Another great article from Alison Poste. Please be sure to check out her blog – The Afterburn – at www.afterburnblog.com.
I’m looking forward to reading about the adaptations to ICS she references in this article.
Learning from the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Response
The ICS model remains a universal command and control standard for crisis response. In contrast to traditional operations-based responses, the COVID-19 pandemic has required a ‘knowledge-based’ framework.
A fundamental element of ICS is the rapid establishment of a single chain of command. Once established, a basic organization is put in place including the core functions of operations, planning, logistics and finance/administration. In the face of a major incident, there is potential for people and institutions to work at cross purposes. The ICS model avoids this by rapidly integrating people and institutions into a single, integrated response organization preserving the unity of command and span of control. Support to the Incident Commander (the Command Staff) includes a Public Information Officer (PIO), a Liaison Officer and a Safety Officer.
In a study done by Chris Ansell and Ann Keller for the IBM Center for the Business of Government in 2014, the response of the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDCP) to the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic was examined in depth. In examining the response, a number of prior outbreak responses were reviewed. Prior to the widespread adoption of ICS, “the CDCP viewed its emergency operations staff as filling an advisory role rather than a leadership role during the crisis” (Ansell and Keller, 2014). This advisory function was the operating principle of the 2003 SARS outbreak response.
ICS was created to coordinate responses that often extend beyond the boundaries of any individual organizations’ capacity to respond. Considering the 2009 H1N1 pandemic response, the authors outline three features complicated the use of the traditional ICS paradigm:
- The overall mission in a pandemic response is to create authoritative knowledge rather than the delivery of an operational response;
- The use of specialized knowledge from a wide and dispersed range of sources; and
- The use of resources to manage external perceptions of the CDCP’s response.
In response to these unique features, the authors of the study have advocated seven adaptations to the ‘traditional’ ICS structure. These adaptations will be examined in depth in a future post.
Notwithstanding the unique challenges of a ‘knowledge-based’ response, the ‘traditional’ ICS structure is well-equipped to adapt and scale to the needs of any incident. While it is true that a ‘knowledge-based’ response differs from an operational one, this is not inconsistent with the two top priorities of the ICS model: #1: Life Safety and #2: Incident (Pandemic) Stabilization. The objectives of the incident will determine the size of the organization. Secondly, the modular ICS organization is able to rapidly incorporate specialized knowledge and expand/contract as the demands of the incident evolve. Finally, assigning resources to monitor external communications will remain the purview of the PIO as a member of Command Staff.
When the studies are written on the use of ICS in the COVID-19 pandemic, what do you think will be the key take-aways? As always, I’m interested to hear your thoughts and ideas for future topics.
Ansell, Chris and Ann Keller. 2014. Adapting the Incident Command Model for Knowledge-Based Crises: The Case of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. IBM Center for the Business of Government. Retrieved August 16, 2020 from http://www.businessofgovernment.org/sites/default/files/Adapting%20the%20Incident%20Command%20Model%20for%20Knowledge-Based%20Crises.pdf
4 thoughts on “Learning from the 2009 H1N1 Pandemic Response (Guest Post)”
I hope the failure of ICS with COVID-19 was due only to political mishandling at the federal level and not a move away from ICS…
I agree. It’s interesting to compare and contrast the responses between the neighbouring jurisdictions of Washington State and the Province of B.C., who have embraced the ICS model. I will be discussing these in a future post. Thank you for your feedback!
Agreed. Most failures of ICS are due to misunderstanding the system (poor training) and failure to properly implement it (again… poor training, as well as inadequate plans).
Absolutely. Your ‘ICS Training Sucks’ series is a great overview for any agency incorporating ICS into their planning.