Federal Coordination of All-Hazard Incident Management Teams

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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

9 thoughts on “Federal Coordination of All-Hazard Incident Management Teams

  1. The issue isn’t necessarily funding for USFA, but it is related to money. ICS has become a cash-cow side gig for the people who happened to go through the process first, develop the material and write the rules. If NFA is offering O305 how can FEMA IMT members continue charging $25,000 for it?
    The system isn’t sustainable because it requires agencies to dump hundreds of thousands of dollars to get courses to meet “qualifications” that can only be obtained through them. It has essentially become an emergency management country club that only the high-rollers can afford to join, leaving the rest of the country to fend for means to maintain technical capabilities.

    1. I can agree with that. While I don’t begrudge anyone trying to make a living (I run my own consulting firm after all), there is clearly a demand at all levels of government for training and other resources that’s less than affordable to everyone at the rates you identified. It’s hard for jurisdictions to build *and sustain* capability at those prices.

      While the IMT program is worthwhile, I think it needs to be expanded upon, with practical options to support incident management made more accessible and realistic for jurisdictions that can’t afford to build and support an IMT.

    2. Great points, Wayne. Ideally USFA or EMI would be resourced to provide that training for free to public agencies. Even then, demand routinely overtakes supply. From a (former) EMI perspective, if a jurisdiction wanted a course that wasn’t in our training plan for the year (translation: funded) we would work with them to schedule an official/sanctioned course if they had the resources to contract directly with approved instructors.

      One possible solution would be to focus Fed resources on a train-the-trainer approach to build more instructor capability in states and local jurisdictions. That approach has its challenges (quality control, for one) but could be successful with the right emphasis.

      1. I’ll further this from a (former) state training officer perspective… some states would do well with this, but quality control is absolutely a serious concern. It would also be a challenge to divert EMPG funds from other essential training to that (same situation as EMI). But it would certainly help address local/regional demand.

  2. This is such a setback for the all hazards emergency management program. This decision will only drive a wedge further in between the separate disciplines of fire, medical and law-enforcement, as well as other responding entities both governmental and non-governmental. I am so disappointed.

  3. Those states that have successful Type 3 AHIMT programs have certain common characteristics. First, a state agency/organization has taken ownership of the program and provides the leadership and guidance. Second, this same state agency has at least one fulltime employee to oversee or administer the program. Third, there is funding for the program. In Oklahoma, the effort to develop and sustain a Type 3 AHIMT program began in May 2008. More than 14 years later, there is no established and sustainable program because we lack these three common characteristics. No state agency wants to take ownership of the program, instead they want local governments to do it. Unfortunately, local governments, with one exception, don’t want it either. However, there is plenty of ICS and AHIMT position specific training being offered and delivered in the state.

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