This morning I spent about three hours at the country sheriff's offices learning about the Incident Command System (ICS), the State Emergency Management System (SEMS), and the National Incident Management System (NIMS). These are the major standards that all emergency responder organizations in California use to manage the response to an incident, from something as simple as a major traffic accident, all the way to major fires, floods, earthquakes, or terrorist acts.
ICS was developed by the fire fighting agencies in Southern California after the response to several large wildfires in the 70's highlighted problems with agency coordination and management. ICS is a standardized methodology for identifying who's in charge during an incident, addressing all the major functions that need to be handled, and managing communications between all the responders. It now covers all responders, not just fire.
ICS is the building block on which California built SEMS. SEMS addresses the management necessary beyond just the responders on the scene, helping multiple levels of government coordinate their activities. It focuses on five areas: Finance, logistics, management, operations, and planning. After 9/11 the Federal government took SEMS, tweaked it a bit, and called it NIMS. Today, SEMS is NIMS-compliant, but retains its own unique flavor based on California's extensive experience with emergency management.
In California, by law all public agencies must manage incidents with both the ICS and the SEMS. If they do not, the localities will not be reimbursed for their emergency expenses by the state. (This is "the stick.") Additionally, if agencies want to receive grant money from the Department of Homeland Security they must handle all incidents using ICS and NIMS. (This is "the carrot.")
All of this rolls down-hill to me and all the other amateur radio volunteers who have agreed to help our local governments communicate in the case of an emergency—we need to be ICS/SEMS/NIMS "trained" to help those governments avoid the stick and grab the carrot. So now I'm fully buzzword compliant.
This post also kicks off a new category of posts in this blog: Emergency preparedness. For the last six months or so I've been getting involved with San Jose's Office of Emergency Services (OES) and the San Jose RACES amateur radio emergency communications group. It's my way of getting involved with my community and giving something back. More later…