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NIMS version: March 1, 2004
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Chapter I
NIMS - Introduction and Overview


Since the September 11, 2001, attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon, much has been done to improve prevention, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation capabilities and coordination processes across the country. A comprehensive national approach to incident management, applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines, would further improve the effectiveness of emergency response providers1 and incident management organizations across a full spectrum of potential incidents and hazard scenarios. Such an approach would also improve coordination and cooperation between public and private entities in a variety of domestic incident management activities. For purposes of this document, incidents can include acts of terrorism, wildland and urban fires, floods, hazardous materials spills, nuclear accidents, aircraft accidents, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, typhoons, war-related disasters, etc.

On February 28, 2003, the President issued Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-5, which directs the Secretary of Homeland Security to develop and administer a National Incident Management System (NIMS). According to HSPD-5:

This system will provide a consistent nationwide approach for Federal, State,2 and local3 governments to work effectively and efficiently together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity. To provide for interoperability and compatibility among Federal, State, and local capabilities, the NIMS will include a core set of concepts, principles, terminology, and technologies covering the incident command system; multiagency coordination systems; unified command; training; identification and management of resources (including systems for classifying types of resources); qualifications and certification; and the collection, tracking, and reporting of incident information and incident resources.


To provide this framework for interoperability and compatibility, the NIMS is based on an appropriate balance of flexibility and standardization.

1. Flexibility.
The NIMS provides a consistent, flexible, and adjustable national framework within which government and private entities at all levels can work together to manage domestic incidents, regardless of their cause, size, location, or complexity. This flexibility applies across all phases of incident management: prevention, preparedness, response, recovery, and mitigation.

2. Standardization.
The NIMS provides a set of standardized organizational structures—such as the Incident Command System (ICS), multiagency coordination systems, and public information systems—as well as requirements for processes, procedures, and systems designed to improve interoperability among jurisdictions and disciplines in various areas, including: training; resource management; personnel qualification and certification; equipment certification; communications and information management; technology support; and continuous system improvement.


The NIMS integrates existing best practices into a consistent, nationwide approach to domestic incident management that is applicable at all jurisdictional levels and across functional disciplines in an all-hazards context. Six major components make up this systems approach. Each is addressed in a separate chapter of this document. Of these components, the concepts and practices for Command and Management (Chapter II) and Preparedness (Chapter III) are the most fully developed, reflecting their regular use by many jurisdictional levels and agencies responsible for incident management across the country. Chapters IV-VII, which cover Resource Management, Communications and Information Management, Supporting Technologies, and Ongoing Management and Maintenance, introduce many concepts and requirements that are also integral to the NIMS but that will require further collaborative development and refinement over time.

1. NIMS Components.
The following discussion provides a synopsis of each major component of the NIMS, as well as how these components work together as a system to provide the national framework for preparing for, preventing, responding to, and recovering from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity. A more detailed discussion of each component is included in subsequent chapters of this document.

a. Command and Management.
NIMS standard incident command structures are based on three key organizational systems:

(1) The ICS.
The ICS defines the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and structure of incident management and emergency response organizations engaged throughout the life cycle of an incident;

(2) Multiagency Coordination Systems.
These define the operating characteristics, interactive management components, and organizational structure of supporting incident management entities engaged at the Federal, State, local, tribal, and regional levels through mutual-aid agreements and other assistance arrangements; and

(3) Public Information Systems.
These refer to processes, procedures, and systems for communicating timely and accurate information to the public during crisis or emergency situations.

b. Preparedness.
Effective incident management begins with a host of preparedness activities conducted on a “steady-state” basis, well in advance of any potential incident. Preparedness involves an integrated combination of planning, training, exercises, personnel qualification and certification standards, equipment acquisition and certification standards, and publication management processes and activities.

(1) Planning.
Plans describe how personnel, equipment, and other resources are used to support incident management and emergency response activities. Plans provide mechanisms and systems for setting priorities, integrating multiple entities and functions, and ensuring that communications and other systems are available and integrated in support of a full spectrum of incident management requirements.

(2) Training.
Training includes standard courses on multiagency incident command and management, organizational structure, and operational procedures; discipline-specific and agency-specific incident management courses; and courses on the integration and use of supporting technologies.

(3) Exercises.
Incident management organizations and personnel must participate in realistic exercises—including multidisciplinary, multijurisdictional, and multisector interaction—to improve integration and interoperability and optimize resource utilization during incident operations.

(4) Personnel Qualification and Certification.
Qualification and certification activities are undertaken to identify and publish national-level standards and measure performance against these standards to ensure that incident management and emergency responder personnel are appropriately qualified and officially certified to perform NIMS-related functions.

(5) Equipment Acquisition and Certification.
Incident management organizations and emergency responders at all levels rely on various types of equipment to perform mission essential tasks. A critical component of operational preparedness is the acquisition of equipment that will perform to certain standards, including the capability to be interoperable with similar equipment used by other jurisdictions.

(6) Mutual Aid.
Mutual-aid agreements are the means for one jurisdiction to provide resources, facilities, services, and other required support to another jurisdiction during an incident. Each jurisdiction should be party to a mutual-aid agreement with appropriate jurisdictions from which they expect to receive or to which they expect to provide assistance during an incident.

(7) Publications Management.
Publications management refers to forms and forms standardization, developing publication materials, administering publications—including establishing naming and numbering conventions, managing the publication and promulgation of documents, and exercising control over sensitive documents—and revising publications when necessary.

 c. Resource Management.
The NIMS defines standardized mechanisms and establishes requirements for processes to describe, inventory, mobilize, dispatch, track, and recover resources over the life cycle of an incident.

 d. Communications and Information Management.
The NIMS identifies the requirement for a standardized framework for communications, information management (collection, analysis, and dissemination), and information-sharing at all levels of incident management. These elements are briefly described as follows:

(1) Incident Management Communications.
Incident management organizations must ensure that effective, interoperable communications processes, procedures, and systems exist to support a wide variety of incident management activities across agencies and jurisdictions.

(2) Information Management.
Information management processes, procedures, and systems help ensure that information, including communications and data, flows efficiently through a commonly accepted architecture supporting numerous agencies and jurisdictions responsible for managing or directing domestic incidents, those impacted by the incident, and those contributing resources to the incident management effort. Effective information management enhances incident management and response and helps insure that crisis decision- making is better informed.

 e. Supporting Technologies.
Technology and technological systems provide supporting capabilities essential to implementing and continuously refining the NIMS. These include voice and data communications systems, information management systems (i.e., record keeping and resource tracking), and data display systems. Also included are specialized technologies that facilitate ongoing operations and incident management activities in situations that call for unique technology-based capabilities.

 f. Ongoing Management and Maintenance.
This component establishes an activity to provide strategic direction for and oversight of the NIMS, supporting both routine review and the continuous refinement of the system and its components over the long term.

2. Appendices.
The appendices to this document provide additional system details regarding the ICS and resource typing.


1 As defined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 2(6), “The term ‘emergency response providers’ includes Federal, State, and local emergency public safety, law enforcement, emergency response, emergency medical (including hospital emergency facilities), and related personnel, agencies, and authorities.” 6 U.S.C. 101(6).

2 As defined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, the term ‘‘State’’ means any State of the United States, the District of Columbia, the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and any possession of the United States. 6 U.S.C. 101(14).

3 As defined in the Homeland Security Act of 2002, Section 2(10), the term,“ local government” means “ (A) county, municipality, city, town, township, local public authority, school district, special district, intrastate district, council of governments (regardless of whether the council of governments is incorporated as a nonprofit corporation under State law), regional or interstate government entity, or agency or instrumentality of a local government; an Indian tribe or authorized tribal organization, or in Alaska a Native village or Alaska Regional Native Corporation; and a rural community, unincorporated town or village, or other public entity.” 6 U.S.C. 101(10)


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