Part 1 of this series discussed the fact that any emergency could be recoverable through the use of fundamental standards, strategies, and communications. In developing the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the U.S. government hoped to ensure minimal loss of life and infrastructure during any major event. In the conclusion of this series, we delve deeper into the NIMS standards for communications and technologies, as well as the different types of commands within the Incident Command System (ICS).
Communications and Information Management
We've all heard the old axiom that real estate success is about three things: location, location, location. Arguably, disaster recovery is all about communications, communications, communications. The cornerstone of any recovery plan is the ability to garner an accurate situation analysis about the event and then respond with specific instructions. The most critical communications are likely to occur in the first two hours.
Communications of all types should flow through people who are properly identified, certified, and predefined as holding the responsibility, and who meet certain security standards. Whether this person is an Incident Commander, a First Responder, or the Public Information Officer, strict guidelines and protocols should be followed before relaying critical information at the time of an event, planned or unplanned. Part 1 of this series described how the Public Information Officer (PIO) works within the guidelines of the Joint Information System (JIS). This standard is intended to keep all emergency information consistent throughout all responding agencies.
Communications such as indications and warnings can be disseminated in many ways, including incident notifications, public warning systems, or via the media (Amber alerts and the like). Communications can also take the form of incident notification, status, and situation reports. In a nutshell, the various entities involved in an event need to know what's going on, in order to make informed decisions and to carry out the appropriate actions. This information needs to be factual as well as timely. In times of disaster, the rumor mill can run rampant.
Where and how communications occur are just as important as who gets the information and when it's received. Often, communications may need to be sent to an emergency operations center (EOC), incident command post, and/or multiagency coordination entities (MCEs), so that these organizations can direct the response intelligently. In addition, how MCEs communicate with one another (depending on the specific circumstance) has a huge bearing on the effectiveness of the response.
Within the Incident Command System, three different commands are set up for specific types of emergencies:
- A single incident command handles things like a local telephone cable cut or a break in a water main. Usually, only local employees are necessary to handle the situation.
- If an oil tanker or a truck carrying volatile chemical agents turns over and spills out into a river, a unified command might have to be set up, because more than one agency would have to get involved on the scene.
- Unlike the other two types of commands, an area command has no predetermined location and is not immediately recognizable. An area command would be set up in a public health disaster such as a chemical or biological threat, or if the event spanned several days. If a disaster covers several counties or states and/or involves multiple agencies, it becomes a unified area command to allow for proper representation at the area command. Unlike the incident command post, an area command has no operational responsibilities per se. Specific responsibilities directly associated with the response are carried out under the umbrella of the other two commands. Obviously, it's important that processes are in place to ensure the consistent exchange of communication, data, and resources at all times throughout the various commands.
Continuity of communications is conveyed by means of using common terminology and through the development of standards. These standards include ensuring that both voice and data transfer with communications equipment is not only interoperable, but compatible. As in everything, planning and preparation are required ahead of time. Luckily, NIMS provides standards for the installation, upkeep, and use of emergency systems. By incorporating different forms of communications in advance, such as wireless or radio, the issue of command and control after a disaster can be resolved before the occurrence of an event; and regardless of what kinds of communications mediums survive.