Most responses that require an Incident Command System (ICS) with a Unified Command (UC) will be multi-agency and may be multi-jurisdictional. As such, all participating organizations must understand the complexities of coordination. The question is not "Who is in charge?" but "How can all responders work together for the best results?"
The goal of an ICS is to enhance response efficiency by eliminating duplication of effort and lessening response time and consequently response costs. The best way to reduce confusion and conflict is to anticipate problems and develop possible solutions. This requires scenario-based planning and exercises with constant communications and coordination among all participants, working together as a team. The following is a list of elements that should be in place and documented in relevant plans well before an incident occurs for an ICS/UC to be effective:
- The structure must be formalized and accepted by all parties concerned.
- Specific ICS functions and responsibilities must be well defined.
- Individuals must be designated for each function and the reporting mechanisms defined and accepted. However, it is important to note that the scope and complexity of the incident will determine the extent of the organizational positions actually staffed.
- A methodology for developing an Incident Action Plan (IAP) and Site Safety Plan must be established.
- The participating organizations must make a committed effort to respond as a team.
- Contingency plans (including Area Contingency Plans, facility and vessel response plans, and local emergency response plans) must address training and ensure familiarity with an ICS/UC.
- Relationships and interactions with entities outside the ICS but relevant to the National Response System (such as Regional Response Teams, natural resource trustees) must be defined.
For more Incident Command System information, see this OSHA ICS eTool for reference.