The Need for Practical Incident Command Training

I’ve written a couple of articles in past few months (See: Preparedness – ICS is Not Enough; and Training EOC Personnel – ICS is Not Enough) where I’ve been a little rough on the Incident Command System (ICS), or rather the trust that people put in it as a magic pill to cure all their incident management ills.  As it turns out, there is no apologia; rather I’m going to continue challenging the status quo, this time as it relates to how ICS training is conducted.

The driving force behind this is the realization of a gap that exists in ICS training and the ability of learners to apply what they have learned to a reasonable degree within an emergency response environment.  The foundational ICS courses (ICS 100 – 400) provide learners with a progressive understanding of the concepts, terms, organizational elements, and primary processes within ICS, but provide little opportunity to practically apply what they have learned.  Progressive instructional design methods through course revisions have added more hands-on activities within these courses to enhance learning, but these courses still fall short of providing the kind of practical exercising needed for learners to have any degree of confidence or proficiency.  That said, these courses accomplish exactly what they are intended to.  They are not designed to provide much practical application.

To the other side of the ICS training spectrum is training for Incident Management Teams (IMTs), which provides intensive and in depth training, mostly focused on the individual positions within an incident command organization, and the key activities and responsibilities of those positions.  IMT training also includes capstone courses in which IMTs complete a combination of didactic and hands-on instruction in a team environment.  Much of this training is coordinated by FEMA and the US Fire Administration through the NIMS ICS All-Hazards Position Specific Training Program with their focus primarily on building capability at the Type III (extended operations) level, with training at the higher (Type II and I) levels available through appropriately intensive efforts.  While some training is available for Type IV and V IMTs, this is often not taken advantage of because rural areas may not be able to assemble enough personnel for a functional team.  The training is also still fairly intensive, even at this level, and requires a number of courses, each with a team of instructors.  This comes at a high cost of time and dollars.  The need for local personnel to function within an incident command structure at the local level still exists, but goes largely unaddressed with performance level training being focused on IMTs.

Certainly exercises can provide an opportunity for individuals to work together as an ad-hoc team to resolve an incident.  While exercises provide for great practice, instructive feedback usually doesn’t occur at all, with usually only a few out of context comments coming until well after the experience by way of an After Action Report.  Structured learning environments which provide a series of simulations where individuals can practice what they have learned are ideal, particularly when immediate hotwashes are provided after each scenario, allowing learners to grow and apply what they have learned in the next scenario.

Of the learning opportunities that current exist, the Enhanced All-Hazards Incident Management/Unified Command course (MGT 314) from TEEX comes closest to this type of experience.  I have direct experience taking this course at the TEEX location several years ago and found it to be a great experience.  Because of the technology used to facilitate the course it is only offered as a resident program at TEEX and seats fill quickly.  While this is a great program, we need more like it and an ability to reach down to small local governments where there is an urgent need for this type of practical training.

Several years ago colleagues and I developed a course called the ‘IAP Workshop’, which is a daylong scenario-driven training where students practice working the ICS planning process and ultimately developing an IAP.  Through the day of training, participants go through this process several times in a crawl-walk-run progression with feedback provided by facilitators.  Participants are required to have completed the ICS 300 course as a prerequisite.  This course has proven successful, despite naysayers and traditionalists who default to the ICS curriculum fulfilling all ICS training needs.  That said, there is more to ICS and ICS application than the planning process.

Practical training in any subject, particularly the Incident Command System, builds confidence and improved application of knowledge and skills.  Since most incidents are best managed locally, we need to invest in better training to enhance local capabilities.  The foundational ICS courses are just that – foundational.  IMT training may simply not be the best solution to meet this need.  Let’s talk about the ICS training gap and find some solutions.

What ICS training gaps have you identified?  Have you discovered or designed any solutions?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

5 thoughts on “The Need for Practical Incident Command Training

  1. Hello Mr. Tim, expressly well done and well said. theoretically learning all forms of emergency management is quite different from practical assimilation, The same can be applied to teacher training program of our school teachers.The challenge is how do we applied practical segment of emergency management to all forms of emergency management programs in our school curriculums?

  2. I believe applying the knowledge and techniques to any situation is the key with ICS. Even if you’re not in an emergency field, this technique can be utilized in many situations.

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