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Incident Command System Helped Prepare Alabama For April Tornadoes

Date: 2011-10-06
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“It’s one thing to read about how the Incident Command System (ICS) works online or in a textbook, but another thing to understand the application of the concept,” says Richard Sexton, training and exercise specialist at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI). “The training we do puts some of that knowledge into practice.”

Alabama emergency management officials used the Incident Command System in responding to the April 27 outbreak of storms and tornadoes that devastated many communities. On that day, 62 tornadoes swept through the state.

All 67 Alabama counties have participated in ICS training, according to the Alabama Emergency Management Agency. More than 70 emergency managers from Alabama have attended the ICS course at EMI in the last five years and many more have been trained in classes held in Mobile, Birmingham, Tuscaloosa and Prattville.

“ICS allows responders to adopt an organizational structure equal to the complexity and demands of any single incident or multiple incidents without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries,” said Jeff Byard, state coordinating officer for AEMA.

FEMA's Annette Foglino interviews Tuscaloosa (AL) Mayor Walter Maddox on June 2nd in front of a safe room in Tuscaloosa. This safe room was the only part of the home left standing after the April 27th tornado. FEMA photo/Tim Burkitt

In the past, many scenarios in the EMI training have set the stage for community response to disasters. A practice drill for Oklahoma City officials prepared them for a tornado that destroyed their courthouse. At the end of a response training exercise for a flood disaster, city members from Lake Havasu, Ariz. returned home to face major floodwaters.

Developed by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and issued as a presidential directive in 2003, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) was designed to enable responders at all levels and across all disciplines to effectively and efficiently work together. There are three components of NIMS: Incident Command System (ICS), Multi-agency Coordination (MAC) System and Public Information Systems.

Michael Byrne, who served as one of FEMA’s federal coordinating officers for the Alabama tornadoes said, “There is an inherent value for local governments, colleges and universities as well as businesses of any size to incorporate ICS training as a component of emergency management planning. In the midst of a natural or man-made disaster, no one will look back and say we trained and prepared too much. In fact, for most managers and leaders, there is some level of confidence in knowing that your staff is prepared in the event of an emergency.”

The procedures should be pre-established and sanctioned, and personnel should be well-trained prior to an incident. The scalable design allows for the selection and formation of temporary management hierarchies to control funds, personnel, facilities, equipment and communications.

Integrated communication and planning within a span of control is divided into five manageable functions essential for emergency response: command, operations, planning, logistics and finance/administration. In response to a disaster or emergency, ICS is implemented from the time an incident occurs and continues until the need to manage and operate in that capacity no longer exists. ICS is used by all levels of government—federal, state, tribal, and local—as well as by many non-governmental organizations and the private sector.

Detailed information about ICS is available at

To learn about ICS classroom training, contact the FEMA Emergency Management Institute online, call (301) 447-1000 or send an email to

More than 40 self-paced courses, designed for people with emergency management responsibilities as well as the public, can be taken online for general knowledge, college credit and continuing education. Contact the Independent Study Program at (301) 447-1200 from 8:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. EDT, Monday – Friday or send an email to

- People, Places & Things/ (via FEMA, 9/15/11)


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