A few months ago the FEMA administration decided that the US Fire Administration (USFA) would discontinue their management of the All-Hazards Incident Management Team (AHIMT) program, which they have developed and managed for years. While I was never in favor of the USFA managing the program (AHIMTs are not fire-service specific), the staff assigned to the program did an admirable job of growing the AHIMT concept to what we have today.
The All-Hazards Incident Management Team Association (AHIMTA), which has been a vocal proponent of the development of AHIMTs, has thankfully been working to make people aware of this change. As part of their advocacy, they also wrote to FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell regarding their concerns with the dissolution of this formal program. Administrator Criswell responded to AHIMTA, indicating that despite successes, the AHIMT program has “not been able to establish a sustainable or robust AHIMT program with long-term viability.” She did indicate that the USFA will continue providing related training to state, local, tribal, and territorial (SLTT) partners (though she specified that USFA training efforts will apply to fire and EMS agencies) and that she has directed the USFA to collaborate with the FEMA Field Operations Directorate to continue support to AHIMTs.
This change and some of the wording in the Administrator’s response is obviously very concerning for the future of AHIMTs. I first question the Administrator’s statement about the AHIMT program not being sustainable long-term. Not that I’m doubting her, but I’m curious as to what measures of sustainability she is referring. I’m guessing most of the issue is that of funding, along with this never having fully been part of the USFA’s mission. Everything really does boil down to funding, but how much funding can a small program office really need? I’m also concerned about the USFA continuing with the AHIMT training mission (as I always have been), and even more so with the Administrator’s specification of fire and EMS (only?) being supported. While I have no issue at all with the USFA, and think they have done a great job with IMT and related training, their primary focus on fire and EMS (even absent the Administrator’s statement) can be a barrier (real or perceived) to other disciplines obtaining or even being aware of the training.
I firmly believe that a federal-level program office to continue managing, promoting, and administering a national AHIMT program is necessary. I do not think it should be in the USFA, however, as it has been, as their mission is not comprehensive in nature. It’s a program that should be managed properly within FEMA, though not by the FEMA Field Operations Directorate, which is primarily charged with FEMA’s own field operations. While this does include FEMA’s own IMATs, their focus is internal and with a very different purpose. My biggest inclination is for the program to be placed within the NIMS Integration Center, which already does a great deal of work that intersects with AHIMTs. On the training side of things, I’d like to see AHIMT training moved to FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI), to emphasize the inclusion of SLTT participants regardless of discipline. Incident management, as a comprehensive response function, is inclusive of all hazards and all disciplines and practices, just like emergency management.
The dissolution of the AHIMT program at the federal level makes no sense to me at all. The absence of a program office not only degrades the importance of incident management teams, but of incident management as a concept and a skillset – which I think also needs some vision beyond the current IMT model to support local incident management capabilities. I’m appreciative of the AHIMTA and their advocacy for a federal AHIMT program office, and I’m hopeful that they will be able to convince FEMA of this need and that a program office is properly restored.
© 2022 Timothy Riecker, CEDP