One of the most important developments in modern Emergency Management was the introduction of NIMS (the National Incident Management System), established just about fourteen years ago, in March of 2004.
As the Department of Homeland Security describes it, NIMS is “a comprehensive, national approach to incident management that is applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines.”
What that means in simple terms is, in an emergency, the numerous responsibilities of Emergency Management are divided among officials from various authorities, regardless of their jurisdiction.
NIMS is administered today by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). As stated at fema.gov, “A basic premise of NIMS is that all incidents begin and end locally.” Some tasks are best left to local emergency agencies, and some are the province of federal or state groups. Using NIMS, a sheriff may be responsible for Incident Command, with the active support of federal law enforcement, who will not normally supersede the local authority unless the circumstances change. As one Wisconsin police chief said, in reflection on a local emergency served by a group of response agencies, “What works best is when leaders set egos aside and go to work for what’s best for the community.”
When NIMS is employed, a proper command structure is constructed, beginning with the first response to an incident. That structure varies with the incident, which is the great value of NIMS: It applies to All Hazards situations. Active shooters, hazmat releases, derailments… Any incident of scale that can benefit from multi-agency attention can be aided by putting NIMS into action.
Recently, FEMA has refreshed the NIMS standards and guidelines “to reflect the collective expertise of the whole community.” The new revisions to NIMS are based on more than 3,000 comments and, as stated on the FEMA site:
- Retain key concepts and principles of previous versions of NIMS
- Reflect and incorporate policy updates and lessons learned from exercises and real incidents
- Clarify the processes and terminology for qualifying, certifying, and credentialing incident personnel
- Clarify that NIMS is more than just the Incident Command System (ICS) and that it applies to all incident personnel
- Describe common functions and terminology for staff in Emergency Operations Centers (EOC), while allowing for differing missions, authorities, and resources of EOCs across the nation
- Explain the relationship between ICS, EOCs, and senior leaders/policy groups
In other words, NIMS has been refined by the input of many, many emergency professionals and now should be more explicitly useful. The roles of responders and managers are made clearer along with the means to learn NIMS.
At Findlay All Hazards, we strongly urge EHS professionals to learn all they can about the National Incident Management System. If your facility is ever a part of a community emergency, multiple agencies may come together in a concerted response. Business-level response is only effective if it includes efficient, direct communication with authorities. Understanding how local, state, and federal agencies might work as one will improve your value to the responders and clear a path for an efficient resolution of the situation.
And, emergency responders would be well-served to review the latest changes to NIMS or seek out a FEMA webinar.