troops and managers ready for the next big incident. Make the process the norm and learn to speak the language, so when they do see it used on “the big one,” it’s not new to them.

Common Terminology:

Unity of Command and Chain of Command: In everyday operations just like in a major incident or event, everyone answers to someone.

Span of Control: How many people can one supervisor effectively manage?  On every call or every shift it is important to maintain an effective span of control because safety and accountability have top priority. Studies and experience have shown that the span of control for a supervisor falls within a range of three to seven. Do you have enough company level officers to cover the Span of Control for your department?

Resource Management: Not a new concept at all in fire and EMS, but a good company officer, chief or incident commander will know how many resources they have available/deployed and the status at any given time during a shift or incident.

Single Resources: Often the most common way of using initial resources on an incident. In everyday life this would be an ambulance, engine, truck company, battalion chief, EMS supervisor or rescue.

Task Forces: Any combination and number of single resources — within span-of-control limits — assembled for a particular tactical need. Task Forces can be a mix of different kinds of resources, or the same kind but different types of resources.

Strike Teams: Consist of resources that are of the same type. Strike Teams are a good way to organize multiple single resources that share the same characteristics. A good example would be an Ambulance Strike Team at a Mass Casualty or even having one ready at a Mass Gathering Event.

Incident Action Plan (IAP): Documents incident or event goals, operational period objectives, and the response strategy defined by Incident Command.

Implementing NIMS
with Planned Events

Think of a large scale incident or event in your experience that didn’t go so well. One in which there was scene confusion, major safety issues, and lack of direction/objectives, span of control or unity of command problems. Unfortunately, most responders with a few years of experience can recall at least one. The incident may have even been run by a very competent leader, but somehow things didn’t quite go as planned. Now try to remember a call you have been on that things went very well. A scene or event that was very organized and communications went very well. Comments were probably made about how good that chief or officer manages a large scene. “Big Secret” — it may not be the incident commander; it might be the incident commander had a system!

Begin local NIMS implementation on things that you control such as pre-planned events like sporting events, street fairs, concerts, etc. All of these functions have key information that needs to be shared with responders and organizers. You may be surprised by the efficiency that you achieve by doing the right things. Exercises and drills are other great times to try implementing subtle yet important change in your organization. Completing an IAP for planned events and exercises can get your staff acclimated to competing the forms that in turn, makes sure that the important tasks are handled. Think of the IAP, not only as the plan, but a “to do list.” Listed below are a few of the ICS forms that will help get you started when planning a successful event or scene response.

Incident Briefing ICS 201

Get in the habit of at least doing an ICS 201 on moderate sized or out of the ordinary incident scenes. This form provides staff with the basic information of the event, and also serves as documentation of the initial response to an incident.

Incident Objectives ICS 202

Everyone on the incident needs to understand exactly what the objectives are for this operational period. Objectives should spell out the steps for managing the response and should be “SMART.”

Specific, Measurable, Action-oriented, Realistic, Time-sensitive

Organization Assignment
List ICS 203

Add a 203 if you have multiple divisions/branches/groups, etc. Great on multi-agency/multi-jurisdictional response so that everyone knows who is responsible for each function or geographical location.

Field Assignment ICS 204

Used for specific tactical assignments or task clarification. The 204 helps to make sure items get accomplished as the Operations Section Chief requested.

Incident Communications
Plan ICS 205

Complete a 205 so that everyone knows what radio channels or talk groups to utilize. This form manages the internal and external communications for the incident.

Medical Plan ICS 206

This form is completed to insure that everyone knows what medical resources are on scene or in the jurisdiction in case there is an injury to a responder. At planned events, “First Aid Stations” are also identified as well as the closest hospitals and trauma centers.

Check In/Out List ICS 211

A very important part of your plan is personnel accountability. The 211 makes this part easy. You have a way to keep a “running tally” and account for man hours spent on site.

Unit Log ICS 214

An activity log so each resource can keep track of work completed to help plan for the next operational period and for time and compensation management.

The forms used to write an IAP can be in a digital format that are easy to save and update for the next incident. Keep it like a template, make a few changes specific to the next incident or shift. There are many resources out there in Word or Excel format that can be easily obtained. Two examples are: https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/is/icsresource/icsforms.htm    The forms used to write an IAP can be in a digital format that are easy to save and update for the next incident. Keep it like a template, make a few changes specific to the next incident or shift. There are many resources out there in Word or Excel format that can be easily obtained. Two examples are: https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/is/icsresource/icsforms.htm    http://texasimt.com/Forms/ICSforms.htm

Implementing NIMS
in your Daily Operations

The next step is using NIMS every day. A good place to start would be to incorporate the IAP into our daily shift. It may be easier than you think. We may not be doing a daily IAP for everyday operations but we can be going through the motions of getting it right. Every day can follow the same IAP with different players in each role. Use the NIMS forms in your daily ops. Our organization created online forms for daily use that have the same general flow and feel of the ICS forms. These can help get crews and management staff accustomed to the tasks by using the same format daily.

Your company officers could use a 201 for morning station turnover or “morning handoff.”

A 204 could be done when you have a special assignment for the day for a single resource that does not warrant doing an IAP, such as a PR event, school visit or ambulance standby.

An ICS 213 is a General Message form. This can be used as a type of interoffice mail to report problems or progress.

The ICS 214 is an event log that can be used for each crew. Some departments have each crew or station complete this form as a daily log of calls and activities. 

Training

We often get asked to what level crews need to be trained. Your role in the incident or in an organization dictates. Entry-level responders should be trained to IS-700 and ICS-100.  First line supervisors, single resource leaders, EM personnel should add IS-800 and ICS-200. Middle management, strike team and task force leaders, EOC staff, branch directors and division/group supervisors should add ICS-300.  Command and general staff should be trained to the ICS-400 level. A complete matrix of roles verses training can be found at http://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/06_training.pdf .

Consider making NIMS classes a part of the career ladder or promotional process. Set a new standard for each evaluation year so staff members take a few courses each year. This keeps them current with the requirements and doesn’t burn them out from trying to get all of them at one time. Responders should use ICS credentials as a professional development tool to improve their resume and knowledge base in an effort to bring a well-rounded manager or officer candidate to the next promotional process.

After getting your organization up to speed, sending your leadership staff to All Hazard Incident Management Team training can truly help you in putting all the pieces together. Coordinate your plans and training with your local Emergency Manager and other local agencies. This will not only help you in everyday operations but will help you build a proficient local Incident Management Team (IMT).

Large scale incidents, events and everyday operations all have challenges that a quality incident management system can help mitigate. The trick is making the system work for your organization by proper initial training, implementation, and making the system a routine process.

Joe Mancos has served over 25 years in Emergency Services. He is the Assistant EMS Chief and Quality / Education Coordinator for Moore County Public Safety in North Carolina. He is a member of the Moore Co. Special Operations Team and Moore County IMT. Mancos is an EMS, fire and rescue instructor. He is a cofounder of Mancos and McNeill Fire and Rescue Training Services. He can be reached at [email protected].Scot Brooks has over 29 years of emergency services experience and currently serves as the EMS Chief and Emergency Manager for Moore County Public Safety in North Carolina. He is an EMS, fire and rescue instructor and serves on the North Carolina All Hazards Incident Management Team. He also serves on the Board of Directors for the North Carolina Emergency Management Association. He can be reached at [email protected].
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