DSS News 
                    D. J. Power, Editor 
              March 27, 2005 -- Vol. 6, No. 8 
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Ask Dan! 

Can DSS/IS/IT improve the Incident Command System? What needs can DSS meet? 
by Dan Power 

YES. Readers may recall my initial discussion of computerized decision 
support in crisis/emergency situations (DSS News, 08/31/2003). That Ask Dan! 
concluded with a brief summary of the McKinsey & Company reports on the New 
York Police and Fire Department responses to the 9/11/2001 terrorist 
attacks. "The NYPD report mentioned improving communications and information 
flows. The report on the New York Fire Department response stressed the need 
for more inter-agency cooperation, improved communication and technology 
capabilities, and the use of the Incident Command System (ICS)." At that 
time I was "only vaguely familiar with ICS and its procedures". This column 
is a follow-up and an expansion of prior discussions on computerized 
decision support for crisis and emergency planning, response and management. 

What is the Incident Command System (ICS)? 

In 2003, I knew that ICS was a broad approach for managing crisis/emergency 
situations. In February 2005, as part of my preparation to give a keynote 
talk at ISCRAM 2005 (, I decided to expand my knowledge of 
crisis and emergency management, response and planning. I'm a DSS 
generalist, but I wanted to focus my talk on that more specific context. 
After some Google searching I found the website for the Emergency Management 
Institute ( The Institute is operated by the 
U.S. National Emergency Training Center (NETC) in Emmitsburg, Maryland. In 
the U.S. Government bureaucratic hierarchy, EMI and NETC are part of the 
U.S. Fire Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), U.S. 
Department of Homeland Security. 

I read some of the EMI training materials, followed links and then I 
registered to take the online course offered by EMI on the Incident Command 
System. I was skeptical about taking a "course", but I decided I would try 
the interactive web-based IS-195 course. At a minimum, I could assess the 
training technology and perhaps expand my knowledge of ICS and Emergency 
Management. Basic Incident Command System (IS-195) is an Independent Study 
course offered with printed materials dated January 1998 and an interactive 
web-based course. Testing is web-based and a student needs to receive a 
score of at least 75% correct to pass the course and receive a Certificate 
of achievement from FEMA. My score on the pre-test was higher than 75%, but 
I was on a mission of discovery and I completed all of the interactive 
lessons, read some materials I printed out and studied for the online exam. 
I passed the exam on March 6 and recently received my certificate. The web- 
based course materials were sophisticated and well-constructed. I found the 
documents on ICS at EMI, NOAA, NRT and at other websites helpful. For those 
new to this field, I strongly recommend starting with the EMI web-based courses. 

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a system for managing emergencies. ICS 
is a "standardized on-scene incident management concept designed 
specifically to allow responders to adopt an integrated organizational 
structure equal to the complexity and demands of any single incident or 
multiple incidents without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries". 
According to EMI, "several States have adopted ICS as their standard for 
emergency management, and others are considering adopting ICS. As ICS gains 
wider use, there is a need to provide training for those who are not first 
responders (i.e., law enforcement, fire, or emergency medical services 
personnel) who may be called upon to function in an ICS environment. This 
Basic Incident Command System (ICS) Course will begin to meet that need." 

In the early 1970s, ICS was developed to manage rapidly moving wildfires. 
According to a number of sources, the system was intended to address the 
following eight problems: 1) too many people reporting to one supervisor; 2) 
different emergency response organizational structures; 3) lack of reliable 
incident information; 4) inadequate and incompatible communications; 5) lack 
of structure for coordinated planning among agencies; 6) unclear lines of 
authority; 7) terminology differences among agencies; and 8) unclear or 
unspecified incident objectives. The key player in ICS is the Incident 
Commander on the scene, but a Command Center provides a reporting system to 
a unified command structure. ICS is a framework or template for creating and 
expanding a temporary organization for responding to an emergency or a 
crisis. ICS is oriented toward consolidating the efforts of public sector 
agencies, but conceivably it can mesh the efforts of public agencies, not- 
for-profits, private sector organizations and individual volunteers. 

What are the DSS/IS/IT issues? 

The Incident Command System is bureaucratic, detailed and specific. To 
support response and management of an "incident", some transaction 
processing is necessary and much of this is done today on paper forms, as an 
emergency grows in scale accounting issues emerge that require an accounting 
information system, and as more responders participate and the scale of an 
incident increases there is an increasing need for decision support. Maps 
are common decision support representations in emergencies, but Incident 
Commanders and their staffs make use of other tools, data and models. 

Information technology must scale up and down as appropriate to an incident, 
DSS/IS/IT can serve particular responders on the scene of an incident, for 
example supporting triage by a medical professional, and DSS/IS/IT can be 
used in a permanent Command or Operations Center for multiple tasks. 

And some more specific issues: 

Is commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS) or specialized, customized 
software more appropriate for ICS? Or do both have a place in supporting the 
ICS? In general, I favor using software like Microsoft Access and Excel to 
create templates that can be used in a specific incident situation. For 
example, an Access Database can support ICS form 201 (Incident Briefing), 
ICS form 203-OS (Organization List), ICS form 207-OS (Organization Chart), 
ICS form 204 (Assignment List), ICS form 219 (T-Cards) and the Resource 
summary. Excel applications can also be developed to record and analyze this 
type of management information. As the scale of an incident increases, more 
specialized, web-based applications may be useful for distributed data 
gathering, data analysis and decision support in the temporary ICS 
organization. The web is an excellent means of gathering, maintaining and 
sharing data from ICS form 209-OS (Incident Status Summary) and for ICS form 
214-OS (the Unit Log) and form 214a-OS (Log for individual units). The Unit 
Log "records details of unit activity, including strike team activity." 

Electronic ICS forms have been developed by the Office of 
Response and Restoration, National Ocean Service, NOAA 
(, but MS Access 
and Excel templates are potentially much more useful than MS Word documents 
or PDF documents. Specialized software is needed for specific types of 
incidents. For example, a variety of Oil Spill Software is available from 
NOAA, including GNOME, ADIOS 2, DOGS, and SpillTools. Making this 
specialized software available for download from a website helps insure that 
the most recent version will be used when an incident occurs. Also, web- 
based communication systems for incident responders like ResponseLink 
( or the E-Team incident 
management system (Walton, 2003) can be useful. 

What software is needed to support an Incident Commander? What technology 
training is needed by an Incident Commander? An Incident Commander needs to 
be comfortable in a high technology "cocoon" of wireless interconnectivity, 
web access and stand-alone tools like MS Access and Excel. An Incident 
Commander needs to be able to check for and resolve hardware and software 
problems. If some or all of the technology infrastructure breaks down, an 
Incident Commander also needs to be able to improvise and continue 
functioning. That situation may involve using stand-alone computing or no 
information technology support. 

How can data be gathered easily, inexpensively and reliably during an 
incident? We need to gather data before we can use data-driven or model- 
driven DSS. Emergency response planners need to consider using radio 
frequency identification (RFID) tags for resources as they check-in at an 
incident scene. RFID tags can be used to track, inventory and monitor 
individual emergency vehicles and emergency responders. Tag them at check- 
in!! Personnel and equipment arriving at an incident "can check in at 
various incident locations. Check-in consists of reporting specific 
information which is recorded on a form. IS/IT can help managers at these 
locations record the information and share it immediately with the Resources 
Unit. Then incident management personnel and command centers need to be able 
to capture the RFID data in real-time. Remember the rule: gather the data at 
the source in digital format whenever possible. 

Can computerized support assist in on-going emergency operations planning? 
Another key aspect of an ICS is the development of an Incident Action Plan 
(IAP). If an incident continues for more than about 12-18 hours, a planning 
cycle is typically established by the Incident Commander and a Planning 
Section Chief is designated. An Incident Action Plan is then developed for 
the next operational period (usually 12- or 24-hours in length) and 
submitted to the Incident Commander for approval. A web-based Planning DSS 
can assist in development of an IAP for a particular operational period and 
help focus available resources on the highest priorities/incident 
objectives. A web-based planning process can potentially speed-up the 
planning process and better integrate staff inputs and identify critical 

Over an extended crisis/emergency, how should technology planning and 
technology operational issues be incorporated into the command structure? 
Part of the problem in emergencies is that information technology can 
malfunction, breakdown and create ancillary problems. The larger the scale 
of the crisis/emergency in terms of number of people affected and the number 
of responders, the more likely it is that technology problems will occur. 
Currently the Incident Command System (ICS) doesn't adequately address how 
information technology will be supported, maintained and mobilized during an 
incident. More technology planning is needed for crisis/emergency 
management and potential Incident Commanders need an increasingly high level 
of technology sophistication. Emergency simulations and exercises need to use 
a wide variety of technologies and technology breakdowns should be 
simulated. As far as ICS information technology operations ... follow the 
KISS approach ... Keep It Simple Stupid. 


Power, D., "How can computerized decision support help in crisis 
situations?", DSS News, Vol. 4, No. 18, August 31, 2003. 

Power, D., "How can DSS help in crisis planning, response and management?", 
DSS News, Vol. 6, No. 6, February 27, 2005. 

Walton, Matt S., III, "Rebuilding an Emergency Operations Center for NYC 
following 9/11", 2003, posted at DSSResources.COM September 11, 2003. 


May 22-26, 2005, Orlando, Florida USA. 


DSS Conferences 

Call for Papers 

1. 2005 DSI Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, November 19-22, 2005, paper 
deadline April 1, 2005. Check 

2. 8th International DSS Conference (ISDSS2005) of AIS SIG DSS, 
July 12-15, 2005, Porto Alegre, Brazil, check , extended deadline 
April 3, 2005. 

Upcoming Conferences 

1. The 2005 Semantic Technology Conference will be held March 7-10, . 
Stanford Court Hotel, San Francisco, CA, Check 

2. Second International Conference on Information Systems for Crisis 
Response and Management (ISCRAM 2005), Brussels, April 18-20, 2005, Check 

PLEASE NOTE: Dr. Dan Power will be discussing DSS for Crisis Response and 
Management at ISCRAM 2005. 

3. DAMA+Metadata -- 9TH Annual Wilshire Meta-Data Conference and the 17TH 
Annual DAMA International Symposium, May 22-26, 2005, Orlando, Florida USA. 

PLEASE NOTE: DSSResources.COM and DSS News are Media Sponsors of 

4. 2005 Crystal Ball User Conference will be held June 13-15, 2005 at the 
Marriott Denver City Center, Denver, Colorado, check 

5. 2005 DSI International Meeting, Barcelona, Spain, July 3-6, 2005. 


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DSS News - March 12 to March 26, 2005 
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