Incident Command System Training

UA executives get taste of ICS

Understanding the lingo and rationale of the nationally utilized Incident Command System isn’t something that many UA executives might think they need to know. First responders—the ambulance, police and EMTs—deal with such issues, right?

Think again, say UA’s Emergency Management team.  Like all other government entities, the university is required by the federal government to use the Incident Command System, known as ICS, for all hazardous and emergency responses.  Those scenarios include everything from a fire in student housing or a research building to an active shooter on one of UA’s campuses.

“Even though executives aren’t first responders, they need to have a level of understanding of ICS because it’s the national ‘best practice’ and will be used,” said UA’s Emergency Preparedness Director Cam Carlson. “This 30,000-foot level of understanding is key. UA executives may be needed as part of the ICS team due to their level of expertise in a certain area, for example, finance.  They need to understand ICS protocols and processes so they can help in a disaster, and not waste valuable time learning as they go or, worse, second-guessing a system that’s standard across the country.”

Over 30 executives and key management personnel attended a two-hour ICS training July 30, one of the first such trainings made widely available to Statewide executives. Emergency Management plans to refine the training based on feedback they received and offer more training opportunities in the future.

The ICS for Executives course usually lasts four hours, but UA Emergency Management trimmed it back to two hours to accommodate more executives’ schedules.

ICS has become the standard emergency management structure across the country, and across multiple agencies, including local, state and federal emergency responders. Adopting ICS is even a condition of receiving federal preparedness funding.

One of the positive attributes of the ICS system is that it shrinks or grows depending on the level of disaster or incident. In some cases, only a couple first responders might be involved and utilize ICS protocols. In larger incidents, a number of key players would come together. The key reasons why ICS is utilized is it establishes clear command and control of a situation, as well as effective communications and use of resources specific to an incident.

ICS is flexible, and may change day-to-day depending on the disaster or incident.  The incident commander during a dorm fire, for instance, would likely be a fire chief. In the following days, the incident commander might become a vice chancellor of administration or an executive in student services, due to the fact that finding alternate housing for students has become the largest issue.

If a terrorist were involved in a bombing on a campus, it’s likely the FBI or some other federal agency would play a key role in the Incident Command. Multiple agencies might respond to a given situation and put into place what’s known as a Unified Command. All of these terms and processes are important for executives to understand, in a broad sense, so that they can be effective should their help be required.

“It’s likely that most UA Statewide executives wouldn’t be directly involved in ICS, but they need to know who the incident commander in a given situation is, and how they fit into an overall unified command, if that kind of structure needs to be put into place,” Carlson explained. “In future training, we’ll do more role playing and scenarios, to give executives an idea of what they might need to do in a given situation.”

UA’s response to an incident is going to vary widely, and those variables can’t always be predicted. That’s why it’s important to think ahead, prepare and train.

Statewide departments, as well as campuses, must also plan for business continuity in the wake of a disaster or emergency. For instance, who would serve as the director of a department if that person should be out of the office due to illness or injury for a long period of time? Is it possible a department’s functions could be moved to a different site, should the office building be damaged?  A template to help department managers create such a plan will be available soon and posted on the Emergency Services website.

An emergency preparedness website for UA is being developed as an online resource for supervisors, staff and the public. Find out more at http://www.alaska.edu/risksafety/preparedness/

Carlson agrees that emergency planning and preparation are hard, especially for executives who have other things to do, such as accounting, audits, payroll, marketing and budgeting. “But imagine if you didn’t plan. Then you’d have to explain to the public, in the aftermath of a disaster or emergency situation, why you didn’t. And that would be far worse.”

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