Some time ago the nation’s firefighting community recognized the need for an efficient and effective method of managing wildland incidents that involve thousands of response personnel and cover hundreds of square miles. The result was a concept of a team, rather than a single incident commander (IC), that by working together would manage an incident and collectively carry out the management functions of the positions associated with Command as well as General Staff. In practice, although the Incident Management Team (IMT) still would have a single IC, the other team members – who would provide specialized assistance in operations, planning, logistics, and finance/administration – would develop key components of an Incident Action Plan (IAP), which ultimately would have to be approved by the IC.

A typical Incident Management Team consists of a group of individuals who are qualified to provide the incident-management assistance needed to complement and support an ICS (Incident Command System) type of organization in coping with incidents and events that have the potential to exceed day-to-day capabilities. Although the concept of the IMT may have its genesis in the firefighting arena, recent events have proved that the same concept can be applied to other traditional response assets as well as to private entities within the community directly affected.

It is generally recognized throughout the United States that most IMTs fall into five categories, as follows:

Type V – City and township level – i.e., locally qualified;
Type IV – County or special district level – county or regionally qualified;
Type III – State or metropolitan-area level – state qualified;
Type II – National and state level – federally or state qualified (but with lower staffing and/or less experience than Type I IMTs); and
Type I – National and state level – federally or state qualified (also, usually the best equipped, and almost always possessing the most experience).
In the event of a disaster in which an Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) between two political jurisdictions is implemented, it is important that, when an area requests assistance in the form of an IMT: (a) the request specifies the appropriate type of resource needed; and (b) the jurisdiction responding to the request provides the type requested. (During some recent disasters the IMTs provided were not the type requested, and the result was extensive delays and the inefficient use of valuable resources.)

A Firm Commitment, Plus Resources and Capabilities

The type of IMT that a specific community decides to develop depends on a number of factors – the most critical of which is that there must be a firm commitment of the various agencies, governmental entities, and allied partners responsible for providing the most critical resources needed: staff hours, fiscal support, and training. Among the other important but somewhat less critical factors that influence the type of IMT formed are: (a) the local resources available that organizations are willing to commit; (b) the overall emergency-management needs of the agency and/or region involved; and (c) the individual and collective capabilities of the members assigned to meet the necessary initial training requirement.

The qualification processes for Type I or Type II teams are fairly well defined. Currently, the “Authority Having Jurisdiction” determines the duties of Type III, IV, and V teams. Most if not quite all IMT duties are now based on local needs and capabilities, but it is expected that those duties will be more clearly defined sometime in the near future under a new “Resource Typing” initiative being reviewed within the federal government’s National Incident Management System (NIMS).

Many states throughout the country have recognized the value that an IMT brings to large-scale incidents as well as to planned events, and many jurisdictions at all levels of government are beginning to break down traditional barriers and to form IMTs made up of representatives of a broad spectrum of government agencies as well as an increasing number of private-sector organizations. The inclusion of non-traditional emergency-response personnel can greatly enhance the operational capabilities of an IMT. It is generally recognized that many individuals who – although they are not firefighters, law-enforcement personnel, or EMS (Emergency Medical Services) technicians – can provide complementary talents and capabilities that improve a community’s (or an IMT’s) ability to respond to a potential mass-casualty crisis or similar event. The framework on which an IMT is developed, therefore, can in many cases be enhanced by the addition of carefully selected individuals, organizations, or agencies that routinely “work” within various disciplines. For example, the finance director of a small town or major city may be the person best qualified to serve as an IMT’s finance/administration section chief, and the same community’s public works director may be ideally fitted to serve as chief of the logistics section.

Gourmet Coffee Not Necessarily Essential

When recruiting/selecting individuals to make up the IMT, it is important that those selected have a thorough understanding of the environment in which they may be called to work. In most if not quite all emergency situations, IMT members will be working 12-hour shifts, living in a communal setting, having minimal communications (at best) to their homes and families, and probably lacking many of the so-called “creature comforts” that they are used to. In one recent case a prospective IMT member who was being deployed to assist at a regional disaster was concerned about the availability – more accurately, the non-availability – of his or her morning “gourmet” coffee. That person and others suffering from similarly unrealistic expectations may be more useful serving in support roles in their home jurisdictions.

As in so many other aspects of modern life, the most effective IMTs are those possessing strength in numbers – which is another way of saying that the ideal IMT must be established with enough depth at each position that the team as a whole is not dependent on the continued availability of only a few selected members. It is generally recommended, in fact, that at a minimum the team should be at least three deep at each position requiring special qualifications and capabilities. Moreover, all members of the team should attend and participate in initial training, which exposes them not only to the conceptual and operational realities of the IMT itself but also acquaints them with the position-specific training required for the position(s) to which they may be assigned.

Training should be ongoing and on a regular basis. Opportunities to utilize the IMT exist in every community and should not be overlooked. These may include planning for the county fair, a visit from a VIP, or advance planning for a weather-related event.

Reasonable Expectations Yes; Logistics Burden No

The all–hazard IMT must be capable of being self-sufficient for a period of 48–72 hours. The last thing that a community requesting assistance needs is additional personnel who are available to assist but are given little or nothing to do and become a logistic burden. The IMT should be equipped with food, water, communications, and all of the other essentials needed not only to develop and implement an IAP but also to cope with the incident/event and/or otherwise help the host community.

Governors, mayors, city managers, and other decision makers who are developing an internal Type III – V team must address these concerns as well. The locally designated emergency operations center (EOC) – be it a fire station or a more formally dedicated area – should be equipped to meet all of the reasonably expected needs of the IMT and not have to rely on the use of local utilities. The availability of emergency power, back-up communications, and cached supplies is among the numerous issues that should be addressed as early as possible in the planning process.

To summarize: The days in which an incident commander would attempt to manage a large-scale event without assistance are in the past. The IMT is a proven concept that allows for the response to be not only more effective and efficient than ever before but also – and of greater importance – safer as well. The IMT allows an incident to be addressed in a systematic way that, if used properly, greatly enhances a community’s response to and recovery from significant events. Traditional responders (law-enforcement personnel, firefighters, and EMS technicians, in particular) are recognizing the fact that many individuals within their community possess talents that can be used by the IMT, and it is becoming more frequent that these individuals are being incorporated into the IMT framework, thus making it even more effective.

William MacKay

William (Bill) MacKay, a 30-year veteran of the re service, is fire chief for the City of Niagara Falls, N.Y., and prior to taking that post was battalion chief of special operations for the Fairfax County (Va.) Fire and Rescue Department. An author of the curriculum used at the National Fire Academy to prepare fire fighters to cope with both domestic and international incidents involving terrorism, he also serves as an instructor for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and is a former member of the National Capital Region’s Incident Management Team.

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