The adage, “All incidents begin locally,” is certainly applicable to scenarios involving Chemical, Biological, Radiological, Nuclear, and Explosive (CBRNE) threats. In many if not all cases, CBRNE incidents sooner or later involve the federal government, particularly if terrorism is suspected. However, local and state involvement can never be waived or discounted. As is true of almost any emergency, the initial response to an actual or potential CBRNE incident almost always comes from local resources. In addition, after the situation is stabilized or concluded, it is the local resources that are most often expected to continue, and complete, the recovery and restoration operations. For that reason alone, individual and team training – particularly the training needed to respond to and manage all types of incidents – continues to be a necessity.
That has not always been true, though. In fact, it was not until the anthrax attacks in 2001 – just after the terrorist aircraft crashes into the Pentagon and the World Trade Towers – that much attention had been directed, at the local or state levels of government, toward the creation and growth of the technological capabilities and training needed to detect, define, and deal with potential “Chem-Bio” incidents. Since then, of course, the general objectives, strategies, and tactics required for the initial response to CBRNE incidents have been developed, assessed, reviewed, and revisited – numerous times. One result is that the training needed to establish safe and secure incident scenes is now commonplace at all levels of government.
Moreover, the procedures now in place are routinely practiced by many emergency-response agencies throughout the nation. In addition, most current local- and state-level policies and procedures include the establishment of a functional incident command system (ICS) that conforms to the federal government’s own NIMS (National Incident Management System) guidelines.
This is a major step forward, because establishing an identifiable and functional local incident command organization to deal with CBRNE incidents (actual or suspected) is critical for the successful containment and control of such incidents. Of perhaps even greater importance, the transition from a local response to the follow-on response influx from state and federal agencies will be facilitated significantly by the establishment of a strong, yet flexible, local ICS policy. An undefined – and/or poorly organized – initial incident management system can lead very quickly to confusion and ineffective response management; it also can and almost assuredly would compromise the safety of those responding. In addition, it can cause various disconnects of all types and even procedural conflicts between the initial local responders and the incoming state and federal response and incident-management personnel.
Training, Experience & Other Specifics
It is primarily for these reasons that the training for CBRNE incidents must include specific training in ICS processes and procedures. Moreover, because CBRNE incidents are inherently multi-disciplinary, and frequently multi-jurisdictional as well, preparedness plans and policies should include, among other things, the identification of incident-management staff who are not only trained in ICS doctrine but also experienced in the management of complex, multi-disciplinary incidents in general.
Here it should be noted that effective ICS training programs and guidelines must and should continue to evolve, principally to remain in lockstep with changes and improvements in Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) policies and guidelines. One example: The U.S. Fire Administration’s All-Hazards Incident Management Team Course – which is periodically reviewed and, if necessary, revised and refined – has found renewed value for many developing incident management teams (IMTs). Another USFA course, “Command and General Staff Functions in the Local Incident Management Team,” has also become a particularly valuable training program for developing IMTs.
In 2009, FEMA began the expansion of ICS training with the release of several “position-specific” training courses for all command and general staff in the management of ICS activities and operations. Last year, the 2009 expansion was followed by publication of unit-level position-specific training courses. However, the completion of training classes will not – indeed cannot – provide the essential experiential base needed by incident management personnel. The development of individual capabilities for incident command situations should and must come primarily from the practical application of training principles under realistic if not totally real-life conditions. Therein lies what may be the greatest challenge for developing incident management capacity, whether for CBRNE situations or for other incidents of similar magnitude.
Lesson One: Management Is Still Management
Fortunately, as training programs have evolved and become more advanced, a key principle of ICS has become clearer – namely, that the ICS is nothing more or less than, in a generic sense, simply a management system. By connotation, of course, Incident Command (or management) promotes the notion that ICS differs from routine management – and it does, in several ways. However, as well-practiced IMTs have frequently demonstrated, management is still management, regardless of the situation.
In fact, command staff and general staff who understand that their functions remain substantially the same for all incidents can and should, therefore, perform effectively regardless of the nature of their assignments. For that reason, the training for and, of greater importance, management of a CBRNE incident will be contingent primarily on: (a) establishing a fully functional incident command organization as soon as possible; and (b) using an incident management “team” to coordinate and manage all aspects of the incident response above the strategic and tactical levels. (Obviously, technically qualified personnel should supervise at the operational level.)
Because of the quick and almost universal perception that each and every locality or agency should have its own IMT, a number of local and state jurisdictions (or agencies) attempted to form their own IMTs. That understandable impulse was similar to what happened in the 1980s and 1990s when “hazmat” was suddenly the hot issue and many communities sought to form their own local hazmat teams on the reasonable supposition that the community might, in fact, someday have to deal with a major hazmat incident. An important common-sense lesson learned at that time was that the cumulative cost for developing, equipping, and maintaining a hazmat team exceeded not only the budgets but also the resource capacity, and capabilities, of most jurisdictions.
Lesson Two: Teamwork First, Last, and Always
Over the past five years, the initial compulsion of many localities to develop their own IMTs has been tempered by the more realistic acceptance that regional collaboration can be a more viable – more affordable as well – means for developing and sustaining incident management capabilities. Although some UASI (Urban Area Security Initiative) teams rely primarily on local (city/county) resources, the vast majority of the nation’s current IMTs have been developed through multi-jurisdictional, multi-disciplinary cooperation using the best qualified personnel available within a relatively large geographical area to build a regional team.
A good example of this understanding is the formation of the All-Hazards Incident Management (Type 3) Team to protect the National Capitol Region (NCR), which uses personnel from more than seven local jurisdictions in two states – Maryland and Virginia – and the District of Columbia. The “NCR Team” drew from the best management and operational talent available from all jurisdictions within the greater Washington, D.C., area to create an aggregate team that possesses the superior competencies required to protect the nation’s capital and carry out all incident-management functions at the very highest levels of government.
Similarly, several local jurisdictions in the Denver, Colorado, metropolitan region have formed an aggregate team. Perhaps one of the best examples of regional team development, though, is a specially configured model formed in Texas – where more than nine regional state (Type 3) teams have been developed, under the Texas Forestry Service, to provide in-state regional incident management capabilities throughout the entire state.
AHIMTA: A Major New National Asset
Colorado and Texas are only two examples, though, of many initiatives currently being pursued throughout the United States. These initiatives are consistent with the basic NIMS tenets, and the regional teams already formed are becoming the core of a national movement to provide the incident-management capacity needed to cope with any and all hazard situations. In general, it is safe to say, the IMTs involved in this effort are being developed to serve, as and when needed, in any type of mass-casualty situation, and without regard to parochial (i.e., local) tactical considerations.
In December 2010, the All-Hazards incident management initiative gained even greater momentum when the All-Hazards Incident Management Teams Association (AHIMTA) was incorporated at, and in conjunction with, the third annual All-Hazards Incident Management Teams Training & Education Conference (in Denver). The new association is already active in coping with the many challenges of setting national consensus standards for “All-Hazards IMTs” – as well as, not incidentally, coordinating with and among the many teams formed, at all levels of government, to foster improved communications, increased collaboration, and greater cooperation between and among existing and future teams, and individuals, engaged in and committed to carrying out the command and management functions spelled out in NIMS policy guidelines.
The mission and goals of AHIMTA will be guided by an 11-member board of directors representing all regions of the country. Any incident involving actual or potential CBRNE threats poses significant challenges. Tactical skills training is essential to ensure safety and effectiveness in operations. Closely coupled with tactical competence, however, is the importance of effective management. A truly comprehensive response capability to deal with CBRNE incidents must necessarily include provisions for the effective and efficient management of tactical resources.
Additional information about AHIMTA is available on the association’s website: www.ahimta.org.