The ICS Liaison Officer

One brilliant thing about WordPress (the blog platform I use), is that it allows me to see some of the searches that brought people to my site.  One of those recent searches was ‘what does the Liaison Officer do in ICS?’.  The Liaison Officer has some of the greatest depth and variety in their role and is often one of the most misunderstood roles and often taken for granted.

By definition, the Liaison Officer is supposed to interface with the representatives of cooperating and assisting agencies at an incident.  While this is done, it’s often the easier part of the job.  Yes, these agencies may have their own needs and nuances, but the more challenging part is the interface with anyone who is not directly part of the chain of command.  Large, complex incidents often last longer, which means that a significant number of third parties will have interest in the operation.  Everyone wants to speak with the person in charge (the Incident Commander), but the IC needs to be focused on the management of the incident through the Command and General Staff, as well as important commitments like briefing their boss (usually an elected official), and participating in some media briefings.  There is little time available to speak with everyone who wants to speak with them.

The people that want to interface with the IC may include organizations seeking to offer their services to the effort, which could be a not for profit organization (Team Rubicon, for example) or a for-profit company (such as a local construction firm), or even a group of organized volunteers (like the Cajun navy).  They might be elected officials other than those they report to.  They could include representatives from labor unions, environmental groups, regulatory agencies, insurance companies, or property owners.  Each of these groups may have legitimate reasons to be interfacing with the incident management organization and the Liaison Officer is the one they should be working with.  The Liaison Officer may also be tasked with interfacing with the variety of operations centers which can be activated during an incident.

To be most effective, the Liaison Officer must be more than a gatekeeper.  They aren’t there just to restrict or control access to the IC.  As a member of the Command Staff they are acting as an agent of the IC, and working within the guidelines established by the IC, should be effectively handling the needs of most of these individuals and organizations on behalf of the IC.  The Liaison Officer needs to be politically astute, professional, and knowledgeable about the specifics of the incident and emergency management in general.  They should be adept at solving problems and be able to recognize when something needs to be referred to someone else or elevated to the IC.

The Liaison Officer is a position we usually don’t see assigned on smaller incidents (type 4 and 5), so most people don’t get experience in using it, interfacing with it, or being it.  The position is often necessary on type 3 incidents, but still rarely assigned as an organization or jurisdiction might not have someone available to assign or the IC thinks they can handle it themselves.  We definitely see them used in Type 1 and 2 incidents, but much of that credit goes to formal incident management teams who deploy with this position.  Liaison Officers work well in an incident command post for incidents and events, but also have a strong function in EOCs – especially local EOCs responsible for significant coordination.  All around, the Liaison Officer benefits most from a notepad, a charged cell phone, and a pocket full of business cards.

What ways have you seen a Liaison Officer used effectively?

© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC SM

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