Incident Command System (ICS) – The Time is Now Corporate America

Over the years, there has been talk in our industry about transitioning corporate America to the Incident Command System or ICS.  ICS consists of a standard management hierarchy and procedures for managing temporary incidents of any size, scope or complexity. ICS is able to provide an organizational structure for incident management, and a guide for the process for planning, building, and adapting that structure.   The adoption has been slow, as most corporations, unless specifically required, use their existing corporate structure as the basis for their crisis management team hierarchy and management structure.

However, as organizations continue to become increasingly complex, need to recover sooner, span across regions, have limited resources and time to train their people, ICS is becoming the way to go.  We have found more of our corporate customers are now requesting we establish or convert their existing crisis management team structures to ICS

So, what is ICS? The ICS structure is built around five (5) major management activities or functional areas:

  • COMMAND Sets priorities, objectives and is responsible for overall control of the incident
  • OPERATIONS Is accountable for all tactical operations necessary to carry out the plan
  • PLANNING – Responsible for the collection, evaluation, and distribution of information regarding incident development and the availability of resources
  • LOGISTICS – Responsible for providing the necessary facilities, services, and materials to meet incident needs
  • FINANCE/ADMIN – Responsible for monitoring and documenting all costs while providing the necessary financial support related to the incident


All of the functional areas may or may not be used based on the incident needs. All incidents will have a Command function and almost all will have an Operations function, but the remaining activities are used on larger or longer incidents. When a small incident occurs one individual often handles many activities.

During the incident, each person has 1 boss! With a strict tree structure everybody knows whom they work for and every supervisor knows who works for them. By having this structure, it makes communication and coordination easier, up and down the tree and as organization grows and changes.

Along with the strict tree structure, there is also an explicit transfer of responsibility. A more senior person doesn’t automatically take over upon arrival, but might only do so after briefing on status and plans from the person they’re replacing and explicit turnover, which would include notifying subordinates and superiors. The person already in place is often better suited to handle current situation, and is more up to speed on the current state of the incident. When and if a change does occur, planning keeps an overall updated org chart.

Throughout the incident, small or large, it is important to have clear communications. By communicating clearly and completely in everyday language, it will reduce the potential for confusion, reduce the time spent clarifying, and lets other people monitor. By communicating clearly during any incident, it will help to remedy the incident in a timely fashion.

ICS has been recognized and used throughout the United States as an emergency management system. Many large government run organizations and private companies have adopted the ICS as the basis for their response to all incidents.

By establishing ICS early in an incident, thinking of ICS as a toolbox full of tools and by practicing ICS whenever possible, the Incident Command System will provide means to coordinate efforts of parties toward common goals.

Our next blog will cover how ICS may look at a typical corporate organization.


Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

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