National Incident Management System

September 2006

How do we as amateur radio operators in RACES or ARES mode, fit into the Incident Command Structure (ICS) and the new National Incident Management System or NIMS.

We are all familiar with ICS and its role in organizing how an event or incident is run.  In the strictest definition RACES members belong to the communications unit of the service branch under the Logistics section of ICS.  Now for those of you who follow emergency management trends a new acronym has appeared on the scene, NIMS.

After the confusion of 9/11 the federal government realized that ICS was great for a single event at one location but ICS was not sufficient enough to handle a multi site event like 9/11 or the potential natural or terrorist events to come.

In February 2003 President Bush issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive-5. This directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and administer a National Incident Management System or NIMS. NIMS provides a consistent nationwide template to enable all government, private-sector, and nongovernmental organizations to work together during domestic incidents.

While most emergency situations are handled locally, when there's a major incident help may be needed from other jurisdictions, the state and the federal government. A recent example was the response to Hurricane Katrina last year. NIMS was developed so responders from different jurisdictions and disciplines can work together better.  NIMS benefits include a unified approach to incident and resource management.  In order for governmental agencies to continue to receive federal funding and grants they must train their personnel in the NIMS program.

As ARES/RACES members we continue to work closely with the different Public Service Agencies so it is incumbent upon us to understand the ICS, NIMS and how Amateur Radio fits into the system. 

One very important thing to know and understand about NIMS and the ICS is that neither seeks to alter the way we perform our internal functions. Our existing methods and procedures remain unchanged. What NIMS and the ICS do is provide an organizational reporting structure that is more clearly defined. While NIMS and the ICS may look a bit daunting at first, it should be noted that these structures allow for the management of any incident regardless of size and is designed to assist anyone who has the responsibility for the successful outcome of an incident. 

Emergency services professionals agree that all too often there is considerable confusion in the operational performance of major incidents. Generally, this problem is compounded as different types of agencies start becoming involved like they did during   Hurricane Katrina. Whoever the Incident Commander may be and regardless of what agency they are with, it becomes their responsibility along with their staff to coordinate the on-scene operations of the incident. When an incident crosses Jurisdictional boundaries, NIMS comes into play and this is know as the UNIFIED COMMAND. This command process allows multiple jurisdictions to develop unified objectives and strategies for the overall incident. However, the primary Incident Commander is still the local boss, and is responsible for the overall outcome. 

As previously mentioned, the methods and procedures used by Amateur Radio operators do not change. Our nets still run the same and the FCC rules and regulations are unaffected by NIMS and the ICS.

What we do need to do at this time is to encourage all of our members to become familiar with the operations of NIMS and how it piggybacks onto the ICS system.  FEMA has two self study programs on the Emergency Management Institute web site.  One is a review of the Incident Command System IS-100 which many people have already completed.  The other is an introduction to the Incident Management System IS-700.  You can see a complete list of self-study and on-lines courses on the FEMA training webiste here:


For the best results in taking the self study programs print out the final exam test questions and use them as a study guide as you do the self study course.   After you have taken the final exam and successfully completed the course you will receive a certificate in the US mail about three weeks later.  Please send a copy of the certificates to the RACES office.