©1999 - 2012
Edward D. Reuss
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The City of New York announced the completion of procedures for a Citywide Incident Management System or CIMS.  This system was “largely based on the National Incident Command model”.   This protocol resulted from a federal mandate that required the City to comply with federal standards as specified in the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s National Incident Management System or NIMS.

The news of the adoption of CIMS was critical for the City of New York. The timing was crucial due to the upcoming 911 Commission Hearings to be held in NYC.  Federal funding for first responders and emergency management required the City to be in compliance with Federal standards.  The adoption of the Incident Command System and Unified Command protocols were mandated by those standards.

The CIMS protocol is a giant step towards command and control of critical incidents involving terrorism, weapons of mass destruction (WMD), and natural disasters. The modular Incident Command System is to be fully adopted. The concept of Unified Command, so vital to the success of incidents involving mass casualties (MCI) is to be made the template for command during these incidents.  The Office of Emergency Management (OEM) has conducted table top exercises as well as actual simulated disaster training exercises with all of the emergency services.  These training exercises give all of the emergency services the opportunity to meet each other and to exchange information face-to-face.  The problems that they find in these exercises provide the data that they need to think creatively about those same problems.  It also identifies leadership qualities in those in command positions.

What about the “Unified Command” protocol?  CIMS, like the national system, calls for an “Incident Commander”, or a “Unified Command Section” supported by the four major sections, Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration , each headed by a “Section Chief”.  The Operations Section would manage tactical operations at the scene. The protocol specifies that in large, complex incidents, that require a “Unified Command Section”, CIMS envisions two or more “Deputy Operations Section Chiefs”.  Concepts of command and control by the various agencies remain in place. Police commanders, fire commanders, and others are responsible to their resources at the scene.  Liaison officers maintain face to face communications with other agencies.  The sharing of information during Incident Action Plan (IAP) briefings would remain the highest priority. Each 8 or 12 hour working schedule begins with the IAP briefings.

Now that we have a template for “Unified Command”, have we solved the vexing problem of “who is in charge”?  Who has the final say in decision-making? Do we have leadership by committee with four or more chiefs sharing command? Will nobody be charge because everybody is in charge? What if there is a conflict of opinions on command decisions? For the sake of argument, let us envision a large incident requiring multi-agencies to respond and the establishment of a “Unified Command Section”.  For the sake of simplification, let us also assume that there is no federal response required. The OEM has established an Emergency Operation Center (EOC) off-site with the Mayor, his staff, and top management from all effected agencies present. From this off-site central EOC,  the multi-agencies can monitor the incident and provide feedback for the Mayor and top management. OEM sends the Interagency Command Center command bus to the site of the incident.  This command bus serves as the Incident Command Post (ICP) on the scene. As the incident expands or grows in intensity, the EOC could be the “Base” where the Logistics Section, the Planning Section, and the Finance/Adminis tration Section could conduct their functions.  

                       The Photo above is courtesy of NYC Office of Emergency Management.

Mobilization areas, where responding units report would be coordinated by an assigned Officer. Ground transport as well as Aviation heliport locations would also be established to expedite the triage, treatment, and transport of victims.
(How the Mobilization Areas are conducted is vital. Police, firefighting equipment, medical units require their own mobilizations areas.  This is an area of emergency management that practice exercises can focus on to provide the most efficient assignments).

The Planning Section would be kept apprised of all resources that are available for assignment at all times. The “Resource Status Unit” (RESTAT) and the “Situation Status Unit” (SITSTAT) will apprise  the Incident Commander/Unified Command Section of resources and analysis of the current situation of the incident.  The Planning Section Chief will prepare, write, and present the Incident Action Plan (IAP) for each working tour of duty.

Staging Areas will be close to the location of the incident and will also be coordinated by a Staging Officer who will work with the Operations Section Chief .  Units that are required by the “Operations Chief” will be assigned and dispatched to Staging Areas as needed.
During table top exercises or even field exercises, the conditions are not realistic enough to fully test such plans. Only in the crucible of actual conflict will we know just how effective our emergency planning will be.  CIMS must become the working model for “all hazards” not just for major disasters. The City of New York has conducted realistic exercises involving 60 agencies.  The large inter-agency exercises are important. However, only by using this modular system of management for routine as well as unusual incidents, can the precinct cops and firefighters be prepared for their role as first responders to major incidents. The above photo courtesy of NYC Office of Emergency Management.     

One of the most impressive exercises was Operation Transit SAFE To read more about these exercises, visit the website of the City of New York OEM.

Yet, there is still the disturbing thought of who is the ultimate authority when things go awry?  The obvious answer is that it is the Mayor of the City of New York .  As the highest elected official,  he must bear the burden of responsibiliity for emergency management.  When things are going smoothly, we never have a problem finding those who claim credit for the success of the operation. It is when things do not go so well, that the burden of leadership is evident and the cry of “it is lonely at the top” is sounded.  As the saying goes: “Success has many fathers; failure is an orphan”.  As in most human events, the devil is in the details.   Should we use the events of September 11 as the template for future events?  Should  the leadership of Mayor Rudolph Giuliani during the attack on NYC serve as our guideline?

The position of Public Information Officer (PIO) may hold some answers to that question. When we view the tapes September 11, 2001, what is striking is the role that the media played in enabling the Mayor to establish some semblence of command and control. The fact that the Internet and television broadcasting was maintained enabled the press and the media to keep the Mayor in contact with us all during the most harrowing moments after the attack.  We who watched the events unfold in real time by viewing our television sets, were at times more informed than the police, firefighters, and emergency service workers on the scene.  The police emergency number operators at 9ll knew less about the status of the Towers than those viewing it on national television. This is a very important factor in emergency management.   The Public Information Officer (PIO) for large inter-agency incidents is the point of contact for all members of the media and the press. He is present at the Incident Command Post (ICP) with the Incident Commander or the Unified Command Section.   The Public Information Officers of all agencies must work in liaison with him/her. The media plays the key role in keeping the public informed about the emergency.  The cooperation of the public cannot be underestimated.  During 911, Mayor Giuliani provided the information that the media needed to get that cooperation.  Out of sheer necessity, the media accompanied the Mayor as he fled from the scene and established his command post a safe distance from Ground Zero.  The public were kept informed about the crisis, and were able to evacuate the City by walking over the bridges into the surrounding Boroughs.  This was vital information. That will be a hard act to follow for any future Mayors during emergencies. The point is that the key role of the Mayor the City of New York may well be in keeping the citizens of this City informed about the crisis and what steps to take to keep themselves and their families from harm.  The actual command and control of the emergency should be left to those who the Mayor has appointed to top positions in emergency management.  The problem will still remain:  Who is in charge?  Even when CIMS is considered and the concept of “Unified Command” is taken into the account, the necessity for one ultimate supreme commander or Incident Commander is still required.  In the crucible of a violent incident, we must have Unity of Command.  A “Unified Command Section” with multi-agency chiefs is fine for sharing information and communication between agencies.  However, in the final analysis, when time requires a command decision that may effect thousands of lives, the position of Incident Commander becomes a clear necessity.


The terminology of CIMS requires effort to learn.  To understand CIMS , it will be helpful to study the National Incident Management System (NIMS).  which h as full explanations of the terminology of ICS/Unified Command. It is imperative that the organizational structure and functions of the CIMS system be learned by all members of the NYPD and the FDNY.   We no longer have the luxury of time to discuss the issue at length.  We must get our cops and firefighters trained to use this system in everyday practice.  Also, the Federal National Response Plan was published in December, 2004.  The short version is available on the Internet and is 114 pages in length.  Suffice to say that our cops and firefighters will have enough to learn with the adoption of CIMS



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