EMAC International

NIMS version: March 1, 2004
Get Adobe Reader Download the NIMS Document.pdf (7.4MB)


Tab 2
NIMS - The Operations Section

A. Operations Section Chief

B. Divisions and Groups

C. Resource Organization

D. Branches

E. Air Operations Branch

The Operations Section is responsible for managing tactical operations at the incident site directed toward reducing the immediate hazard, saving lives and property, establishing situation control, and restoring normal conditions. Incidents can include acts of terrorism, wildland and urban fires, floods, hazardous material spills, nuclear accidents, aircraft accidents, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical storms, war-related disasters, public health and medical emergencies, and other incidents requiring an emergency response.

Because of its functional unit management structure, the ICS is applicable across a spectrum of incidents differing in size, scope, and complexity. The types of agencies that could be included in the Operations Section include fire, law enforcement, public health, public works, and emergency services, working together as a unit or in combinations, depending on the situation. Many incidents may involve private individuals, companies, or nongovernmental organizations, some of which may be fully trained and qualified to participate as partners in the Operations Section.

Incident operations can be organized and executed in many ways. The specific method selected will depend on the type of incident, agencies involved, and objectives and strategies of the incident management effort. The following discussion presents several different methods of organizing incident tactical operations. In some cases, a method will be selected to accommodate jurisdictional boundaries. In other cases, the approach will be strictly functional. In still others, a mix of functional and geographical approaches may be appropriate. The ICS offers extensive flexibility in determining the appropriate approach using the factors described above. Figure 2-A shows the primary organizational structure within the Operations Section.

Figure 2-A



The Operations Section Chief directly manages all incident tactical activities and implements the IAP. The Operations Section Chief may have one or more deputies (preferably from other agencies in multijurisdictional incidents). Deputies will be qualified to a similar level as the Operations Section Chief. An Operations Section Chief should be designated for each operational period and will have direct involvement in the preparation of the IAP for the period of responsibility.

[Top of Page]


Divisions and groups are established when the number of resources exceeds the Operations Section Chief’s manageable span of control. Divisions demarcate physical or geographical areas of operation within the incident area. Groups demarcate functional areas of operation for the incident. See Figure 2-B.

The use of the two terms is necessary, because division always refers to a geographical assignment and group always refers to a functional assignment. Both divisions and groups may be used in a single incident if there is justification for their use and if proper coordination can be effected.

As additional types of resources are added to the organization, resources should be assigned into a division structure. See Figure 2-C.

Figure 2-B


Figure 2-C

[Top of Page]

1. Geographical Divisions.
The best way to create geographical divisions is to divide an area according to natural separations of terrain or other prominent geographical features, such as rivers. When geographical features are used for determining boundaries, the size of the division should correspond to appropriate span-of-control guidelines. See Figure 2-D.

Figure 2-D

2. Functional Groups.
Functional groups can best be used to describe areas of like activity (e.g., rescue, evacuation, medical). See Figure 2-E.

Figure 2-E

3. Combined Geographical Divisions and Functional Groups.
It is also possible to have both divisions and groups within the Operations Section. For example, Divisions A, B, and C (based on jurisdictional boundaries) might each have two groups, 1 and 2, to provide a management structure for different types of resources within that division.

[Top of Page]


Initially, in any incident, individual resources that are assigned will report directly to the IC. As the incident grows in size or complexity, individual resources may be organized and employed in a number of ways to facilitate incident management:

1. Single Resources.
Resources may be employed on an individual basis. This is typically the case in the context of the initial response to the incident. During sustained operations, situations will typically arise that call for the use of a single helicopter, vehicle, mobile equipment, etc.

2. Task Forces.
Task Forces are any combination of resources put together to accomplish a specific mission. Task Forces have a designated leader and operate with common communications. Combining resources into Task Forces allows several key resource elements to be managed under one individual’s supervision, thus aiding in span of control.

3. Strike Teams.
A Strike Team consists of a set number of resources of the same kind and type operating under a designated leader with common communications between them. Strike Teams represent known capability and are highly effective management units.



Branches may be established to serve several purposes including the following:

1. The Numbers of Divisions and/or Groups Exceed the Recommended
Span of Control for the Operations Section Chief.

The recommended span of control for the Operations Section Chief is 1:5 (or as high as 1:10 for larger-scale law enforcement operations).When this is exceeded, the Operations Section Chief should set up two branches (see Figure 2-F), allocating the divisions and groups between them. For example, if one group and four divisions
are reporting to the Operations Section Chief, and two divisions and one group are to be added, a two-branch organization should be formed.

Figure 2-F

[Top of Page]

2. The Nature of the Incident Calls for a Functional Branch Structure.
For example, if a large aircraft crashes within a city, various departments within the city (including police, fire, emergency services, and public health services) would each have a functional branch operating under the direction of a single Operations Section Chief. In this example (see Figure 2-G), the Operations Section Chief is from the fire department, with deputies from police and public health services. Other alignments could be made, depending on the city plan and type of emergency. Note that, in this situation, the Incident Command could be either a single command or Unified Command (UC), depending on the jurisdiction.

Figure 2-G


3. The Incident is Multijurisdictional.
In this case, resources are best managed under the agencies that normally control them (see Figure 2-H). For example, the response to a major flood might require combining Federal, State, county, city, and tribal resources.

Figure 2-H


[Top of Page]


The Operations Section Chief may establish an Air Operations Branch to meet mission requirements in certain situations, in which size, organization, and operation will depend primarily on the nature of the incident and the availability of air assets.* Figure 2-I shows a typical organizational structure for air operations.

The Operations Section Chief may designate a director for the Air Operations Branch when the complexity of air operations requires additional support and effort or when the incident requires mixing tactical and logistical utilization of helicopters and other aircraft. Flight safety is a paramount concern in complex operations and supports the requirement for a designated Air Operations Branch to ensure the deconfliction of assets and the integration of safety considerations into operational planning and mission execution. Whenever both helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft must operate simultaneously within the incident air space, a Air Tactical Group Supervisor should be designated. This individual coordinates all airborne activity with the assistance of a helicopter coordinator and a fixed-wing coordinator. When only one helicopter is used, however, the helicopter may be directly under the control of the Operations Section Chief.

The Air Support Group establishes and operates bases for rotary-wing air assets and maintains required liaison with off-incident fixed-wing bases. The Air Support Group is responsible for all timekeeping for aviation assets assigned to the incident.

* Air Operations Branch is used here as an example and may not be applicable to all ICS organizations.

Figure 2-I



COMMAND INSTITUTE - Specialized Training Series
NMS SeriesCOLTS - Comany Officer Leadership Training Symposium
Taking It To the Streets Series Structural Anatomy Series First-Due Series
EMAC International 1-800-963-3622
Download Center|Home| Training|Consulting|Our Expertise| Contact us
Copyright © 2005 EMAC International • 1220 L Street N.W. Suite #100-290, Washington, D.C. 20005-4018
Telephone: 800-963-3622 • Fax: 202-449-3794 • Email: