The problem tackled in this policy paper

The policy problem

The problem tackled in this policy paper is how best the Incident Command System (ICS) can be employed when responding to either anthropogenic or natural calamities in order to minimize loss in life and destruction of property.

The manner in which government agencies and responders conduct emergency coordination during disasters has been a major concern in the recent past, especially when hurricane Katrina struck the New Orleans area. Nonetheless, the fact that a swell organized and standard system is needed during incidents of catastrophes has been in place for quite a number of decades (Oliver, 2011).

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Tracing back the California fires in 1970, a similar hitch in terms of preparation by emergency responders was also witnessed. Although the incidence was multijurisdictional, it could have been brought under control with adequate preparation.

The task of coordinating various rescue teams and departments was enormous (Brunsma, Overfelt & Picou, 2007). Later, the agencies confirmed that it was a smooth ride in coordinating response teams responding to fires owing to miscommunication and rampant mix up. Eventually, a total of 16 people lost their lives in addition to destruction of about 700 structures.

This is just one example of past incidences where response teams failed to prepare themselves well in advance amid the oncoming disaster. It was after this fire incident that ICS was established as a command unit to prepare, plan and manage disasters inflicting the country. For a long period of time now, ICS has been incorporated in several rescue missions across from oil spills to terror attacks.

Moreover, the ICS has been found to be beneficial in four main areas. Firstly, it facilitates better focus for rescue teams on the ground. The unit is run as a hierarchical structure with set objectives within a limited period of time depending on the emergency issue at hand. Secondly, it enhances effective resolution of the incidence since the situation at hand is assessed from a broad base and narrowed down to a small focus so that it can be resolved within the shortest time possible.

Third, it promotes incident organisation and finally, ICS tends to attain an expedited resolution to the incidence. In any case, proper incident management during disasters can assist in resolving broader issues and is particularly helpful for any affected community. They also felt that incident management plans could resolve broader issues and would be better for the community.

Hurricane Katrina could have been dealt with decisively by government agencies and other emergency responders if the incorporation of ICS into the calamity was effected to the letter (Brunsma, Overfelt & Picou, 2007). Through ICS, the key stakeholders such as the army, Department of Homeland Security, FEMA among others would have been brought into a common platform instead of each of them wasting away their efforts separately.

Utilities that do not make use of ICS may experience hardship when they are handling an emergency occurrence in form of a disaster. In the case of hurricane Katrina, the responders were largely reported to be unprepared. However, the missing link was likely to be isolated rescue efforts which affected their effectiveness and efficiency standard in the course of operations.

Perhaps, it is imperative to note that the overall responsibility of the Incident Commander (IC) is primarily to manage the as the leader of the ICS structure. The role of the IC is particularly notable on major incidents like was the case with hurricane Katrina. It is against this backdrop that the magnitude of the hurricane Katrina should have been accessed thoroughly so that the IC could assume his role to the letter as the head of the organisation.

Unfortunately, the structure and working principle of ICS has largely been ignored or misunderstood. Though it is just one unit, it has a blend of several unrelated agencies whose functions have to be well coordinated if their efforts is to bear any fruits. Emergency incidences that are small in size can be managed or headed by the most senior official heading the rescue crew and may fully assume the role of the Incident Commander(Alan, 2005).

Hurricane Katrina was reportedly growing in size from a tiny storm to a widespread tropical depression hurricane. A few days after the onset of the storm, it seemingly grew and consequently, the Mississippi and Louisiana Governors decided to declare state of emergency in the affected areas. In addition, the predictions of the National Weather Forecast were as dynamic as the storm was progressing. At some point, the weatherman predicted that catastrophic flooding follow soon.

At this point, the application of ICS should have come in handy. As an emergency incidence grows in severity and becomes more complex, more competent crew should be directed in the worst affected areas. It is common knowledge that an incidence big in size definitely require rescue officials who are more qualified. It is also at this juncture when the IC may be replaced with a more skilled and experienced personnel. It is more likely that this did not materialize during hurricane Katrina.

Incidents that are larger in magnitude and require restoration efforts that may take considerably long, the Incident Commander ought to establish various operating sub-units all within ICS. These and administration, planning, logistics and operations. Besides, a command staff, liaison personnel as well as information safety sub units are paramount.

It is interesting to note that all these were established by the IC but lack of coordination and late response on the disaster acted as major setbacks to the rescue process. Let us now have a critical look at each of the five organizational tools within ICS that were employed and how they could be improved.


A significant section of the Gulf Coast was devastated by hurricane Katrina. In addition, the natural landscape around Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi were equally ruined by the storm.

The Department of Homeland Security located in Louisiana in conjunction with the Emergency Preparedness team camped at the state level to execute the rescue efforts (Brunsma, Overfelt & Picou, 2007). Still under management, the emergency office located in New Orleans assumed the role of giving orders regarding evacuations as well as obtaining information on the progress of the storm.

In addition, the office acted as the centre through which life safety could be provided after the needs of the victims had been identified. Both the Department of Homeland Security and Emergency and the City of New Orleans rescuers worked hand in hand in spite of poor coordination. Another wing that assisted with voluntary evacuation was the Federal Emergency. The state of Louisiana and the Gulf Coast area were catered for by the combined efforts of these agencies.

This management plan sounded good although there were numerous pitfalls before and during its execution (Grant, Miki & Brooke, 2005). The top management of ICS which includes the Incident Commander, Liaison Officer, Public Information officer as well as the safety officer is supposed to sit on a round table and then draw a common plan for managing the disaster (Alan, 2005). It is evident that each of these officials was more or less working as an individual.

For instance, it is reported that evacuation orders from the worst hit areas came too late from the Governor of New Orleans, not even among the lead agencies such as the Department of Homeland Security on Emergency Preparedness and Planning. Moreover, the safety officer is also expected to work directly under the information officer so that the necessary safety action is taken based on the progress of the calamity. It is most likely that this was not the case.


The nearby parishes as well as the fire department derived from New Orleans were part of the emergency operations at the site of the hurricane. There were also other numerous agencies such as the Emergency Medical Services and the ambulance services that offered medical help and first aid services to the affected victims. Several other regions such as California, Texas and Missouri were served with ambulances. In order to keep law and order, the New Orleans Police Department was on the fore front.

Other law enforcement agencies that were involved in the safety operations included Louisiana Fish and Wildlife and the State Highway Patrol. Direct government agencies include FBI, Tobacco and Firearms and the Federal Emergency Management Agency among several others. The American Red Cross and the United Methodist Emergency Response provided the support services. Others in this category were the Salvation Army and other volunteer agencies such as the Southern Baptist Convention.

As can be noted, this was a all working under the unit of operations. For the effective application of ICS in managing disasters, and especially when there are myriad of aid agencies working under the same unit, it is necessary to allocate each agency a specific role to play in order to avoid duplication of duties.

This is likely to have happened during hurricane Katrina. Under the operations unit of the ICS, there are still other branches that should be linked up during rescue operations in order to facilitate the optimum rescue and recovery process. Under the branches, there are divisions and groups whose functions have to be identified so that they do not engage in rescue process which is either below or above their capacity. Further below the divisions are the strike teams, the task force as well as a smaller unit that manages a single resource.

The agencies that were assisting the rescue process carried their duty at random without any due consideration of their specific responsibilities. Furthermore, the top ICS leadership namely the Incident Commander, public information officer, safety officer and the liaison officer failed to coordinate the various government and volunteering agencies, leading to delay of recovery process occasioned by either undertaking the same roles or taking too long to respond as a result of poor liaison.

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