Important steps for NIMS compliance

Karen Bloodworth
Technical Services Program Manager
APWA Kansas City Office

President Bush, through Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5), has directed the Homeland Security Secretary to develop and administer the National Incident Management System (NIMS). On March 1, 2004 the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued the NIMS to provide a comprehensive national approach to incident management, applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines. The Department of Homeland Security Secretary has called upon all governors to work with their local jurisdictions to ensure NIMS implementation. This article lists the important steps that public works and federal, state, territorial, tribal, and other local entities should take in FY 2005 to become compliant with the NIMS.

FY 2005 is a startup year for NIMS implementation and full compliance with the NIMS is not required for you to receive FY 2005 grant funds. You should begin now by prioritizing your FY 2005 preparedness assistance (in accordance with the eligibility and allowable uses of the grant) to facilitate its implementation. The NIMS Integration Center (NIC) is working to identify all preparedness assistance programs and will provide this information to the states, territories, tribes, and local governments. To the maximum extent possible jurisdictions are encouraged to achieve full NIMS implementation during FY 2005.

The NIMS is the nation's first-ever standardized approach to incident management and response designed to unify federal, state, territorial, tribal, and local lines of government into one coordinated effort, or Incident Command System (ICS). NIMS also provides a common foundation for training and other preparedness efforts, communication and sharing information with other responders and with the public, ordering resources to assist with a response effort, and for integrating new technologies and standards to support incident management. The NIMS endeavors to ensure that the nation's emergency responders will have the same preparation, the same goals and expectation, and most importantly, the same language.

A NIC has been established to focus on functions necessary for the nationwide implementation of the NIMS by responders at all levels. Minimum FY 2005 NIMS Compliance Requirements for state and territory level efforts include the following:

  • Incorporating NIMS into existing training programs and exercises
  • Ensuring the federal preparedness funding (including DHS Homeland Security Grant Program, Urban Area Security Initiative [UASI] funds) support NIMS implementation at the state and local levels in accordance with the eligibility and allowable uses of the grants
  • Incorporating NIMS into Emergency Operations Plans (EOP)
  • Promotion of intrastate mutual aid agreements
  • Coordinating and providing technical assistance to local entities regarding NIMS

At the state, territorial, tribal, and local levels, jurisdictions should support NIMS implementation by:

Completing the NIMS Awareness Course: "National Incident Management System, An Introduction" (IS 700)
This independent study course developed by the Emergency Management Institute (EMI) explains NIMS and provides "planning activity" screens that can be used for the course and printed for later use. The course is available on the EMI web page at: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/is700.asp.

Formally recognizing the NIMS and adopting the NIMS principles and policies
States, territories, tribes, and local entities should establish legislation, executive orders, resolutions, or ordinances to formally adopt the NIMS. The NIC will provide sample language and templates to assist you in formally adopting the NIMS through legislative and/or executive/administrative means.

Establish a NIMS baseline by determining which NIMS requirements you already meet
Many jurisdictions have already implemented many of the concepts and protocols identified in NIMS. The NIC is developing the Capability Assessment Support tool (NIMCAST), a web-based self-assessment system that local governments can use to evaluate their incident response and management capabilities. This tool can assist you in determining the extent to which you are already compliant, as well as identify the NIMS requirements that you are not currently meeting. If gaps in compliance are identified, local entities should use existing resources such as the Office for Domestic Preparedness (ODP) Homeland Security grant programs. The NIMCAST conducted a pilot program in September and plans to release additional information in late 2004.

Establishing a timeframe and developing a strategy for full NIMS implementation
States, territories, tribes, and local entities are encouraged to achieve full NIMS implementation during FY 2005. To the extent that full implementation is not possible during FY 2005, federal preparedness assistance must be leveraged to complete NIMS implementation by FY 2006. By FY 2007, federal preparedness assistance will be conditioned by full compliance with the NIMS.

Institutionalizing the use of the Incident Command System (ICS)
If state, territorial, tribal, and local entities are not already using ICS, you must institutionalize the use of ICS (consistent with concepts and principles taught by DHS) across the entire response system. The 9/11 Commission Report recommended national adoption of the Incident Command System to enhance command, control, and communications capabilities. All federal, state, territory, tribal, and local jurisdictions will be required to adopt ICS in order to be compliant with the NIMS.

The NIC has developed and posted on its web page, a template for a basic NIMS Implementation Plan that agencies involved in implementing NIMS can use for planning purposes. Although the template is designed for federal departments and agencies in particular, states and local and tribal agencies may find it useful in guiding their own NIMS implementation process.

The sample plan's concept of execution envisions four distinct phases of NIMS adoption. Phase I is initial staff training, including completion of FEMA's independent NIMS and ICS study courses. The second phase involves evaluating plans, policies and procedures to identify aspects that need to be made compliant with NIMS concepts.

Activities in Phase III involve the actual modification of emergency response plans, Emergency Operations Plans and other relevant plans, procedures and policies to reflect the adoption of NIMS concepts. Phase IV involves credentialing and certifying personnel and equipment based on NIMS Integration Center standards.

The sample plan provides a checklist to help track progress in enhancing Emergency Operations Plans to reflect full NIMS adoption. In addition, Annex A of the plan compares the purpose, components, applicability, and the command and coordination structures and requirements of the NIMS with those of the National Response Plan.

The Department of Homeland Security has put together several useful electronic resources that include links to funding, a sample Executive Order for designating the NIMS as the basis for all incident management in a state or commonwealth, the National Incident Management System Online Course, resource typing definitions and glossary, fact sheets, the Presidential Directives and more at http://www.fema.gov/nims/nims_resources.shtm.

To download the NIMS Implementation Plan template visit the NIMS web page at www.fema.gov/nims and click on NIMS Implementation Plan Template. E-mail questions to NIMS-Integration-Center@dhs.gov, or call the NIMS Integration Center at (202) 646-3850.

Karen Bloodworth is the staff liaison to APWA's Emergency Management Committee. She can be reached at (800) 848-APWA or at kbloodworth@apwa.net.