Incident Management & Proper Demobilization Planning

A fair amount of courses, especially those oriented toward the Incident Command System (ICS), mention demobilization, but that mention is usually fairly gratuitous.  Even the core ICS courses generally only offer a couple of paragraphs or a handful of bullet points.  The ICS 300, since it does focus more on incident planning, does contain some good additional material, but it’s still quite brief.  Demobilization is a best practice of incident management, along with staging areas, that are rarely done properly.  It’s not a surprise, though… there isn’t a lot of emphasis on them in ICS and related training, and generally what is out there is pretty poor quality.  This has been further emphasized through nine separate functional exercises I’ve conducted over the past couple of months where it was easily identified that most participants weren’t really familiar with what demobilization meant to them and their organizations. This is no slight on them… it comes down to training.

There is certainly room for improvement when it comes to the ICS National Training Curriculum.  In case you aren’t familiar, I’ve written pretty extensively on it in the past.  And yes, I still believe that ICS Training Sucks (click here to check out a few articles I’ve written on the topic).  In regard to demobilization, much of what is out there (including the ICS curriculum and otherwise), in addition to the couple of paragraphs or handful of bullet points, also puts a lot of emphasis on the Demobilization Check-Out (ICS form 221).  By all means, STOP THAT.  Throwing another form in front of people without proper context simply serves to confuse them further.  I’m not saying we need to train everyone to be a Demobilization Unit Leader (there is a specific course for that… and it’s less than great), but shoving another form in front of someone for seven seconds doesn’t do a damn bit of good… and in fact it probably does some measure of harm – especially for building the case made by some that ICS is nothing but a bunch of bureaucracy.  We need to actually show purpose.

Largely, those bits of prose contained in courses do a decent job in explaining why we need to demobilize.  Simply put, we don’t want people and other resources standing around for hours before they are told they can go home.  Along with this is usually the book answer of when we begin to plan for demobilization – that’s as soon as we order the resource.  In reality, I’ll give that a ‘kind of’ instead of a resounding agreement.  Most of the time, no, we’re not considering that, especially at the onset of an incident.  But we do need to start considering it early on, especially when we no longer need a lot of resources at the end of the first phase of an incident.  Further down the road, we also tend to have a lot of expensive resources and teams that need to be disengaged and dismantled from our incident organization and the operating area rather carefully before they can be sent home.  These deliberate actions are another good reason for proper demobilization planning.

Demobilization planning?  Yes, planning.  NOT the ICS 221.  That form is nothing more than an accountability sheet.  It is NOT a plan.  First off, demobilization planning is a team effort.  There needs to be involvement and input across much of the command and general staff of your incident management structure (be it a formal incident management team or otherwise).  It’s a planning effort, so it should be centered within your Planning Section.  For a larger incident, certainly designate a Demobilization Unit to do coordinate this.

How do we even make this happen?  First, the concept needs to be sold to command.  They will initially say no.  Expect it.  Many Incident Commanders not well practiced in formal demobilization think that even discussion of the term must be reserved for late in the game.  It might take a couple of attempts and a need to make your case.  Demob doesn’t signal an end to the entire operation, and in fact additional resources may be flowing into the incident as others are being demobilized.  Once command is sold on it, then it needs to be discussed with the entire command and general staff.  Everyone has input.  Most of the resources belong to ops, so they should be able to identify when certain resources will complete their operations and will no longer be needed.  The logistics organization may have a fair amount of resources in place largely to support operations, therefore, as certain operations are demobilized, logistics may also be able to demobilize some of their resources.  They may also want certain things returned and accounted for, such as radios.  And if any hazardous material was present, the Medical Unit within logistics may be arranging long-term medical monitoring, which needs to become part of demobilization.  The Liaison Officer may be getting pressured by outside agencies or organizations to release resources and/or may have to explain to certain assisting agencies why their resources are no longer needed.  Finance/Administration is aware of how much certain resources are costing the responsible party, both in direct costs as well as maintenance costs.  There may be others with input as well.

As this discussion occurs, Planning/Demobilization should be keeping good notes as these comments, concerns, and priorities may become part of the demobilization plan.  The plan itself consists of five standard sections:

  1. General information – what does this plan pertain to and generally, what’s it about (it’s an overview).
  2. Responsibilities – This identifies, within the ICS structure, who is responsible for what in regard to demobilization
  3. Release Priorities – These are the agreed upon priorities identified by command and general staff.
  4. Release Procedures – This should have the most detail, starting with identification, authorization, and notification of the resource of their impending demobilization status. How far ahead of the demobilization are they advised?  Who do they have to talk to along the way?  What equipment should be returned?  Do they need to submit any reports or paperwork?  Who do they actually sign out with?  How and when do they return home?  Based on the nature of the incident, consider a mandatory overnight before they can travel, medical monitoring, and a debrief.  And always require resources to confirm that they have arrived safely back to their home station.  This, by the way, is where you reference the ICS 221 form, which will maintain accountability of the demobilization process.  Certainly customize this form to match your procedures.
  5. Reference Information – This can include travel information, contact information for key personnel (such as the Demobilization Unit Leader), maps, schedules, reminders, and other info.

Like the majority of implementations of ICS, demobilization planning is generally accomplished in the head of the IC and perhaps other staff.  That’s likely fine for more routine type 5 incidents, and even some type 4 incidents.  There may be some type 4 incidents that have enough complexity and disparity of resources, that a written plan is a good idea.  Certainly anything more complex should have a written plan.  Just as we should be writing incident action plans for planned events, demobilization plans should also be used.  If anything, it makes for good practice.  For the same argument, it’s also great for exercises (not only for the players, but also for exercise management).

Looking for a demobilization plan template?  Here’s one.  I’m not familiar with the authors, but it’s a fairly standard template for such a plan.  I’m generally wary of templates, but this is pretty basic.  If you might find yourself in the position of organizing incident demobilization for your agency or jurisdiction, save it and start modifying it now.  There are likely a set of standard priorities and procedures which you can identify now that you can include in the plan.  Be sure to have an ICS 221 that you can modify for implementation as well.  Just be sure to not ‘finalize’ either one of these… just like an IAP, they are documents developed specifically for an incident, event, or exercise.

So there you have it, a bit of demobilization planning advice from someone who is trained and experienced in actually doing it.  I hope this was helpful.  Of course I’m happy to provide some direct advice as well as happy to hear from others who are experienced themselves in demobilization.  What best practices have you identified?

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC


2 thoughts on “Incident Management & Proper Demobilization Planning

  1. Thanks for sharing – I work for a local health department and am currently in charge of developing foodborne illness protocols. We are using the incident command structure which has proven to be very effective however we do not have a end of outbreak/demobilization protocol and like you said I only came across the ICS 221 form. This was very helpful appreciate your work on this.

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