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NIMS Incident Types

NIMS info from DHS
Today's post come in the form of an email question and answer on NIMS incident typing. The question comes from Ben Hazlerig, a Paramedic who has transitioned into Emergency Management. The answer from Alan Bubel, Assistant Chief of the Gates (NY) Fire District, an authority on NIMS, and frequent contributor to Mitigation Journal blog and podcast. 

NIMS Field Guide from Informed Publishing
 I love NIMS job aids and memory helpers. The best guides I've found have come from Informed Publishing. Informed offers a wide variety of field guides for the traditional and non-traditional responder. The NIMS ICS Field Guide puts all the needed information in your pocket...for any NIMS/ICS position. Available in electronic and hard-copy, it's a tremendous aid for any experience level. You can also stay current by reading the Mitigation Journal and listening to our podcast. The Mitigation Journal podcast App is also available on iTunes! 

Note: I endorse Informed Publishing products. Neither Ben nor Alan have any involvement with Informed.

Ben writes:
I’ve been a listener of your podcasts for some time now, especially during my days of Paramedic school.  I’ve now transitioned from EMS into an office Emergency Management job.  One thing I’m having a hard time grasping is the NIMS Incident typing.  The company I’m with uses the Incident Type 1 to 5 scale to classify events in the beginning stages.  I haven’t been able to find anything within the FEMA online materials that clearly defines who officially determines Incident Types as it relates to National disasters.  We are essentially mimicking the NIMS system within our own organization and putting the job of Incident Typing on our Senior Level Executives who have limited Emergency Management experience.  It seems to me that this classification is better implemented after the fact as a way to summarize what resources were used.   Do you have any thoughts on this subject or know of any reference material online I could refer to.  Thanks for any information you can provide.

Alan responds:

Here are some thoughts on the topic of Incident Typing:
One of the responsibilities of the Incident Commander (IC) is to analyze the complexity of the incident. This helps to identify resource requirements and manipulate the incident management structure appropriately. Complexity analysis factors include such things as safety, resources, size of the incident and impacts to life, property and the economy. More information on this can be found in the ICS200 curriculum.

Categorizing an incident by type, then, is based on the incident's complexity. You're aware of the 5 to 1 scale (Type 1 incidents being the most complex) so we don't need to get into that discussion. However, your question pertained to who officially determines incident type relative to a national disaster. With that being said, there are only two incident levels where Federal resources come into play - Type 2 and Type 1; of those two, only a Type 1 incident is considered an "Incident of National Significance". A national disaster would fit the criteria for an "Incident of National Significance", activating the National Response Framework (former National Response Plan) and likely resulting in Stafford Act declarations. But, WHO determines the incident type?

The answer is the IC, based on the whole complexity analysis thing. In addition to analyzing incident complexity, the IC has the responsibility to call for resources. The level from which those resources are requested (local, state, or Federal) also speaks to the incident type. Type 5 and Type 4 incidents normally require local resources; Type 3 incidents local and state resources; and Type 2 and Type 1 incidents all three levels. So, if incident complexity is not enough for an IC to base an incident type decision on, the resource requests can serve as an added guide.

Although incident typing is very useful for summarizing the size, scope and complexity of an incident after the fact, the determination of the incident type needs to be made real-time during the incident by the IC. If your executives have IC responsibilities, they should be afforded the training and education required to identify incident type. (Training through the ICS400 level would be my recommendation). If they do not function as an IC, but support an incident as Emergency Management personnel, they should still be aware of the incident typing process and the role it plays relative to resources and geo-political impact.

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