Streamlined Collaboration and Efficiency in Incident Management
A Safer, More Informed Response Through a Consistent Planning Process
Every day, media outlets report events and disasters that impact our communities, from inclement weather to mass casualty events. Effectively responding to these events requires the preparation and coordination of agencies and information, a process that is dynamic and complex.
The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized approach to incident management used to manage any type of incident regardless of size or cause.
As a system, ICS is extremely useful. Not only does it provide an organizational structure for incident management, but it also guides the process for planning, building, and adapting that structure.
Unfortunately, many agencies don’t have consistent planning flow for special events or incidents. Outdated incident command tools are neither equipped nor designed to meet the needs of today’s increasingly complex situations.
Many agencies – law enforcement in particular – lack the adequate methods to document and share information. Instead, they continue to leverage whiteboards, notepads, or, even worse, nothing at all to track, manage, and record actions taken by incident command staff.
Furthering these issues are administrative burdens like the FEMA-required ICS forms, which can consume considerable resources. Since the whiteboard is a non-electronic document, any handwritten documentation and scene information must be separately transferred to forms and reports – a significant time and logistics burden.
This paper discusses the effective planning flow, documentation, and forms requirements on the ICS. Traditional solutions lack the capabilities to implement best practices of ICS processes. Modern technology presents an effective alternative to these unreliable solutions.
A Closer Operational Look
Let’s start with reviewing the basics. ICS enables a coordinated response among various jurisdictions and agencies and establishes common processes for incident-level planning and resource management. It also allows for the integration of resources (such as facilities, equipment, and personnel) within a common organizational structure.
ICS was created to provide a management structure and a system of best practices for conducting on-site operations. It’s designed to be applicable to small-scale daily operational activities and major mobilizations. ICS is a useful, flexible management system that is particularly adaptable to incidents requiring multi-jurisdictional or multidisciplinary responses and provides the flexibility needed to rapidly activate and establish an organizational format around the functions required during an incident.
Incident Action Planning
Effective incident management relies on a common organizational structure for managing resources, making decisions, and assigning tasks. ICS generally uses a standardized management approach to ensure incidents are properly managed and communications are effectively coordinated during an incident.
Over many years of managing all types and sizes of incidents, ICS practitioners have developed and refined the incident action planning process as a way to plan and execute operations on any incident. This means that incident action planning is more than producing an incident action plan (IAP). It is a set of activities, repeated during each operational period, that provides a consistent rhythm and structure to incident management.
Effective incident management is guided by incident action planning activities with a concise, coherent means of capturing and communicating overall incident priorities, objectives, strategies, tactics, and assignments in the context of both operational and support activities.
Accountability and Tracking
A consistent planning flow should include:
- Preparing and documenting IAPs
- Managing and maintaining situational awareness for the incident
- Tracking resources assigned to the incident
- Maintaining incident documentation
- Developing plans for demobilization
Command & Coordination activities ensure that the onsite ICS organization receives the information, resources, and support needed to achieve those incident objectives. Coordination takes place in a number of entities and at all levels of government.
Coordination activities may include:
- Establishing policy based on interactions with agency executives, other agencies, and stakeholders
- Collecting, analyzing, and disseminating information to support the establishment of shared situational awareness.
- Establishing priorities among incidents
- Resolving critical resource issues
- Facilitating logistics support and resource tracking
- Synchronizing public information messages to ensure that everyone is speaking in one voice
Incident management requires consistent documentation and tracking of resources, organizational structure, and task assignments. Effective accountability during incident operations is essential.
ICS and FEMA forms have been industry standards for years. The forms represent an all-hazards approach and are intended for use as tools to assist in the creation of IAPs and in support and documentation of ICS activities.
Incident action planning is an operational activity and must either direct or support operations. The completion of these forms assists the integrated and rational planning process.
By reviewing the basics, it’s a lot easier to understand why traditional methods are so lacking when it comes to managing an incident.
Public safety agencies are consistently presented with new, unique challenges in process planning, incident accountability and tracking, and form completion. Yet many agencies are still using incident command tools that haven’t adapted to meet today’s needs.
Methods need to be in place to document and share pre-plan information for occupancies, call types, and special events. Many agencies continue to leverage whiteboards, pen and paper, or – even worse -- nothing at all to track, manage, assign resources to positions, create tactical plans, mark hazards, designate points of interest, and record the actions taken by incident command staff.
Historical Planning Flow and Processes
Large-scale catastrophes underscore the need for processes that enable on-the-spot decision making, interagency coordination, and the ability to rapidly adapt to changing circumstances.
This is where challenges arise. The incident command whiteboard is not equipped or designed to meet the needs of today’s increasingly complex situations. When a large-scale incident occurs, commanders using whiteboards are at a distinct disadvantage due to limited capabilities to effectively manage modern emergencies.
For complex and growing incidents, the ability to share critical information in real-time can be extremely useful because it allows for a common operating picture and improves collaboration among multiple jurisdictions or agencies. When using a notepad or whiteboard, it can be difficult to communicate mission-critical information effectively, especially because traditional ICS whiteboards can’t automatically update as new information comes in.
Inefficiency of Command Documentation
Use of a whiteboard makes it difficult to track changes and plan for new forward strategies. Even if commanders have an erasable whiteboard on which they can make edits, that inevitably means writing over previous resource assignments or annotations, which equals the loss of crucial and historical information. Once the incident is complete, and one begins to create the incident report, it can be very difficult to keep track of what happened when and who did what and why.
The whiteboard truly displays only a limited picture of what actually occurred on scene and may not even show what strategies the commander implemented. Sections might be crossed out, erased, or otherwise unreadable.
After-incident reporting may be inaccurate, which makes it difficult or impossible to correctly evaluate how tactics worked and plan for future incidents. Should legal issues arise, commanders may be unable to validate their command strategy since the lack clear historical information on the chain of events and why they chose to make certain decisions.
ICS forms tend to be available in multiple formats – MS Word, Excel, PDF, etc. Most are poorly designed and dysfunctional and are still accomplished in an outdated, efficient paper format.
Since the whiteboard is a non-electronic document, any handwritten documentation and scene information must be separately transferred into an ICS form.
When command data is not automatically recorded, it can lead to hours of unnecessary time spent filling in, researching, and copying the correct information.
Incident leaders must ensure that the plan being developed meets the needs of the incident. They must also ensure that the forms do not become the primary focus of the planning process. With dozens of forms in the FEMA toolbox, the prospect of getting them all completed can be overwhelming. The FEMA-required ICS forms become a time and logistics burden for agencies, which can consume considerable resources.
Incident Management Software
Unique informational requirements arise from an incident site. This includes additional information from multiple agency and emergency operations center databases, and the need to share information about the incident with key federal, state, and local government agencies.
The presents a complex technology challenge. The technology needs to be able to provide real-time communications, data transfer, database access, and interoperability for voice and data communications.
While some departments prefer a traditional whiteboard because of its familiarity, there are multiple key areas in which a whiteboard or notepad fall short in comparison to newer technologies.
Over the years, significant investments have been made to implement systems to manage the complexities. Today’s incident management software may include:
- Consistent processes to plan all types and sizes of incidents and events
- Collaboration amongst staff during the planning process
- Supports rapid development of incident/event action plans
- Provides collaboration during emergency responses
- Creates situational awareness amongst responders
- Provides easy, rapid shared map markup capabilities
- Allows for integration of existing GIS layers, including ESRI layers
- Integrates multiple data feeds into a common situational awareness view
Choosing the right incident management solution should not be complicated. When looking for the right system, features that you should be looking for include flexibility, ease of use, customer service, interoperability, and interface readiness.
Solutions that are locked into only one system cause significant limitations for interoperability since end users can’t always control the type of hardware neighboring agencies adopt.
Ease of Use
Can the system be used successfully with limited training? Can “on the job” training be performed for new users during an emergency event if needed?
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Can data be shared between different agencies/accounts to promote regional response and cooperation?
Can additional data sources be connected to the platform to create a single source of truth or common operating picture?
Omnigo Incident Management Software
Over time, many incident management systems have come and gone. Many are too complex, causing responders to revert back to static tools like pen and paper, whiteboards, pushpins, and spreadsheets. Most systems are designed only to manage large-scale incidents rather than day-to-day or routine events.
Unlike other alternatives, Omnigo’s Incident Management Suite powered by Rhodium provides a complete command and control solution, allowing you to quickly consolidate information, coordinate assets, and act. From day-to-day incidents to large-scale, multi-agency responses, Omnigo’s incident management suite is intuitive and scalable to any situation. The solution is now deployed by hundreds of public safety organizations including police, fire, EMS, emergency management, and campus security,
“Omnigo’s Incident Management software has allowed us to manage events with only a fraction of the people we normally use without missing a beat. We didn’t require much training upfront because the software is rather self-explanatory. The product is excellent, and the Omnigo team is always looking for feedback and suggestions on how to make their product better. We looked at several options, but no one came close to what Omnigo was offering.” Detective Fred Garcia, Plano Police Department
Omnigo’s Incident Management software is an intuitive, fully scalable suite of cloud-based tools that help agencies looking for a better way to plan for, respond to, and recover from all hazards, incidents, and events. It’s easily implemented throughout an organization without the need for complex IT configuration and setup. Users can access the system from any device with a web connection and without the need to download and preconfigure software.
“We’ve never been able to track and record what’s happening at events in a variety of jurisdictions as easily as we did with Omnigo. We needed the ability to funnel information to a multi-agency coordination center and then disseminate intelligence to other groups on the periphery. Omnigo was absolutely instrumental in doing that with efficacy and efficiency.” Kurtis Bramer, Deputy Chief of Operations and Emergency Manager, Hennepin EMS
Capabilities include real-time situational awareness, incident and event preplanning, NIMS incident action planning and IAP distribution, multi-agency coordination, map-centric command management, and detailed historical record keeping.
Through a network of partnerships, Omnigo’s Incident Management Software integrated with CAD, GPS, sensor and diagnostic devices, mobile phone apps, and other technologies that streamline information flow and improve response time.
“We set up my tablet on the fly to show mapping of the area and capture critical information related to the fire ground such as plotting where fire activity was, and the location of dozer and hand lines. We also began tracking where our unit assets were located so they could be easily found and tracked on the tablet. Seeing how data could be captured and shared quickly provided the absolute worth of the incident management suite.” Chief Vinny Burns, Donald Wescott Fire Protection District
Today, our society faces challenges like never before. With incident management becoming more necessary and frequent, many agencies still find themselves using a burdensome, unnecessarily complex system for planning flow, documentation, and form completion. But modern technology has advanced our capabilities far beyond traditional ICS whiteboards or pen and paper.
Omnigo’s Incident Management software provides a complete command and control system that gives incident commanders the leverage they need to effectively manage any incident.
For more than 20 years, Omnigo software solutions have been the preferred choice for law enforcement, education, healthcare, gaming, hospitality, and corporate enterprises. Currently, Omnigo’s solutions are used by over 2,000 customers in 20 different countries. At Omnigo, we’re committed to helping customers secure their organizations’ property, control operational costs, and ensure the safety of the general public.
We believe our customers deserve the best support available to protect their people, assets, and brand. We also understand how challenging it can be to protect the community without the proper resources. We’re here to arm users with the best tools in the industry. With a team that includes former law enforcement, first responders, and other public safety professionals, we’re uniquely qualified to understand exactly what our customers need to protect their community.
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