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U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

Forms of Interstate Assistance

Three primary methods for interstate coordination during emergency or disaster response are information sharing, incident management coordination, and mutual aid. At a basic level, information sharing is critical because it allows States to stay up to date on how an incident is unfolding, how other States (Tier 4) or jurisdictions (Tier 3) are responding, and what resources have been committed or remain available. Incident management coordination builds consistency in regional strategies and promotes similarity in the development and application of operational tactics. Mutual aid maximizes MSCC by bringing materials, personnel, and/or services to areas where resources are insufficient to meet surge demands.

6.2.1 Information Sharing

While the importance of sharing information and data with other affected States, in real time, is easily recognized, most efforts to address this issue have focused on communications technology. A major shortcoming of these efforts is that they neglect to first establish what type of information is important to share, where to obtain it, and who needs to receive it; these requirements should be set during preparedness planning. The types of information to share include the following:

  • Situation assessments: Provide current reports of relevant incident information regarding public health and medical issues, as well as specific epidemiological information that may be useful in developing respective State IAPs.
  • Resource assessments: Provide updated reports on the status of resources that are committed to the response and those that remain available. This helps managers or officials from other States gauge the severity of hazard impact, as well as the potential impact that may occur if people evacuate an area. It also provides a means to anticipate likely requests for mutual aid.
  • General strategies and specific tactics: Offer insight into how a State's effort is organized. This is beneficial to other States that may be confronted with similar problems and promotes resolution of conflicting tactics before such discrepancies are highlighted by the media.
  • Safety information: Describes State or jurisdictional approaches to health and medical issues affecting responders (such as recommendations for vaccination or medication prophylaxis). This can help standardize safety protocols for responders across disciplines and State boundaries.

Public health and medical disciplines face a unique challenge because of the complexity and quantity of information that must be shared during a major response. This is compounded by the presence of multiple information outlets, many of which provide unofficial data. For example, media trying to "break" news stories may provide situation assessments that misrepresent the actual severity of an incident or the progress of response. Therefore, information that is shared between States should be channeled first through formal mechanisms at the State level (Tier 4) to verify its accuracy. This is commonly done by releasing all information through the State public health agency or the Multiagency Coordination Center or MACC (i.e., State EOC).

6.2.2 Incident Management Coordination

Because of State sovereignty, the management processes for interstate coordination (Tier 5) differ appreciably from those used to manage the intrastate response (Tier 4), especially when multiple states are affected simultaneously. There can be no single command authority to oversee regional response and to promulgate incident objectives, strategy, and tactics. Instead, interstate regional response must rely on the coordination of State incident management and mutual aid. This is accomplished by comparing State IAPs and contingency or long-range plans while they are still in developmental phases. Regional management briefings between incident managers (conducted remotely via teleconference) could be held to ensure consistency in major strategic decisions and in the development of coordinated incident objectives and operational tactics.

Figure 6-1. Regional Management Coordination Between States

The key is to establish the regional management processes for interstate coordination during preparedness planning, and to develop the infrastructure required for coordination of incident planning under the stress of an actual incident. Infrastructure in this sense includes not just interoperable communications and other equipment, but also legislative and regulatory parameters needed for responders to work seamlessly together across State borders. Once established, these processes and infrastructure should be integrated into standard operating procedures.

6.2.3 Interstate Mutual Aid

Strategic mutual aid agreements between States address the "top-line" issues related to the transfer of materials, supplies, equipment, and personnel across State borders. Many of these issues are addressed through the EMAC guidance. Commonly listed strategic mutal aid guidelines include:

  • Asset command and control: Requested emergency assets continue to operate under the command of their regular unit leaders. However, they receive direction on specific incident assignments (e.g., what they do and to whom the unit leaders report) from the emergency services authorities of the State receiving assistance.
  • Professional competency: The State receiving assistance generally shall recognize a license, certificate, or other competency document issued by another State that indicates professional, or other qualifications.
  • Liability: The State receiving assistance generally assumes liability for any act or omission, made in good faith, for the maintenance or use of any equipment or supplies rendered by emergency responders from another State. This does not include actions of willful misconduct, gross negligence, or recklessness.
  • Worker compensation: States shall provide compensation and death benefits to injured emergency personnel or their designated representatives in the event such personnel are injured or killed while rendering aid in another State. This compensation shall be made in the same manner and on the same terms as if the injury or death were sustained within the person's home State.
  • Reimbursement: The State receiving assistance shall reimburse the State donating aid for all costs and expenses incurred in answering a request for aid, including worker compensation.

As noted in Chapter 5, information contained in strategic mutual aid agreements guides the development of tactical mutual aid agreements between States. Tactical agreements provide the specific operational processes (the "nuts and bolts") for how mutual aid will occur during an actual response. Resource typing, as discussed in Chapter 5, is important for clarity in making and meeting mutual aid requests. Issues commonly addressed in tactical aid agreements include the following:

  • Specific methods for aid requests and acceptance
  • Mutual aid tracking mechanisms
  • Tactical management of mutual aid assets
  • Processes for licensure waivers
  • Notification requirements to States when a mutual aid request is extended and when interstate mutual aid deployment occurs.

How these issues are addressed will vary from State to State; however, basic information that should be included in any request for assistance is highlighted below.

Key Components of Mutual Aid Requests:

  • A description of the emergency service function for which assistance is needed, including but not limited to the following:
    • Fire services
    • Law enforcement
    • Emergency Medical Services (EMS)
    • Public health and medical services
    • Transportation
    • Communications
    • Public works and engineering
    • Building inspection
    • Planning and information assistance
    • Mass care
    • Resource support
    • Search and rescue.
  • The amount and type of personnel, equipment, materials and supplies sought, and an estimate of the length of time they will be needed
  • The specific place and time where the assisting State should provide the requested assets, as well as a point of contact at that location.

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  • This page last reviewed: February 14, 2012