The last two articles (Part 1 and Part 2) covered mission planning for Proactive missions, or upcoming operations. This week we will cover Reactive missions, in other words, how you manage things when you’re already behind the eight ball. This is the way FEMA/DHS and most every other public agency, from the Federal to the local level and most of the private sector manages emergencies.

Incident Response

Whatever the incident has already happened, just a few minutes ago. Tornado, house fire, surprise riot, cattle stampede, whatever. You have already deployed your resources on duty like fire, police, EMS, public works, etc. Here is an example:

A burglar alarm is reported to the 911 center and police are sent to investigate. The building is a large warehouse with NFPA 704 symbols on the doors.

When they open the door, they’re greeted by a wall of green flames. The warehouse is a paint manufacturing plant and butts up against a small stream that feeds into a larger river downstream. The police call for the fire department who send their standard fire response.

The fire is quickly upgraded to a box alarm, then a second alarm and a third alarm, plus a Level 2 Hazmat response. All told, the fire response is over 30 fire apparatus, 15 ambulances, 20 police cars, public works, Hazmat crews and clean up companies, the US Coast Guard and EPA and Public Works with contracted construction crews. By the time the incident is completely controlled and mitigated, it takes nearly two weeks of work involving hundreds of people from the local to the Federal level, all working under the Incident Management System.

The most critical part of the Incident Management System is standardized terminology, chain of command organization and communications. Since this incident involved many different agencies, a Unified Command system and Unified Command Post was set up. (This was a real incident about ten years ago in a major metropolitan area.) In order to achieve standardization, first responders are required to complete various levels of NIMS training from FEMA. This training is online and free to any American citizen.1 The minimum for responders is ICS-100, ICS-200, ICS 700, and ICS-800. Other classes are needed for varying levels of Command staff and elected officials.

I strongly encourage everyone to complete the online training for as many classes as you can complete. It gives you an understanding of how to respond to emergencies and how the system is supposed to work. NIMS was developed from fighting wildfires in California where accountability was the biggest issue, with too many people either freelancing or being where they weren’t supposed to be. This led to many fatalities, including firefighters, because of lack of accountability to the command system. Also, different departments or towns working independently of the larger plan because there was no coordinating system. 9/11 spurred the creation of a host different programs by the Federal government and NIMS is arguably the best. The response to the Twin Towers was hampered by the plethora of agencies coming in without common radio frequencies and SOPS, different priorities, often conflicting, and different languages. Hurricane Katrina was more of the same, on a much larger scale, but by then at least the basic framework of the ICS plan was in place, even though everyone was still learning how to implement it. Even twenty years later, many parts of the country still don’t or refuse to follow the principles of ICS because of institutional hubris and lack of education.


Every incident must have two positions filled: Incident Commander and Safety Officer.

The Incident Commander is The Boss, the HMFIC, the Guy with the Plan. He is also the person responsible for the incident mitigation.

The Safety Officer is responsible for the safety of the responders, whether that means monitoring weather conditions, sleep cycles, watching for safety violations like not wearing a helmet or gloves, or watching for falling walls and bricks.

If the incident is small, the two functions may combine into one by the Incident Commander, like a small car accident or vehicle fire. A larger incident may have multiple Safety Officers for different areas and shifts.

As the incident grows, the organizational structure grows according to the needs of the incident.


Command Staff

The Command Staff is comprised of:

  • The Safety Officer, responsible for responder health and safety
  • The Liaison Officer, responsible for representing the IC/UC at other command posts and to other agencies to coordinate responses
  • The Public Information Officer, responsible for representing the organization(s) responding to the incident and giving a coherent, unified information package to the press and public

General Staff

The General Staff is comprised of:

  • Operations Section executes the tactical plan to mitigate the incident. Equivalent to the Battalion S-3
  • Planning Section develops information gathered into the Incident Action Plan for the following shift’s Operation Section to execute. Equivalent to the Battalion S-2
  • Logistics Section works to procure materials and personnel for the IC to execute the Incident Action Plan. Equivalent to the Battalion S-4
  • Finance and Admin tracks personnel, costs, finances and other paperwork relating to the incident. Equivalent to the Battalion S-1


Another important function of the ICS organization is documentation. NIMS provides for a host of standardized forms used to maintain accountability of personnel and resources, radio frequencies and SOI, documentation of costs and expenses, etc. The use of standardized forms is important for accountability, the inevitable lawsuits after the event, and reimbursement from the state or Federal government or insurance companies. These forms are used in the prosecution of criminal and civil cases post incident. This is no different than the standard forms used by the US Army which they are based on.

Incident Planning Cycle


The planning process of an event can be initiated with:

  • Scheduling a planned event, such as The Olympics or The Taste of Chicago
  • Identification of a credible threat, such as the Derek Chauvin trial or the G-7 Summit
  • Response to an actual or impending incident, such as a hurricane or blizzard, large scale planned power blackouts or wildland fires

The goal of the planning process is to develop the Incident Action Plan (IAP) which is the framework of how the incident is going to be managed. Much of this process is based on the Military Decision-Making Process.

  1. Analyze the situation, including future developments
  2. Establish incident objectives and the incident strategy
  3. Develop the plan
  4. Prepare and disseminate the plan
  5. Execute, evaluate, and revise the plan

The IAP is revised every shift and updated, which brings up the point of deciding work periods. A shift may be six hours, eight hours, 12 hours or 24 hours. It depends on the situation, the resources available and hazards to responders. The length has to be decided based on what you have and what you can accomplish while protecting your people which are your most important resource. A firefighter will be blown after working long enough inside a structure after two SCBA bottle changes. A hazmat tech will be out after his work period based on suit, hazard and air supply. This also needs to account for temperature and humidity, rain, snow, cold, etc. You can’t push a firefighting platoon the same way you push a rifle platoon.

Taken in conjunction with the previous articles, this should start to give you an idea of the planning and management process behind running an operation. Take the online training while you can, take the classes offered by Brushbeater and associates while they’re available. The time is growing short. Next article will discuss the actual set up of the TOC/CP for operations. Any questions can be sent to me through NC Scout or through the forum.

Keep on keeping on.

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