I recently participated in a table-top exercise based on the 2008 flooding in Havasu Canyon, a tributary of Grand Canyon and the Colorado River, where the Native American village of Supai and the blue-green waters are located. In August of last year, our team along with numerous other agencies, responded to help evacuate more than 400 campers and village residents out of the path of the flood. Luckily, there was no loss of human life--no serious injuries at all, actually--and things went well, I thought. But there's certainly room for improvement in a number of areas, and that's what the table-top exercise was meant to help accomplish, at least as a start.
The exercise was based on the Incident Command System, which most of us learn about as new SAR recruits. But it's one thing to learn about it on paper and from an instructor in a class room and quite another to see it in action and also to practice it in a low-stress scenario like the table-top exercise.
Here, I'm just going to review the basic Incident Command setup--the different functions within the ICS framework and brief descriptions of each functional element. During some missions, only a few of the organizational elements may be required, while other major incidents may necessitate that the organization be expanded. The ICS framework allows for that expansion, but there are five major functions which are needed on any incident regardless of its size.
Those five major functions are:
- Incident Command
- Finance & Administration
On many, if not most missions, multiple functions may be performed or at least overseen by a single person. In other cases, the responsibilities will be broken down to section chiefs and a number of deputies and "subordinates."
Here's a summary of each major function:
Obviously, most missions don't necessitate such an extensive or detailed structure, and the Incident Command System in its entire, expanded form is difficult to envision--personally speaking--until it's seen in action. Even as a "low level" volunteer, though, I think it's a good idea to have a general understanding of what's going on at the upper levels of incident management right down to our own specific tasks and how we fit in to the ICS. Even the most basic responsibilities, which may seem mundane compared to the overall situation at hand, are vital to its operation. And that's a good thing to know.
For more information on the ICS, I'd start with www.FEMA.gov.