Emergency Management Specialist, International Programs - Disaster Management
10 October 2012, 22:40
Thanks for the post and I am enjoying all of the discussion on this topic. I would be very interested in reading your article on ICS in Bangladesh. With support from USAID, the US Forest Service has been working in the region (India, Bhutan and Sri Lanka) for quite a few years helping those governments integrate ICS into their disaster management systems.
Here in the US, we encounter your question on Unified Command quite frequently. The basic premise is that Unified Command should be made up of organizations that have a legal or functional responsibility for responding to the emergency. As you mention, there is only one Operations Section in Unified Command, and each of the Unified Command agencies will agree on who will serve as the Operations Chief in the organization. Operations is usually lead by the agency that has the most authority, technical capability or the most resources involved (i.e. police dept. if a security issue, health dept. if it is medical, fire dept. if it is search and rescue, etc). Of course, there are a numerous other agencies working collaboratively in operations, but someone has to direct the actions in a coordinated way. If possible, the other sections in ICS are unified as much as possible, but this becomes more difficult in complex emergencies.
ICS/UCS is successfully used in the US for large, complex and protracted disasters. The modular organization and flexibility allows you to deploy many Incident Command teams to work in various locations or various functional sectors. The key is that they take direction from and report directly to "Responsible Officials" who are usually our elected leaders such as Mayors and Governors, etc.. So, in one city, province, state, there can be multiple incident command teams, but the key is that they communicate and coordinate information and resource sharing. This is done through coordination centers (such as Emergency Operations Centers, standing inter-agency teams, etc.) and through prioritization by the "Responsible Officials". I think one of the common mis-conceptions about ICS is that it alone dictates the organizational structure for the disaster and operates as the single command and coordination authority. In fact, ICS is the framework that allows you to build the structure in the field as you need, rather than dictate the number or size of the organization that you must use. To be effective, ICS requires interaction with other components of a national disaster management system like multi-agency coordination entities, resource management systems, and public information management.
Send me a note if you have any more questions about ICS application in the US and good luck with your research. Thanks,
US Forest Service