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Indiana Emergency Managers and the Incident Command System

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By: Sean Hildebrand
Ball State University

After the September 11 attacks on New York City and Washington DC, the federal government became more proactive in the fields of homeland security and emergency management. Several new requirements of local governments were established, including the National Incident Management System (NIMS). An important part of this system is the Incident Command System (ICS), which creates a standardized means for the command, control, and coordination in emergency response. All local emergency management departments are required to use ICS in order to receive federal funding.

Many emergency managers, however, believe these federal requirements are not aligned with local needs. Local departments typically plan their funding and activities for the year based on the greatest perceived hazards and vulnerabilities in their jurisdiction. Many local officials are concerned that federal policies pay too much attention to terror threats in comparison to natural or accidental events, causing local departments to shift resources away from local needs in order to comply with the federal policy demands.

During summer of 2016, I conducted a nationwide survey of local emergency management professionals, receiving 775 total responses, including respondents from 33 Indiana counties. Overall, emergency managers nationwide have a favorable opinion of the ICS and its impact on their agencies, with approximately 78 percent agreeing that the ICS helped their jurisdiction. Indiana respondents expressed even more favorable opinions about the ICS, with 88 percent agreeing that it helped their jurisdiction. Indiana respondents expressed greater concern about the threat of withholding federal funds for noncompliance with ICS requirements. Almost 70 percent of Indiana respondents believed that the federal government would withhold funding for noncompliance, compared to only 56 percent in the nationwide sample.

These findings illustrate that most emergency managers, including those in Indiana, believe that the ICS is beneficial to their jurisdictions, although there is fairly widespread concern – particularly in Indiana – that failure to comply will result in a loss of federal emergency management funding.