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9/11, the Incident Command System, and the National Incident Management System

on August 23, 2021

Incident Command System and the National Incident Management System

[Twenty] years ago, America changed forever.  Protecting our nation from terrorist attacks became the primary objective.  The systems and operations developed to prepare, plan, mitigate, respond, and recover from terrorist attacks expanded to include ALL disasters.  We now have a national disaster plan which is utilized at the local, tribal, state, and federal levels.

Brief Overview of the Events of 9/11

At 8:46 a.m. on September 11, 2001, American Airlines Flight 11 crashed into the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City.  Seventeen minutes later, United Airlines Flight 175 smashed into the South Tower.  At 9:37 a.m., American Airlines Flight 77 nose-dived into the Pentagon building in Arlington, Virginia.  All three airplanes had been hijacked by members of the radical Islamic terrorist organization, Al Qaeda (Haddow, 2017; 911 Memorial, 2018).

“The use of fuel-filled planes caused catastrophic fires in all three buildings impacted, and this led to collapse of both World Trade Center towers and the wing of the Pentagon directly affected” (Haddow, 2017, p. 393).  The federal government has spent more than $20 billion on the response and recovery of the World Trade Center attacks alone.  On the positive side, the events of 9/11 led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the development and implementation of a more comprehensive and advanced national response to disasters, regardless of size and cause (Haddow, 2017).

The Core Components of the National Incident Management System (NIMS)

“NIMS was created to integrate effective practices in emergency preparedness and response into a comprehensive national framework for incident management” (Haddow, 2017, p.247).  Its flexibility allows it to adapt to any kind of disaster, from routine incidents involving local communities to large-scale events, such as hurricanes or earthquakes (DHS, 2008).  NIMS provides a template for “coordination and standardization among emergency management/response personnel and their affiliated organizations” (DHS, 2008, p.7).

The National Incident Management System is guided by five core components: preparedness; communications and information management; resource management; command and management; and ongoing management and maintenance.  The National Integration Center is responsible for directing NIMS, using the latest technology and operational systems (DHS, 2008).

Preparedness is a multi-task discipline which uses assessment skills; advanced planning; appropriate procedures and protocols; up-to-date training and practice exercises; skilled personnel with the proper licensure and certification; the latest technology and equipment; and the ability to evaluate responses to events and revise protocols and procedures for improved responses to future events (DHS, 2008).

Communications and information management are crucial to emergency responders because all command and coordination stations must share a common goal and operating system in order to work effectively as a team (DHS, 2008).

Resource management demands that “the flow of resources [personnel, equipment, etc.] be fluid and adaptable to the requirements of the incident” (DHS, 2008, p. 8)  Without a well-coordinated movement of resources to the disaster site, responders cannot do their job in a timely and efficient manner.

Command and management “enable effective and efficient incident management and coordination by providing a flexible, standardized incident management structure” (DHS, 2008, p. 8) which involves the Incident Command System, Multi-agency Coordination Systems, and public information.  Jurisdiction, authority, and multi-agency involvement must be decided and coordinated before and during the disaster event for the response to be successful.

Ongoing management and maintenance by the National Integration Center ensures that the National Incident Management System will always perform at a top-notch level.  Failures and successes must be evaluated and addressed and systems refined accordingly (DHS, 2008).

How the Components of NIMS Support and Complete the Incident Command System (ICS)

“NIMS was developed as an outgrowth of ICS that allows for increased interorganizational coordination that is not necessarily addressed under standard ICS structures.  The system is designed to be a more comprehensive incident management system than ICS because it goes beyond the field-level incident command and control and addresses all phases of emergency management, as well as all stakeholders (including the NGO and private sectors).  It does not, however, replace ICS” (Haddow, 2017, p. 248).

The National Incident Management System provides a template by which the ICS can operate more efficiently.  It is an upper management organizational system that oversees the entire operation of a disaster event (Haddow, 2008).

The Incident Command System falls under the command and management component of the National Incident Management System.  ICS addresses all hazards, regardless of cause, at the federal, state, tribal, and local levels.  NGOs and the private sector are also included (DHS, 2008).

The ICS standardizes the use of common terminology for all agencies involved; inventories and describes resources used; and records incident fatalities (DHS, 2008).

A flexible organizational system adapts the ICS to the needs of a particular event.  A small, community-based incident will require less manpower and fewer resources than an event on the scale of Hurricane Katrina (DHS, 2008).

ICS develops a set of objectives by which an event can be measured, studied, and evaluated.  This is important for quality improvement.  The Incident Commander or Unified Commander creates an Incident Action Plan which “should guide all response activities” (DHS, 2008, p. 47).  There should be enough staff and supervisors involved to make the work flow go as planned (DHS, 2008).

The Incident Commander determines and oversees the locations of command facilities.  Resources must be carefully managed to control costs and availability.  Communication systems must be set up and maintained to provide optimal information sharing and communication (DHS, 2008).

How NIMS and ICS were Utilized in the Events of 9/11

The events of 9/11 resulted in a large number of fatalities among first responders.  It became necessary to re-evaluate and re-write appropriate procedures and protocols.  At that time, there were no procedures in place to deal with terrorist attacks.  The Department of Homeland Security was created, which absorbed FEMA into its structure.  The National Incident Management System gradually developed and was finally published in 2008 (Hadddow, 2017).

As soon as the North Tower of the World Trade Center in New York City was attacked on 9/11, New York City emergency dispatchers sent police, paramedics, and firefighters to the site.  Battalion  Chief Joseph Pfeifer of the New York City Fire Department dispatched additional fire personnel and equipment.  The Port Authority Police Department, which was responsible for the security of the World Trade Center, went into action to help with evacuation and rescue (911 Memorial, 2018).

President Bush was notified at 8:50 a.m.  At 8:55 a.m., the South Tower was declared secure, and no evacuation attempts were made. Four minutes later, it was decided to evacuate both towers.  And, at 9:00 a.m., all civilians were ordered to evacuate the World Trade Center complex.  At 9:02 a.m., evacuation efforts were underway, when the South Tower was attacked at 9:03 a.m.  President Bush was further informed at 9:05 a.m., and Mayor Rudy Giuliani arrived at the New York City Police Department Command Post (911 Memorial, 2018).

At 9:30 a.m., the Mayor’s Office of Emergency Management evacuated its office at the World Trade Center.  Vice-President Dick Cheney was evacuated from the White House (911 Memorial, 2018).

The Pentagon attack occurred at 9:37 a.m.  Emergency personnel immediately responded.  At 9:45 a.m., the White House and the U.S. Capitol Building were evacuated (911 Memorial, 2018).

The South Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at 9:59 a.m.  At 10:15 a.m., the Pentagon E-ring collapsed.  The North Tower of the World Trade Center collapsed at 10:28 a.m., and the evacuation of lower Manhattan began at 11:02 a.m.  At 5:20 p.m., the entire World Trade Center collapsed.  All efforts after that were dedicated to putting out the fires, securing the crime site, finding and rescuing survivors, recovering the dead, identifying victims, and removing and cleaning up debris and body parts (Haddow, 2017; 911 Memorial, 2018).

In 2002, two after-action reports were released: Improving NYPD Emergency Preparedness and Response and Arlington County After-Action Report on the Response to the 9/11 Terrorist Attack on the Pentagon.  These reports helped to shape improvements in the emergency management discipline (Haddow, 2017).

The NYPD report identified twenty areas of improvement, with six warranting immediate action: “clearer delineation of roles and responsibilities of organizational leaders; better clarity in the chain of command; radio communications protocols and procedures that optimize information flow; more effective mobilization of response staff; more efficient provisioning and distribution of emergency and donated equipment; a comprehensive disaster response plan with a significant counterterrorism component” (Haddow, 2017).

It is easy to see here how the implementation of the National Incident Management System would have improved the response to the 9/11 World Trade Center attacks.  The Command and Management Component would have helped to define the authority of the Incident Commander and to clarify the chain of command.  The Communications and Information Management Component would have centralized communications and information sharing to present a clear picture of what was happening and what was needed.  The Resource Management Component would have coordinated the flow of personnel and equipment to the site to more efficiently deal with the disaster.  The Ongoing Management and Maintenance Component would have ensured that a comprehensive plan was in place to manage a major terrorist attack.  The Preparedness Component would have ensured that New York City was ready to bring all agencies together to work as an expert team in responding to a major disaster (DHS, 2008).

The response to the Pentagon attack was deemed a success due to its quick, coordinated, well-prepared response based on the Incident Command System.  Arlington County already had a Comprehensive Emergency Management Plan in place.  The Arlington County Fire Department had already considered the possibility of a weapons of mass destruction scenario and was well-prepared to respond (Haddow, 2017).

Conclusion

It is unfortunate that disasters have to occur in order to improve emergency management as a discipline and emergency response as a necessity of life.  But complacency is not an option.  Preparation is the key to effective response and recovery when disasters do occur.  The Incident Command System, guided by the core components of the National Incident Management System, is an effective tool for coordinating and managing preparation, planning, mitigation, response, and recovery of major disasters on the local, tribal, state, and federal levels.

Dawn Pisturino

Thomas Edison State University

September 18, 2019

Copyright 2019-2021 Dawn Pisturino. All Rights Reserved.

References

911 Memorial. (2018 ). 9/11 Memorial Timeline. Retrieved from

       http://www.timeline.911memorial.org/#FrontPage

Department of Homeland Security. (2008). National incident management system.

       Retrieved from http://www.fema.gov/nims.

Haddow, G.D., Bullock, J.A., & Coppola, D.P. (2017). Introduction to emergency

       management. (6th ed.). Cambridge, MA: Elsevier.


5 responses to “9/11, the Incident Command System, and the National Incident Management System

  1. Hello Dawn,
    In your flashback to 9/11, it seems you forgot to mention Flight 93 who crashed in Pennsylvania killing 44 passengers. The terrorists intented to crash on the Capitol as I heard . Thanks to the heroic last action of men and women inside the plane, they avoid more victims and another major attack on a US symbolic monument.
    Your article is once again very complete and instructive. Thank you.
    Have a nice day.

    Liked by 1 person

    • You are right, and I noticed that when I re-read it. This was actually an academic paper, and that flight was not included in the research. I think that happened because the people on the flight fought back and diverted the plan from its primary target, so the scenario did not fit in with the point of the paper.

      Liked by 1 person

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