Skip to main content

Homeland Security Department Unveils National Incident Management System

The Incident Management System (IMS) is familiar to emergency responders as a standardized framework that allows different departments and agencies to work seamlessly together at an incident. This year, it’s gone national.

Secretary of Homeland Security Tom Ridge announced in March final approval of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), a national-level standardized plan to link federal, state and local governments through a common template for incident response.

“NIMS gives all of our nation’s responders the same framework for incident management,” Ridge said in announcing the plan, “and fully puts into practice the concept of ‘one mission, one team, one fight.’”

The system will standardize doctrine, terminology, concepts, principles and processes, but maintain a flexibility that can accommodate incidents and responses of different sizes and scopes. Its key aspects include:

• The Incident Command System (ICS)—A standard organizational structure with five functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics and finance/administration. NIMS embraces a unified command structure to coordinate multijurisdictional responses and ensure all participants are represented in decisionmaking.

• Preparedness—To improve the readiness of departments to respond to major incidents, NIMS defines preparedness measures such as planning, training, exercises, qualification/certification, equipment acquisition and publication management. This area also includes mitigation activities such as public education, enforcement of building standards and codes, and other preventive measures.

• Communications and Information Management—NIMS requires interoperable communications systems for both incident and information management.

• Joint Information System (JIS)—The JIS enhances communications with the public during an incident by bringing incident communicators together to deliver a coordinated, unified message via a joint information center.

• NIMS Integration Center (NIC)—The NIC will be established by the secretary of Homeland Security to provide strategic direction and oversight of NIMS. The NIC will incorporate lessons learned, weigh possible changes and ensure that best practices are utilized. It will also develop and facilitate standards for education and training, communications and equipment, resource typing, ensuring the qualifications and credentials of personnel, and maintaining equipment and resources.

As emergency medical responders will be part of the response to any incident with casualties, it behooves them to become familiar with NIMS.

“Obviously, in any kind of mass-casualty incident, there will be a representative of EMS on the unified command team,” says Gordon Sachs, a training specialist with the U.S. Fire Administration and a key contributor to the USFA’s training “roadmap” for developing the local and regional Incident Management Teams that are a key part of implementing NIMS. “In both the Operations and Planning sections, there will probably be somebody working as or with the EMS section chief. Those are critical positions to make sure all the EMS needs are met.”

For more on Incident Management Teams (IMTs), see The USFA is also developing a Web-based NIMS overview that is expected to be available on its website ( by the time you read this. The complete NIMS document can be viewed by following the appropriate links at

Back to Top