Since the release of the NIMS Refresh in October 2017, a number of jurisdictions have made changes to the organizational structure of their emergency operations center. While many jurisdictions use a traditional Incident Command System (ICS)-based structure, a structure aligned to the emergency support functions (ESFs), or a hybrid thereof, the NIMS Refresh seems to have popularized an alternative structure called the Incident Support Model. I’ve been working with some clients who recently have, or are currently making a change to the Incident Support Model. The general model of that structure can be found below.
The intent of this model is to provide an EOC with an organizational model that better fits what an EOC does… information management, planning, and resource support. This model, unlike the more traditional ICS-based model or the ESF-based model really focuses on what EOCs do instead of potentially utilizing an organization and mission that are mis-matched. As stated by the NIMS Refresh document, this model puts the EOC manager in direct contact with those doing situational awareness/information management, and streamlines resource sourcing, ordering, and tracking.
As someone who has worked in and long advocated for an ICS-based model for EOCs, I’ve grown increasingly comfortable with the Incident Support Model over time. It certainly makes sense. Appendix B of the NIMS Refresh document provides some additional detail on this model, but not much.
The Incident Support Model, most prominently, reorganizes some of the major ICS-centered functions we are used to seeing. It pulls two key functions from the Planning Section, those being situational awareness and resource tracking. Situational awareness in this model is established as a section. Those who have managed large and fully staffed Situation Units in an ICS-based model know that the various responsibilities such as information tracking, developing situation reports, addressing requests for information, and information analysis and display can be significant. Technical specialists, such as meteorologists and other sciences come into the fold of this section, as does Geographic Information Services (GIS).
The function of resource tracking, traditionally from the Resources Unit in the ICS model, is pulled together with all other resource-centered activities in the EOC under the Incident Support Model. This includes the tasking and assignment of resources, as well as the support of those resources, which functionally has been handled by a combination of Operations and Logistics in the ICS-based model. Reflecting on how many EOCs have grown comfortable organizing these functions previously, this section may be organized by ESF or other workable function. The Resource Support Section is also to include Finance/Administration, which I’m not necessarily as keen on. While I understand it from a contracting and procurement perspective, Finance/Administration is a function that may be best retained as their own section.
Separate from the Resource Support Section is the Center Support Section, which is focused on supporting the EOC itself with IT, admin staff, food, and other needs. The Center Support Section may also be tasked with providing similar services to other defined facilities, such as a Joint Information Center (JIC) or Family Assistance Center (FAC). I see this as a smart move as Logistics in the traditional ICS model had to juggle needs internal and external to the EOC.
Lastly is the Planning Support Section. With information management resource tracking gutted from the Planning Section, you may be left wondering what is left for the Planning Section to do. The Planning Support Section is still responsible for managing the planning process, which needs a bit of realignment under the Incident Support Model. With this is overall responsibility to develop the Incident Action Plan (IAP), but there is more. An astute planning function in an EOC in any sizeable incident should not only be managing the planning process for the next operational period, they should also looking ahead. They may be pulling together a plan for something like debris management or utility restoration which is expected to be an operational focus in a few days, or perhaps planning for the transition to recovery operations, or even for demobilization. As such, the Incident Support Model calls for the Planning Support Section to be divided between Current (and next operational period) Planning and Future Planning. With an organization model underscoring this, we will hopefully see Planning Sections focused on future outcomes as much as they are focused on short-term processes.
The Incident Support Model is certainly a workable structure, which seems to remove some of the awkwardness of the tactically-built ICS-based structure from the EOC. While we’ve certainly evolved the ICS-based structure to meet our needs in an EOC, I think many, myself included, were reluctant to make the changes needed to make it more functional in an EOC environment and still have it reflect ICS.
Now that jurisdictions are retooling and building this new model into their plans, however, we are in a bit of an awkward position in regard to training and utilization of staff. In the absence of national training program to support this model, jurisdictions are left on their own to train staff how to function in this structure. Many jurisdictions have invested a great deal of time to have staff trained in the NIMS Position-specific courses. While I don’t see that training as being wholly wasteful in light of a change to this model, there are obviously some adaptations to be made for those looking to utilize that training in an EOC using the Incident Support Model. Even established Incident Management Teams (IMTs), which follow the ICS model, will need to determine how they will adjust their deployment to fit EOCs which may use the Incident Support Model. The functions of this model certainly aren’t foreign, but may require a crosswalk of sorts for personnel who are otherwise trained or qualified to work in an ICS-based environment.
Working with clients who are adopting this model, I’m looking forward to seeing it in action and further identifying pros and cons. Knowing that some have been using this model for some time, I’m also interested in reviewing their lessons learned, particularly things like operational flow, adaptations to the Planning P, job action sheets, and other things.
© 2018 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP