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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Concept of Operations

1.5 Concept of Operations

The management process delineated in the MSCC Management System is best presented in relation to the various stages of incident response.

Figure 1-8. Stages of Incident Response

Figure 1-8 shows the different stages of incident response: incident recognition, notification/activation, mobilization, incident operations, demobilization, and transition to recovery. Proactive management through the Planning cycle occurs during the final three stages.

These stages provide the context in which to describe the critical actions that must occur at different times during incident response.

1.5.1 Incident Recognition

Incident recognition is the point in time when a response agency becomes aware that a significant event (i.e., one requiring emergency response beyond baseline operational capability) is imminent or occurring. This is not always obvious, particularly with the onset of an infectious agent or chemical toxin. For example, one or two patients presenting to scattered HCOs with progressive paralysis indicating botulism may not be immediately recognized as a major public health problem until they are linked to a single toxin source. Because of this potential ambiguity, the process used to move from an early suspicion to recognizing that incident response is indicated should be carefully considered. Early convening of the jurisdiction's (Tier 3) UC, for example, may provide the necessary understanding of any public health impact associated with an event, and it may clarify whether an event needs to be formally declared an emergency.

1.5.2 Notification/Activation

Notification/activation refers to the activities required to inform appropriate assets within the response system about an incident onset or an important change in incident parameters. "Notification" conveys critical details (if available) and an indication as to whether the notified asset should undertake response actions. Full activation of every response component under UC is often not necessary and, therefore, the activation request in each asset's notification message may vary depending on the type of event.

Many notification/activation categories and schemes have been promulgated. Those selected for use should be consistent within tiers and easily understood across other tiers. To further prevent confusion, the categories should be clearly defined on each communication. The Federal Urban Search and Rescue System (and other Federal agencies) have used one notification/activation categorization for over a decade because of its clarity and simplicity.

Federal Urban Search and Rescue Notification/Activation Categories:

  • Advisory: Provides urgent information about an unusual occurrence or threat of occurrence, but no significant action is recommended, requested, or required.
  • Alert: Provides notification of an unusual occurrence where a response is anticipated or indicated. It provides guidance on the degree of action to take at the time of the alert. In some systems, an alert from a designated agency also authorizes the expenditure of a specific funding amount to address the costs of the requested pre-mobilization actions.
  • Activation: May be either partial or full:
    • Partial: Specific components or assets within a unit are activated (all other components should receive notification regardless of their activation status).
    • Full: All resources commence response according to procedures described in the asset's EOP.

Other information is conveyed through "updates" during the course of the incident response.

Sources: Adapted from FEMA Urban Search and Rescue System; J. A. Barbera and A. G. Macintyre. Jane's Mass Casualty Handbook: Hospital; Jane's Information Group, Ltd., Surrey, UK, 2003.

The notification process should include a "confirmation of receipt" reply from the intended recipient. This reply should also contain a brief status report from the notified asset (using a standard format developed during preparedness planning) to allow immediate assessment of the response asset's capabilities.

1.5.3 Mobilization

Mobilization marks the transition from baseline operations to the response level designated in the notification. It may be triggered by a hazard that has already occurred, or it may result from a credible threat or an impending hazard (such as an approaching hurricane). Designating the response level enables an organization to execute specific actions delineated in its EOP for that level, such as providing contact information to ensure that the asset can integrate with other mobilizing response entities. For the mobilization process to function efficiently, each step must be clearly defined during preparedness planning and staff must learn the steps through training.

1.5.4 Incident Operations

Incident operations encompasses efforts that directly address the hazard impact. Two critical actions that should occur early during operations are:

  • Establishment of incident management authority: For certain types of incidents, the lead management authority and how incident management will be conducted are relatively straightforward (e.g., local fire service usually manages an explosion at a shopping mall). Management authority is more ambiguous in events that extend across jurisdictional boundaries or authorities (e.g., bombing at a Federal facility) or when the impact is diffuse (e.g., disease outbreak in multiple State jurisdictions). For most major incidents, tradition (and successful previous experience) dictates that jurisdictional authorities are responsible for incident management. For a diffuse impact scenario, State public health authorities (in a UC model similar to "area command" described in NIMS) might assume the lead role in UC and coordinate the incident response across the affected jurisdictions.
  • Establishment of Incident Command Post: The site where the primary incident management team will function must be rapidly established and publicized across the response system. During any sudden onset or large-scale incident, several initial management sites are often established and operated by multiple disciplines from a range of MSCC tiers. The terminology used to designate them may not reflect their actual roles. Thus, identifying and publicizing the primary management site and how it integrates the other sites is a critical task in organizing incident-wide, proactive management.

When incident response involves multiple disciplines and levels of government, it becomes operationally important to synchronize, as much as possible, the planning activities of participants so that response actions can be coordinated (Figure 1-9). This promotes consistency across tiers in defining the incident objectives and follow-on tactics. It also ensures consistency in the development of public messages.

As Figure 1-9 shows, the planning cycles and operational periods for the jurisdiction (Tier 3) and State (Tier 4) are concurrent; those for the Federal response (Tier 6) are slightly staggered. This allows for information exchange during planning activities. The agency representative meeting enables the evolving IAP to be reviewed in time to identify conflicts before briefing the operational units. This meeting can be conducted face-to-face or via teleconference. A formal media briefing to release incident details could occur after the agency representative meeting to ensure that responders are informed first and to promote a consistent message.

Figure 1-9. Coordination of Planning Activities

Figure 1-9 shows the coordination of planning activities between the state and jurisdiction and that of the federal government. State and jurisdiction have concurrent planning cycles and operational periods across the stages of defining goals and objectives, defining strategy, priorities and major tactics and completing the incident action plan prior to the beginning of a new operational period. The federal government support is slightly staggered from the state and jurisdictions so that they start slightly after and end after state and jurisdictions to allow for information exchange between stages. After all stages, a formal media briefing is coordinated to release incident details in a way that ensures responders are informed first and that there is a consistent message.

1.5.5 Demobilization

Demobilization refers to activities that focus on disengaging response resources as the incident objectives are met, transitioning remaining incident responsibilities to ongoing assets, and promoting rapid return of demobilized response resources to their normal function. There are several important considerations:

  • Demobilization across assets: The timing of resource demobilization is a complex and difficult decision, with potentially competing priorities between incident managers and managers of individual assets. The managers of individual assets and agencies should always coordinate any decision with the overall incident command. Demobilization of individual assets may occur at widely varying times, with some taking place early in a response if objectives have been met.
  • Representing demobilization to the media and public: Management of the public's perception of asset demobilization may be very important, depending on the incident and the asset (e.g., the public believing the event is not over, thus being dismayed that an asset is disengaging). This should be considered carefully and addressed through incident management processes, including public information action that demonstrates that the asset's objectives have been accomplished and it is no longer needed.
  • Continued use of ICS during demobilization: For medical resources, demobilization (and initial recovery) must occur efficiently because medical backlogs created during response can present a significant risk to the asset's regular patient population (e.g., delays in performing cardiac catheterizations), as well as a financial risk (e.g., loss of revenue from elective surgery). The continued use of ICS processes may be beneficial in addressing backlogs and should be considered during planning for both individual asset and overall incident demobilization.

1.5.6 Recovery

Recovery refers to longer-term activities that extend beyond demobilization and other response activities. It includes the rehabilitation of personnel and equipment, resupply, and actions related to physical and financial restoration. Returning the overall system to its pre-incident state—the goal of the recovery stage—is addressed by developing and implementing strategic plans for full restoration and system improvement.

1.5.7 Post-Incident "Organizational Learning"

Post-incident "organizational learning" is achieved through a timely and objective after-action report process that is designed to capture the positive aspects and the shortcomings of the response system. Findings should be documented in an outline format that can be organized on a spreadsheet and tracked. One basic format that has been widely successful is designed to capture, for each issue, a brief description of the issue, background information, recommendations, and follow-up actions. Improvements should focus on the EOP organization, processes, and training or equipment/supply issues, rather than on individual personnel actions. The review should also examine how effectively each asset integrated into the overall system, as well as how the response tiers coordinated with each other. Indicated changes should be accomplished based on priority and incorporated into the appropriate documentation.

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  • This page last reviewed: February 14, 2012