The way this nation prepares for and responds to domestic incidents is about to change. It won't be an abrupt change; best practices that have been developed over the years are part of this new comprehensive national approach to incident management known as the National Incident Management System (NIMS). But it will change—and for the better.

Developed by the Department of Homeland Security and issued in March 2004, the NIMS will enable responders at all jurisdictional levels and across all disciplines to work together more effectively and efficiently. Beginning in FY 2006, federal funding for state, local and tribal preparedness grants will be tied to compliance with the NIMS.

One of the most important ‘best practices’ that has been incorporated into the NIMS is the Incident Command System (ICS), a standard, on-scene, all-hazards incident management system already in use by firefighters, hazardous materials teams, rescuers and emergency medical teams. The ICS has been established by the NIMS as the standardized incident organizational structure for the management of all incidents.

Although many agencies now use various forms of ICS, there is considerable uncertainty about NIMS ICS and the impact it will have on systems and processes currently in place. These are important questions because one of the FY 2005 requirements for implementing NIMS is “institutionalizing the use of ICS, across the entire response system.”

This paper is intended to provide an historical perspective on the development of ICS, explain how NIMS ICS works, describe how it is different from previous systems, and discuss the future of NIMS ICS training.

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