During the 1970s, the southern parts of California witnessed massive wildfires which led to the destruction of vast acres of land, loss of lives of people as well as millions of dollars. These disasters were mainly attributed to poor coordination and communication among the various agencies which were charged with the responsibility of responding to wildfires (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
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The disasters triggered a reaction by the 92nd US congress which approved funding for the southern Californian fire response agencies to establish a system which enabled for their effective, harmonious and timely coordination in response to wildfires. The body was known as the Firefighting Resources Organized for Potential Emergencies (FIRESCOPE) and was established in 1971under the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection was later joined by the Ventura, Santa Barbara and Los Angeles fire departments as well as the governor’s office and the U.S forest service in the strengthening and enhancement of the FIRESCOPE, where they established a task force composed of technocrats, who were tasked with the research and development of the FIRESCOPE system (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
The task force came up with two sub-components which were to comprise the FIRESCOPE and they included the Multi Agency Coordination System (MACS) and the Incident Command System (ICS).
This was in 1973. The first attempt to nationalize firefighting was made in 1974 when the U.S government chartered the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG) to oversee the coordination of various State and Federal agencies and their fire management programs. Many of these agencies used the model of Large Fire Organizations for wild land fire management (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
In 1976, FIRESCOPE was renamed Incident Command System (ICS) following a consensus by all the participating agencies in the same. They also agreed to use the structure of ICS as developed by the task force in 1973. As from 1978, the ICS was not only used in response to wild land fires but also in response to urban fires and to this regard, the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection (CDF) and the State Board of Fire Services formerly adopted the system as a State strategy for responding to fires of any nature (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
In 1980, the NWCG conducted an evaluation to weigh the applicability of the ICS in the entire U.S nation following its wide use in California not only for fire response but also for the response to other types of incidents.
The findings of the NWCG were positive and it recommended the nationwide adoption of the ICS but under the name of National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS).The NIIMS was not concerned with response to fire incidents only but included the response to other incidents like earthquake, plane crashes and fatal accidents (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
After the September 11 attacks and the subsequent hurricanes of 2004 and 2005, NIIMS seemed to be ill equipped to respond to disasters of huge magnitudes. Consequently, there emerged the need for the United States to put in place a comprehensive approach to incidents so as to increase the capability of mitigating their effects regardless of size, cause, location, complexity and intensity.
In this regard, on the 28th of February 2003, the president of the United States issued a presidential directive to Homeland Security known as the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5) requiring it to develop a National Incident Management System (NIMS) (Homeland Security, 2008).
NIMS is a system which facilitates the cooperation between various organs of the local and Federal governments, the nongovernmental organizations as well as the private sector in mitigating the effects of incidents. It operates under principles which enable for collaboration in incident management. The incidents range from floods, terrorism acts, manmade and natural disasters or calamities (Federal Emergency Management Agency, 2008).
The core principle guiding the NIMS is that incidents should be managed and handled at the local level as possible. It is formed under the principles of flexibility and standardization.
Flexibility allows for NIMS to be able to respond to an incident regardless of its location or size and complexity while standardization ensures that response to incidents is done under certain standards which cut across various levels of jurisdictions and actors in incident management. It is composed of components such as preparedness, resource management, communication and information management, on-going maintenance and management as well as command and management (Homeland Security, 2008).
The command and management component of the NIMS is essentially the ICS. This component ensures that all jurisdictions have in place elaborate systems of responding to disasters. These systems must be in harmony with the Federal guidelines on disaster preparedness and response and they are a pre-requisite for the lower jurisdictions to receive Federal funding for response to disasters irrespective of their magnitude (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
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The ICS component is structured in a hierarchical manner with a clear chain of command headed by the incident commander. The structure has got four main sections namely the financial, planning, operational and logistics. These sections work hand in hand during the response to any disaster. Each State and jurisdiction is linked to the national grid of the ICS chain of command. This puts the United States in a better position to respond to disasters which face it like those caused by terrorism (FIRESCOPE, 2003).
Federal Emergency Management Agency. (2008). National Incident Management System. Washington D.C: FEMA.
FIRESCOPE. (2003). Some Highlights of the Evolution of the Incident Command System As Developed by FIRESCOPE:Timelines. Web.
Homeland Security. (2008). National Incident Management System. Retrieved from https://www.fema.gov/pdf/emergency/nims/NIMS_core.pdf