Incident Commander Course
By Master Sgt. David Frates, Emergency Management Superintendent, 104FW
/ Published October 04, 2008
BARNES AIR NATIONAL GUARD BASE, Massachusetts -- In the event of a disaster, how would civilian and military authorities organize their resources under one structure to respond effectively? During a weeklong course hosted by the 104th Emergency Management office, senior leadership from the 104th and other Air National Guard (ANG) units from the region sat with their Emergency Managers, Fire Chiefs, and Security Forces to learn the answers to that important question.
From 16 September to 19 September, 45 Disaster Response Force (DRF) members learned about the Air Force Incident Management System (AFIMS) and what capabilities we have in our toolbox to mitigate incidents, from minor to catastrophic. Following events such as the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, the President of the United States mandated all responding agencies utilize a universal system to ensure interagency communication and continuity of command. The Incident Command System (ICS), which was created in the 1970's as a result of devastating forest fires, was selected and directed under HSPD-5 (Homeland Security Presidential Directive). The Air Force became the Department of Defense's (DoD's) tip of the spear by being first to adapt ICS into AFIMS.
The Incident Command System breaks down command, control and communication functions into a flexible and expandable structure. The DoD is making sure it's components are integrating their processes to meet this structure, as many other federal agencies have done in the last few years. Under AFIMS, the first person on scene is the Incident Commander and could remain an enlisted position throughout the incident. Reconciling our rank structure with AFIMS is one of the first hurdles most have to overcome.
"The key to successfully mitigating an incident is knowing your resources beforehand, being able to get your hands on them in time, and putting them where they can do the most good," said Lt. Col William Kelly, the Deputy Mission Support Group Commander. "With all the players on the same sheet of music regardless of what agency they work for, you just moved a pretty large roadblock out of the way."
Potential Incident Commanders from many different functions in the Air Force participated in stressful exercises throughout the week to explore the true adaptability of the system. "We exercised on and off-base emergencies, mishaps, and natural disasters." The program's strength is in its versatility of use, stated Mr. Willie Rogers, one of the course instructors.
With the new system in place, commanders across the Air Force are being trained to speak the same lingo, utilize the same structure, and be able to integrate their planning with civilian agencies. With a standard system, the Incident Commander can ensure the only chaos is produced by the disaster itself and not our attempts to respond to it.