ICS Training (Still) Sucks… One Year Later

Just over a year ago, I posted my article Incident Command Training Sucks, which to date has been viewed almost 2000 times on the WordPress blog platform, alone.  Since then, I’ve written several more times on the necessity to change the foundational ICS training curriculum in the US to programs that are focused on application of ICS in initial and transitional response instead of just theory and vague instruction.  I am greatly appreciative of all the support these articles have received and the extra effort so many have taken to forward my blog on to the attention of others.  These posts have led to some great dialogue among some incredible professionals about the need to update ICS training.  Sadly, there is no indication of action in this direction.

A recent reader mentioned that it often ‘takes guts to speak the truth’.  It’s a comment I appreciate, but I think the big issue is often complacency.  We settle for something because we don’t have an alternative.  Also, I’ve found that people are reluctant to speak out against the current training programs because there are so many good instructors or because the system, foundationally, is sound.  My criticisms are not directed at instructors or the system itself – both of which I overwhelmingly believe in.  I’m also not being critical of those who have participated in the creation of the current curriculum or those who are the ‘keepers’ of the curriculum.

Much of the existing curriculum has been inherited, modified from its roots in wildfire incident management, where it has served well.  While adjustments and updates have been made through the years, it’s time we take a step away and examine the NEED for training.  Assessment is, after all, the first step of the ADDIE model of instructional design.  Let’s figure out what is needed and start with a clean slate in designing a NEW curriculum, instead of making adjustments to what exists (which clearly doesn’t meet the need).

Another reader commented that ‘The traditional ICS courses seem to expect the IC to just waive their hands and magically the entire ICS structure just would build beneath them’.  It is phrases we find in the courses such as ‘establish command’ or ‘develop your organization’ that are taken for granted and offer little supporting content or guides to application.  The actions that these simple phrases point to can be vastly complicated.  This is much of the point of Chief Cynthia Renaud’s article ‘The Missing Piece of NIMS: Teaching Incident Commanders to Function on the Edge of Chaos’.  We need to train to application and performance – and I’m not talking about formal incident management teams, I’m talking about the responders in your communities.  The training programs for incident management teams are great, but not everyone has the time or ability to attend these.

I’m hoping that my articles continue to draw attention to this need.  Perhaps the changes that come as a result of the final NIMS refresh will prompt this; hopefully beyond just a simple update to the curriculum giving us a real, needs-based rewrite.  As I’ve mentioned before, this is public safety, not a pick-up game of kickball.  We can do better.

© 2016 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

13 thoughts on “ICS Training (Still) Sucks… One Year Later

  1. I think a lot of the problem rests with the relative experience using ICS that the instructors possess. Instructors have been given certificates to teach without having an ICS background and foyer read from the book to classes. Instructors who have used ICS on real incidents from the initial response can teach to the issues noted here. They can point out how a response builds from the first responder up to a larger organization without using “magic”. There are some very good ICS instructors out there and a number of us can present the dry portions by showing their practical application to real situations. Time and experience using ICS may reduce the number or percentage of lightly qualified instructors and of course the “more videos please” feedback may pay off as more non wildfire examples of ICS in action are captured. The other answer is exercises. First in and extended response exercises using ICS make it easier to understand in context. Successful programs utilize this process. I teach and exercise ICS nationally to both government agencies at all levels and to private entities such as utilities.

    1. You make some excellent points. Going back to the big push for ICS training after the release of NIMS, there were a lot of instructors that were rubber stamped. Sadly, that practice has continued in many areas. If people haven’t actually been through the planning process a few times, they have no business teaching it.

      Experienced instructors can absolutely make the material more interesting and more relevant. That said, should that much responsibility be put on the instructors to ‘fix’ a poor curriculum every time they teach it? I don’t think it should.

      1) we need a better curriculum
      2) once that curriculum is released, we need to hit the reset button on instructors; with a firm set of qualifications which will help ensure quality deliveries

      Thanks for the feedback.


    2. I completely agree with your comments regarding whom is delivering the material. It further emphasizes another growing concern that I feel is occurring in the profession. I see a trend in purely academic emergency professional entering the workforce that don’t possess the skillset to be anything other than entry level workers. However, with their advance degree hanging on the wall they seem to have a sense of entitlement that places them at a much higher preceived level than actually exists. With that said, these are the same people teaching ICS that don’t have the experience real world application. Thanks for your comments.

      1. Hi Mike. Thanks for the comment. You make a very good point about degrees in lieu of experience. While other professions have this problem as well, it certainly has been profound in emergency management. I fully support academics (my wife has a doctorate and I’m pursuing my masters), but experience also has a great amount of value. I think the two are complimentary.

      2. Mike Smith makes a valid point about some Emergency Managers. There is a lack of real world experience among those making plans. However, they are not part of the ICS problem as ICS pertains only to the command of resources in the field and not to EOCs. This point while explained well in NIMS, is missed by many Emergency Managers. EOCs are part of coordination and support, but not ICS. Incident response from a single unit up to IMTs fall under ICS and the latter are trained under the position specific courses that do provide specifics of ICS in responses. The I300 and 400 do also provide process training for real world incidents that go beyond the simple everyday ones. These courses do not deliver obscure or theoretical training, but do deliver training as to processes I have seen used by responders across the country. They are not meant to train the every day response, which I agree is a gap between the online courses and the need for a basic responder. That is unless you belong to an agency that incorporates ICS at all levels such as fire agencies in many communities.

  2. Disasters are famously “come as you are” events. I honestly really like the ICS framework, and I heartily agree it needs fleshing out at the operational level.

    However. The thing we really need when we roll up to the incident is to feel we’ve done this before. We need to know who will be there with us – within a reasonable range – and what they’ll be doing. In other words, we need to drill.

    Drill, baby, drill.

    Nothing substitutes for it, and nothing gets postponed so quickly. If we are serious about incident management, we need to practice managing incidents.

    “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy”, Reacher reminds us. We learn to improvise by having the plan come apart on us – as it always does – and wrestling it back into a semblance of working order.

    Drill, baby. Drill.

    1. Shawn – Experience counts for a lot… And exercising is often the best way to gain experience. Scenario based training forms a solid foundation for that, as well.

      Thanks for the comment!


  3. Not sure where the writer is trying to tell us. Folks, ICS training is only meant to give all the responding agencies a simple way to come together to reach a common goal for for an emergency. Period. Take the training. Learn from it. Work and respond accordingly. We all should know by now its a fairly simple standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of an emergency. As said previously by the one so many of us remember so well and look up to…..”it’s about getting the job done and carrying out our responsibilities in an ole common sense way. And “”Don’t Strut””.

    1. Glen – everything you mention in your post is about application. The interesting thing is that the taxonomy of the courses are not written to the application level. They are written to simply impart knowledge, not to have people use it. It’s really like a series of just increasingly longer ICS 100 courses. If you haven’t taken a look at my original post on this from last year, I encourage you to do so.

      Teaching responders terminology doesn’t give them the tools to manage an incident.

      I appreciate your comment!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s