Effectiveness and Efficiency in Incident Management – Resource Tracking

Incident Check In

Incident Check In

I recently took part in the management of an exercise in which a Type 3 incident management team (IMT) was among the players.  As part of their initial set up they immediately recognized the importance of checking in and tracking resources.  This is an activity which is often overlooked at the onset of an incident and is a royal pain to catch up on once the need is realized.  There were a few things which they could have improved upon, though, which seriously impacted their effectiveness and efficiency.

  1. They spent time checking in each vehicle as equipment. Not every vehicle needs to be tracked in an incident.  Generally, the sedan, pick up, or SUV you come in on isn’t special enough that it requires tracking.  Huge waste of time, people, and effort.  Consider the nature and capability of the equipment that is coming through your access point.  Is it a specialized resource?  Will it be applied tactically?  Will it be supporting logistical needs?  Is it rented or leased?  These are the conditions that should be considered when deciding what equipment to track.
  2. They marked equipment using bottled shoe polish. Not a bad idea, except it rained all week, and within hours of application most of the markings couldn’t be read.  Windshield markers, similar to what car dealerships use, are cost effective, waterproof, and clean off easily with mild window cleaners.
  3. Equipment that was checked in was never logged in detail. What’s the difference between E-01234 and E-01235?  We will never know as no descriptions were entered into their tracking system.
  4. As vehicles flowed in to the staging area, people will directed to check in at the command post. This is obviously excellent, except to get to the command post people had to pass by the main access to the incident site.  This meant that many people did not check in as directed.  They got distracted by the incident and associated response activity and never made it to the command post to check in.  This severely impacted the effectiveness of accountability.

Sometimes people would try to explain these things away by saying “It’s just an exercise”, but exercises are an opportunity to do things the right way, not skimp and cut corners.  While their intent was good, their process and results were quite poor.  If we are supposed to train the way we fight, as they say, this team has a ways to go to be more effective with resource accountability.  On the surface resource tracking looks easy… but it’s not.  There is a lot of complexity, variables, and attention to detail that must all work together well in order to be successful.  The Resource Unit Leader has one of the hardest jobs in the Incident Command System.

Being who I am, I’m left wondering why this all happened.  I have little choice but to blame poor planning and training.  Planning is to blame for a lack of clear procedures, guidance, and decision models.  The training which people receive tends to be just as vague.  By now, most, if not all of you are familiar with my opinions on the current ICS training.  While the referenced article does not go into the IMT/position training curricula, from what I recall of the courses I’ve taken, there are certain things taken for granted.  It’s easy to put an item on a checklist that says ‘Establish check in’.  OK… how?  Where?  When?  What?  Why?  The answer to those questions, or guidance to help answer those questions, should be provided through training.  Let’s tell people not only why check in is important, but what people and resources should be checked in, where to establish check in (what to look for and what to avoid), etc.  Once we’ve trained people on it, let’s provide job aids… not just the ICS forms, but job aids that will actually help people do their jobs.  While it may seem like minutia and unnecessary detail, keep in mind that we are training people to operate in austere and chaotic environments which they are trying to establish order over and only do these activities on rare occasion.  Those conditions signal the need for detailed training and job aids to support sustained performance and limit the degradation of the training they received.

Bottom line – let’s take a step back, fix what we have to based upon what we’ve learned, and proceed forward so we can operate more effectively and efficiently.

Thoughts and comments are always appreciated.  What have you learned or observed from incidents or exercises that needs to be addressed foundationally?

© 2015 – Timothy Riecker

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


4 thoughts on “Effectiveness and Efficiency in Incident Management – Resource Tracking

  1. IMT and ICS Training and Certification

    The sign says “Staging Area Check in Ahead” and folks are directed to the Command Post. This sign is appropriate during the first hours during the first working period of a large scale developing incident. But after the initial all hands working phase, Incident Command should begin managing the chaos. This means developing out the ICS positions, using the ICS Forms, and developing proper facilities. Not just one or two of the ICS Forms like a 202 or 203, but the ICS Forms System. Most responders are accustomed to responding from one hour to maybe four hour events. They rarely are put in a situation that is nine hours or 90 days with a one hundred and eighty working periods of twelve hours. A Type 3 All Hazards IMT is a terrific management option for transitioning into the second, third and so on of working periods. They are a great asset for pre-planning and managing events like parades, concerts, large sports events, political rallies, Line of Duty Death / Funerals, and many more.

    Training of IMT’s, whether Type 3 or Local, and all responders in the proper level of ICS beginning with 100 to 400 and 700 was discussed here and it’s impact is hugely measurable as has been discussed here (the failures). First all responders must be trained to their proper level of response in the system. They must absorb, take the system to heart, and elevate it to the importance it should have. IMT’s must be trained in the general team development, like the Type 3 All Hazards IMT Course (O-305), and then members of the team must be initially trained in specific two day to week long classes. These IMT members should be trained in 2 to 3 lower positions and maybe one SECTION CHIEF’s position to be the most useful to the Type 3 teams. If you have a Local IMT, any training you can get in these subjects a good, even if you aren’t certified in the subjects and you must train together regularly.

    This training is great, but these teams or at least individuals that have received the basic and advanced training must deploy and practice through planned events to develop their skills to be proficient. Then they are better prepared to be on a large incident or event IMT. As you learn more about all this stuff, you will realize that the sign is a bit off. First the “Check in” is a function of PLANNING and should capture everyone as they enter the cold zone or primary Base, sometimes referred to as the BoO. Next, “Staging” is a function of OPERATIONS, and means that resources are dressed and equipped to respond in seconds to four minutes of receiving orders. And finally, neither “Staging” or “Check in” should be at the COMMAND POST after those first few hours or minutes of a developing incident. The sooner you develop the proper facilities for the developing incidents or pre-planned events, the faster you will bring the chaos under control. Enjoy what you do while serving your communities and be safe out there. Train, train, train…

    1. Thanks for the feedback Jim. There were even more issues with the team’s management than I had described – these were just the ones directly related to check in. I cringed every time they called it a logistics staging area!

  2. I believe a focus on discipline for both the IMT and incoming/outgoing resources is a key factor to improving some of the issues. It’s a long hard complicated road, however the knock on effect will cause a lot more issues to fall into line than most realise.

    1. Dallas,
      Thanks for the comment. You are absolutely right. Resource tracking is an important investment that we need to make in time, effort, personnel, and other resources. If we don’t do it right, we stand to fail at many other things.

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