The Incident Command System (ICS) is a proven management structure that’s become the gold standard for virtually any kind of emergency response activity. 

This unique system is a result of decades of learning — it’s a compilation of best practices that have been sharpened in recent decades. Flexibility and scalability are the two features that make it so versatile, so you’ll never ICS the same way twice. As such, it can be tricky to wrap your head around learning and implementing the ICS. 

Despite its complexities, formulating your ICS well in advance of an incident is in your best interest. Pre-planning allows everyone who could potentially be involved in an emergency response to conceptualize how they can apply the ICS in a real-world situation. 

Here are some quick tips for familiarizing yourself and your team with the system.

Learn everything you can. 

Read case studies about emergency response activities that employ the ICS. Remember, the ICS is widely applicable — it’s not just for emergency spill response. You can use it for managing other activities including: 

  • Planned events (parades, concerts, festivals) 
  • Fires and other natural disasters  
  • Search and rescue missions 
  • Pest eradication
  • Disease outbreaks and containment 

Familiarizing yourself with different ICS approaches can help you better understand the inner workings of the system, which gives you a leg up if you ever need to implement the ICS yourself. 

Formalize your structure. 

Although the ICS is built to expand and contract as needed, laying out a basic organizational structure before an incident occurs will help you align expectations and solidify responsibilities within your company. The basic functions to fill in the ICS are: 

  • Incident command 
  • Operations
  • Planning
  • Logistics
  • Finance and administration

If you are part of a smaller organization, you may only need to familiarize a few people with the primary responsibilities for each of these functions. Larger companies may formally appoint leaders to each function and have them build out a more complex structure within their section. There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for formalizing your ICS structure, but the more people who are familiar with the system, the better off you’ll be in an emergency.  

Establish a reporting protocol. 

The ICS will help facilitate your communications, but you must establish the how, where, and when of incident reporting before anything happens. Some things to think about are: 

  • Where to securely store sensitive documents (e.g., dedicated hard drive, Dropbox, Google Drive, SharePoint) 
  • How each function can submit paperwork (e.g., via fillable PDFs, emails, field notebooks)
  • How often basic deliverables are due (e.g., hourly, daily, weekly)

Get buy-in from your team. 

The ICS is only effective when your workforce is on board. 

When you decide to implement the ICS to drive your emergency response activities, open the lines of communication so that your employees can ask questions, raise concerns, and volunteer to take on leadership roles. Allowing your team to feel included in the system implementation will help you gain buy-in and help them become even better assets to your organization. 

Plan periodic training and drills. 

Training and drills are one of the most powerful ways to exercise your ICS — they allow your employees to get hands-on experience in safe, low-pressure environments. Drills can range in complexity, and you can practice with any kind of hypothetical emergency from an office fire to a massive chemical spill. 

Build relationships with your federal, state, and local authorities. 

Should you ever need to involve responders from the federal, state, or local governments in an emergency, it’s helpful to have a positive relationship already in place. Building a positive rapport with agencies can increase your emergency response efficacy, as it helps with facilitating smooth communications, keeping stress levels low, and managing expectations. 

Prioritize attending conferences, seminars, and meetups where representatives from these agencies will be in attendance to kindle relationships. 


TriMedia’s team is well-versed in emergency responses of all sizes. For more information on how to apply the ICS to your emergency response plan, contact us today.