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The evolution of shortcomings in Incident Command System: Revisions have allowed critical management functions to atrophy

Kimberly S. Stambler, PhD, CEM, Joseph A. Barbera, MD


The original Incident Command System (ICS) was created through the federally funded Firefighting Resources of Southern California Organized for Potential Emergencies (FIRESCOPE) program. Initially developed as one element of multiagency coordination for managing severe wildfires, the FIRESCOPE ICS guidance was adopted and evolved through increasingly routine wildland firefighting. It then was modified for all hazards for the fire service. Only later, through the National Incident Management System (NIMS), was ICS officially adopted for all hazards and all responders. Over this multidecade evolution, the current NIMS ICS version became simplified in several key areas compared to the original, robust FIRESCOPE ICS. NIMS ICS is now promulgated as guidance for managing today's novel, complex, and lengthy disasters involving multidisciplinary response but experiences recurrent problems in key functions. This article examines the history of the subtle, yet critical differences in current ICS compared to the original system design, and focuses on information dissemination and intermediate, long-range and contingency planning. ICS transitions resulted in simplification and consolidation of positions and functions, without recognizing and maintaining critical position tasks necessary for managing complex, extended incidents.


Incident Command System, long-range planning, Information Officer, ICS evolution, incident projection

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