What is the National Incidence Management System?

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Since the appearance of the Homeland Security Department of the Federal Government, the National Incidence Management System has been a unifying and standardizing force for the betterment of disaster response. Most people are familiar with the term "Homeland Security" but many may not understand the role the NIMS plays in ensuring that the department works efficiently on all levels. What does the NIMS do?

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Just as weights and measures must be standardized to make trade possible, response terminology must be standardized to allow responders to communicate and respond effectively to disasters. Standard terms help responding agencies avoid duplication of services and wasting of resources. In a large disaster such as a hurricane or even a terrorist attack the assistance needed is divided among many responding agencies. Even response to local disasters involves cooperation between agencies such as EMS and law enforcement. The use of standard terms and standard response protocol makes communication between these agencies much easier.


According to the FEMA website NIMS page, in addition to promoting the use of standard terms and protocols, the NIMS provides training for responders. This training is intended for all levels of response from the people who work at command centers and dispatch, field responders and commanders to government officials and private agencies. The training teaches a standardized approach to an incident response that covers every level from prevention to recovery.

The basic training curriculum is recommended for all personnel "regardless of discipline or level." Field commanders and others in a management role take advanced courses. This standardization of training enables agencies to cooperate and to assist other departments, including response to incidents in other jurisdictions or states. As an outcome of training, the NIMS certifies emergency response personnel. There is also training that is imperative for elected and appointed government officials and allows them to understand their roles in incident response.

The inclusion of information management in the curriculum helps the agencies not only to communicate between themselves but to communicate with the public. It also gives the agencies a platform from which to view the incidents in retrospect to make adjustments in response patterns or protocols. The statement of the Coastguard after the Deepwater Horizon disaster that recommends improvement in different areas is an example of this.

Interface with FEMA

The Federal Emergency Management Agency is a part of this review process and oversees the curriculum offered by the NIMS. There was a fairly recent general revision by FEMA of the "concepts and principles" of the NIMS. These principles were contained in five areas: Prevention, Protection, Mitigation, Respons, and Recovery. To update policies, the NIMS relies on information gleaned from interviews with entities that the organization calls "stakeholders" including responders, governmental agencies and focus groups.

Disaster readiness and response is important on local, regional and national levels. Lack of coordination between responding agencies can result in the absence of some needed services and in confusion over which agency has the responsibility for which responsibility. In some disasters, this can lead to the "ball being dropped" in something as simple as which agency is responsible for providing bottled water. The presence of an agency such as the National Incidence Management System ensures that not only will the right agency respond to the right need, but that the personnel of that agency will be competent and standardized in their response.