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NIMS version: March 1, 2004
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Chapter V
NIMS - Communications
and Information Managment

A. Concepts and Principles

B. Managing Communications and Information

Effective communications, information management, and information and intelligence sharing are critical aspects of domestic incident management. Establishing and maintaining a common operating picture and ensuring accessibility and interoperability are principal goals of communications and information management. A common operating picture and systems interoperability provide the framework necessary to:

formulate and disseminate indications and warnings;

formulate, execute, and communicate operational decisions at an incident site, as well as between incident management entities across jurisdictions and functional agencies;

prepare for potential requirements and requests supporting incident management activities; and

develop and maintain overall awareness and understanding of an incident within and across jurisdictions.

Prior to an incident, entities responsible for taking appropriate preincident actions use communications and information management processes and systems to inform and guide various critical activities. These actions include mobilization or predeployment of resources, as well as strategic planning by preparedness organizations, multiagency coordination entities, agency executives, jurisdictional authorities, and EOC personnel. During an incident, incident management personnel use communications and information processes and systems to inform the formulation, coordination, and execution of operational decisions and requests for assistance.


1. A Common Operating Picture Accessible Across Jurisdictions and
Functional Agencies.

A common operating picture allows incident managers at all levels to make effective, consistent, and timely decisions. Integrated systems for communication, information management, and intelligence and information sharing allow data to be continuously updated during an incident, providing a common framework that covers the incident’s life cycle across jurisdictions and disciplines. A common operating picture helps ensure consistency at all levels of incident management across jurisdictions, as well as between various governmental jurisdictions and private-sector and nongovernmental entities that are engaged.

2. Common Communications and Data Standards.
Common communications and data standards and related testing and compliance mechanisms are fundamental to an effective NIMS. Communications interoperability in the context of incident management is also critical. Effective communications outside the incident structure—between other levels of government and between government and private entities—for resources and other support is also enhanced by adherence to such standards. Although much progress has been made in these areas, much more work remains to be done. Additional progress toward common communications and data standards and systems interoperability will be accomplished over time through a sustained collaborative effort facilitated by the NIMS Integration Center.

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NIMS communications and information systems enable the essential functions needed to provide a common operating picture and interoperability for incident management at all levels in two ways:

1. Incident Management Communications.
Preparedness organizations must ensure that effective communications processes and systems exist to support a complete spectrum of incident management activities. The following principles apply:

a. Individual Jurisdictions.
These will be required to comply with national interoperable communications standards, once such standards are developed. Standards appropriate for NIMS users will be designated by the NIMS Integration Center in partnership with recognized standards development organizations (SDOs).

b. Incident Communications.
These will follow the standards called for under the ICS. The IC manages communications at an incident, using a common communications plan and an incident-based communications center established solely for use by the command, tactical, and support resources assigned to the incident. All entities involved in managing the incident will utilize common terminology, prescribed by the NIMS, for communications.

2. Information Management.
The NIMS Integration Center is charged with facilitating the definition and maintenance of the information framework required to guide the development of NIMS-related information systems. This framework consists of documented policies and interoperability standards.

a. Policies

(1) Preincident Information.
Preincident information needs are met at the Federal, State, local, and tribal levels, in concert with private-sector and nongovernmental organizations, primarily through the preparedness organizations described in Section III.B.1.

(2) Information Management.
The information management system provides guidance, standards, and tools to enable Federal, State, local, tribal, and private-sector and nongovernmental entities to integrate their information needs into a common operating picture.

(3) Networks.
Indications and warnings, incident notifications and public communications, and the critical information that constitute a common operating picture are disseminated through a combination of networks used by EOCs. Notifications are made to the appropriate jurisdictional levels and to private-sector and nongovernmental organizations through the mechanisms defined in emergency operations and incident action plans at all levels of government.

(4) Technology Use.
Agencies must plan in advance for the effective and efficient use of information management technologies (e.g., computers and networks) to tie together all command, tactical, and support units involved in incident management and to enable these entities to share information critical to mission execution and the cataloguing of required corrective actions.

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b. Interoperability Standards.
Facilitating the development of data standards for the functions described below, including secure communications when required, is the responsibility of the NIMS Integration Center described in Chapter VII. Standards will be developed in accordance with the following design goals:

(1) Incident Notification and Situation Report.
Incident notification takes place at all levels. Although notification and situation report data must be standardized, it must not prevent information unique to a reporting organization from being collected or disseminated. Standardized transmission of data in a common format enables the passing of appropriate notification information to a national system that can handle data queries and information and intelligence assessments and analysis.

(2) Status Reporting.
All levels of government initiate status reports (e.g., Situation Reports [SITREPS] and Pollution Reports [POLREPS]) and then disseminate them to other jurisdictions. A standard set of data elements will be defined to facilitate this process.

(3) Analytical Data.
Analytical data, such as information on public health and environmental monitoring, is collected in the field in a manner that observes standard data definitions. It is then transmitted to laboratories using standardized analysis processes. During incidents that require public health and environmental sampling, multiple organizations at different levels of government often respond and collect data. Standardization of sampling and data collection enables more reliable laboratory analysis and improves the quality of assessments provided to decision-makers.

(4) Geospatial Information.
Geospatial information is used to integrate assessments, situation reports, and incident notification into a coherent common operating picture. Correct utilization of geospatial data is increasingly important to decision-makers. The use of geospatial data must be tied to consistent standards because of the potential for coordinates to be transformed incorrectly or otherwise misapplied, causing inconspicuous, yet serious, errors. Standards covering geospatial information should also be robust enough to enable systems to be used in remote field locations, where telecommunications capabilities may not have sufficient bandwidth to handle large images or are limited in terms of computing hardware.

(5) Wireless Communications.
To ensure that incident management organizations can communicate and share information with each other through wireless systems, the NIMS will include standards to help ensure that wireless communications and computing for Federal, State, local, and tribal public safety organizations and nongovernmental organizations are interoperable.

(6) Identification and Authentication.
Individuals and organizations that access the NIMS information management system and, in particular, those that contribute information to the system (e.g., situation reports), must be properly authenticated and certified for security purposes. This requires a national authentication and security certification standard for the NIMS that is flexible and robust enough to ensure that information can be properly authenticated and protected. While the NIMS Integration Center is responsible for facilitating the development of these standards, different levels of government and private organizations must collaborate to administer the authentication process.

(7) National Database of Incident Reports.
Through the NIMS Integration Center, Federal, State, local, and tribal organizations responsible for receiving initial incident reports will work collaboratively to develop and adopt a national database of incident reports that can be used to support incident management efforts.



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