Lesson 1: Course Welcome & ICS Overview

Course Goal

The overall course goal is to promote effective response by:

  • Familiarizing you with how Incident Command System (ICS) principles are used to manage incidents.
  • Preparing you to coordinate with response partners from all levels of government and the private sector.

IS-100.b follows the National Incident Management System (NIMS) guidelines. To learn more about NIMS, you should complete IS-700.A, National Incident Management System, An Introduction.


Overall Course Objectives

At the completion of this course, you should be familiar with:

  • ICS applications.
  • ICS organizational principles and elements.
  • ICS positions and responsibilities.
  • ICS facilities and functions.
  • ICS planning.

In addition, you will learn the steps you should take to be accountable for your actions during an incident.


What Is the Incident Command System?

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized approach to incident management that:

  • Enables a coordinated response among various jurisdictions and agencies.
  • Establishes common processes for planning and managing resources.
  • Allows for the integration of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure.


Incident Command System: Helping Us Meet Our Mission

Disaster can strike anytime, anywhere. It takes many forms—a hurricane, an earthquake, a tornado, a flood, a fire or a hazardous spill, or an act of terrorism. An incident can build over days or weeks, or hit suddenly, without warning.

A poorly managed incident response can undermine our safety and well being. With so much at stake, we must effectively manage our response efforts.

Although most incidents are handled locally, partnerships among local, tribal, State, and Federal agencies as well as nongovernmental and private-sector organizations may be required.

As partners, we must respond together in a seamless, coordinated fashion.

The Incident Command System, or ICS, helps ensure integration of our response efforts. ICS is a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards approach to incident management. ICS allows all responders to adopt an integrated organizational structure that matches the complexities and demands of the incident while respecting agency and jurisdictional authorities. Although ICS promotes standardization, it is not without needed flexibility. For example, the ICS organizational structure can expand or contract to meet incident needs.

In this course, you’ll learn ICS principles. And more importantly, you’ll learn to interface better with your response partners.


Incident Command System Origins

The Incident Command System was developed in the 1970s following a series of catastrophic fires in California. Property damage ran into the millions, and many people died or were injured.

The personnel assigned to determine the causes of these disasters studied the case histories and discovered that response problems could rarely be attributed to lack of resources or failure of tactics.


Homeland Security Presidential Directives

  • HSPD-5 identified steps for improved coordination in response to incidents. It requires 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 - 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).



  • NIMS provides a systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work seamlessly to prevent, protect against, respond to, recover from, and mitigate the effects of incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity, in order to reduce the loss of life and property and harm to the environment.
  • The NRF is a guide to how the Nation conducts all-hazards response – from the smallest incident to the largest catastrophe. This key document establishes a comprehensive, national, all-hazards approach to domestic incident response. The Framework identifies the key response principles, roles, and structures that organize national response. It describes how communities, States, the Federal Government, and private-sector and nongovernmental partners apply these principles for a coordinated, effective national response.


NIMS Components

NIMS is much more than just using the Incident Command System or an organization chart.

NIMS is a consistent, nationwide, systematic approach that includes the following components:

  • Preparedness
    Actions taken to plan, organize, equip, train, and exercise to build and sustain the capabilities necessary to prevent, protect against, mitigate the effects of, respond to, and recover from those threats that pose the greatest risk. Within NIMS, preparedness focuses on the following elements: planning; procedures and protocols; training and exercises; personnel qualifications, licensure, and certification; and equipment certification.
  • Communications and Information Management
    Emergency management and incident response activities rely on communications and information systems that provide a common operating picture to all command and coordination sites. NIMS describes the requirements necessary for a standardized framework for communications and emphasizes the need for a common operating picture. This component is based on the concepts of interoperability, reliability, scalability, and portability, as well as the resiliency and redundancy of communications and information systems.
  • Resource Management
    Resources (such as personnel, equipment, or supplies) are needed to support critical incident objectives. The flow of resources must be fluid and adaptable to the requirements of the incident. NIMS defines standardized mechanisms and establishes the resource management process to identify requirements, order and acquire, mobilize, track and report, recover and demobilize, reimburse, and inventory resources.
  • Command and Management
    The Command and Management component of NIMS is designed to enable effective and efficient incident management and coordination by providing a flexible, standardized incident management structure. The structure is based on three key organizational constructs: the Incident Command System, Multiagency Coordination Systems, and Public Information.
  • Ongoing Management and Maintenance
    Within the auspices of Ongoing Management and Maintenance, there are two components: the National Integration Center (NIC) and Supporting Technologies.

The components of NIMS were not designed to stand alone, but to work together.


Command and Management Elements

The NIMS Command and Management component facilitates incident management. This component includes the following elements: Incident Command System, Multiagency Coordination Systems, and Public Information.

The Command and Management Elements (Incident Command System, Multiagency Coordination Systems, and Public information) build upon the Preparedness, Communications & Information Management, and Resource Management Components.


Lessons Learned

After-action reports from ineffective incident responses find that response problems are far more likely to result from inadequate management than from any other single cause. Weaknesses in incident management are often due to:

  • Lack of accountability, including unclear chains of command and supervision.
  • Poor communication, due to both inefficient uses of available communications systems and conflicting codes and terminology.
  • Lack of an orderly, systematic planning process.
  • No common, flexible, predesigned management structure that enabled commanders to delegate responsibilities and manage workloads efficiently.
  • No predefined methods to integrate interagency requirements into the management structure and planning process effectively.

Using ICS enables us to avoid these weaknesses in all types of incident response.


Without ICS: Confusion and Poor Decisions

Without ICS, incident responses typically:

  • Lack accountability, because of unclear chains of command and supervision.
  • Have poor communications, due to both inefficient uses of available communications systems and conflicting codes and terminology.
  • Use unsystematic planning processes and fail to reach objectives.
  • Are unable to efficiently integrate responders into standard organizational structures and roles.


ICS: Built on Best Practices

ICS is based on decades of lessons learned. Using management best practices, ICS helps to ensure:

  • The safety of responders, community members, and others.
  • The achievement of response objectives.
  • The efficient use of resources.

ICS has been tested in more than 30 years of emergency and nonemergency applications, by all levels of government and in nongovernmental and private–sector organizations.


When Is ICS Used?

ICS can be used to manage any type of incident, including a planned event (e.g., the Olympics, Presidential inauguration, etc.). The use of ICS is applicable to all hazards, including:

  • Natural Hazards: Disasters, such as fires, tornadoes, floods, ice storms, earthquakes, foodborne illnesses, or epidemics.
  • Technological Hazards: Dam breaks, radiological or hazmat releases, power failures, or medical device defects.
  • Human-Caused Hazards: Criminal or terrorist acts , school violence, or other civil disturbances.


ICS: Not Just For Large-Scale Incidents

As a system, ICS is extremely useful. Not only does it provide an organizational structure for incident management, but it also guides the process for planning, building, and adapting that structure.

Using ICS for every incident or planned event helps improve and maintain skills needed for the large-scale incidents.


Lesson Summary

You have completed the ICS Overview lesson. This lesson presented the following key points:

  • ICS is a standardized management tool that allows better coordination and use of resources.
  • ICS represents organizational “best practices,” and has become the standard for emergency management.
  • ICS can be used to manage the response for all incidents and planned events.

ICS works! It saves lives!