EMAC International

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


Tab 8
NIMS - The Planning Process

A. Overview

B. Responsibilities and Specific Planning Activities


Sound, timely planning provides the foundation for effective domestic incident management. The NIMS planning process described below represents a template for strategic, operational, and tactical planning that includes all steps an IC and other members of the Command and General Staffs should take to develop and disseminate an Incident Action Plan (IAP). The planning process may begin with the scheduling of a planned event, the identification of a credible threat, or with the initial response to an actual or impending event. The process continues with the implementation of the formalized steps and staffing required to develop a written IAP.

A clear, concise IAP template is essential to guide the initial incident management decision process and the continuing collective planning activities of incident management teams. The planning process should provide the following:

current information that accurately describes the incident situation and resource status;

predictions of the probable course of events;

alternative strategies to attain critical incident objectives; and

an accurate, realistic, IAP for the next operational period.

Five primary phases must be followed, in sequence, to ensure a comprehensive IAP. These phases are designed to enable the accomplishment of incident objectives within a specified time. The IAP must provide clear strategic direction and include a comprehensive listing of the tactical objectives, resources, reserves, and support required to accomplish each overarching incident objective. The comprehensive IAP will state the sequence of events in a coordinated way for achieving multiple incident objectives.

The primary phases of the planning process are essentially the same for the IC who develops the initial plan, for the IC and Operations Section Chief revising the initial plan for extended operations, and for the incident management team developing a formal IAP, each following a similar process. During the initial stages of incident management, planners must develop a simple plan that can be communicated through concise oral briefings. Frequently, this plan must be developed very quickly and with incomplete situation information. As the incident management effort evolves over time, additional lead-time, staff, information systems, and technologies enable more detailed planning and cataloging of events and “lessons learned.”

The five primary phases in the planning process are:

1. Understand the Situation.
The first phase includes gathering, recording, analyzing, and displaying situation and resource information in a manner that will ensure

a clear picture of the magnitude, complexity, and potential impact of the incident; and

the ability to determine the resources required to develop and implement an effective IAP.

[Top of Page]

2. Establish Incident Objectives and Strategy.
The second phase includes formulating and prioritizing incident objectives and identifying an appropriate strategy. The incident objectives and strategy must conform to the legal obligations and management objectives of all affected agencies. Reasonable alternative strategies that will accomplish overall incident objectives are identified, analyzed, and evaluated to determine the most appropriate strategy for the situation at hand. Evaluation criteria include public health and safety factors;
estimated costs; and various environmental, legal, and political considerations.

3. Develop the Plan.
The third phase involves determining the tactical direction and the specific resource, reserves, and support requirements for implementing the selected strategy for one operational period. This phase is usually the responsibility of the IC, who bases decisions on resources allocated to enable a sustained response. After determining the availability of resources, the IC develops a plan that makes the best use of these resources.

Prior to the formal planning meetings, each member of the Command Staff and each functional Section Chief is responsible for gathering certain information to support these decisions. During the Planning Meeting, the Section Chiefs develop the plan collectively.

4. Prepare and Disseminate the Plan.
The fourth phase involves preparing the plan in a format that is appropriate for the level of complexity of the incident.

For the initial response, the format is a well-prepared outline for an oral briefing. For most incidents that will span multiple operational periods, the plan will be developed in writing according to ICS procedures.

5. Evaluate and Revise the Plan.
The planning process includes the requirement to evaluate planned events and check the accuracy of information to be used in planning for subsequent operational periods. The General Staff should regularly compare planned progress with actual progress. When deviations occur and when new information emerges, that information should be included in the first step of the process used for modifying the current plan or developing the plan for the subsequent operational period.



The following is a checklist of planning responsibilities and specific planning activities:

1. General Responsibilities.

The general responsibilities associated with the Planning Meeting and the development of the IAP are described below. The Planning Section Chief should review these with the General Staff prior to the planning meeting.

a. Planning Section Chief.

Conduct the Planning Meeting and coordinate preparation of the IAP.

b. Incident Commander.

Provide overall control objectives and strategy.

Establish procedures for off-incident resource ordering.

Establish procedures for resource activation, mobilization, and employment.

Approve completed IAP plan by signature.


c. Finance Section Chief.

Provide cost implications of control objectives, as required.

Evaluate facilities being used to determine if any special arrangements are needed.

Ensure that the IAP is within the financial limits established by the IC.


d. Operations Section Chief.

Determine division work assignments and resource requirements.


e. Logistics Section Chief.

Ensure that incident facilities are adequate.

Ensure that the resource ordering procedure is made known to appropriate agency dispatch center(s).

Develop a transportation system to support operational needs.

Ensure that the section can logistically support the IAP.

Place order(s) for resources.

[Top of Page]

2. Preplanning Steps: Understanding the Problem and Establishing
Objectives and Strategy.

The Planning Section Chief should take the following actions prior to the initial Planning Meeting (if possible, obtaining a completed Incident Briefing Form ICS 201):

Evaluate the current situation and decide whether the current planning is adequate for the remainder of the operational period (i.e., until next plan takes effect).

Advise the IC and the Operations Section Chief of any suggested revisions to the current plan, as necessary.

Establish a planning cycle for the IC.

Determine Planning Meeting attendees in consultation with the IC. For major incidents, attendees should include


Incident Commander


Command Staff members


General Staff members


Resources Unit Leader

- Situation Unit Leader
- Air Operations Branch Director (if established)
- Communications Unit Leader
- Technical and/or Specialists (as required)
- Agency representatives (as required).

Establish the location and time for the Planning Meeting.
Ensure that planning boards and forms are available.
Notify necessary support staff about the meeting and their assignments.
Ensure that a current situation and resource briefing will be available for the meeting.
Obtain an estimate of regional resource availability from agency dispatch for use in planning for the next operational period.
Obtain necessary agency policy, legal, or fiscal constraints for use in the
Planning Meeting.

[Top of Page]

3. Conducting the Planning Meeting.
The Planning Meeting is normally conducted by the Planning Section Chief. The checklist that follows is intended to provide a basic sequence of steps to aid the Planning Section Chief in developing the IAP. The planning checklist is used with the ICS Planning Matrix Board and/or ICS Form 215—Operational Planning Worksheet.8 (The worksheet is laid out in the same manner as the Planning Matrix Board.) Every incident must have an action plan. However, not all incidents require written plans. The need for written plans and attachments is based on the requirements of the incident and the decision of the IC.

The Planning Meeting checklist is as follows:

give briefing on situation and resource status (Planning Section)

set control objectives (IC)

plot control lines and division boundaries (Operations Section)

specify tactics for each Division or Group (Operations Section)

specify resources needed by Division or Group (Operations Section, Planning Section)
specify facilities and reporting locations plot on map (Operations Section, Planning Section, Logistics Section)
place resource and overhead personnel order (Logistics Section)
consider communications, medical, and traffic plan requirements (Planning
Section, Logistics Section)
finalize, approve, and implement IAP (IC, Planning Section, Operations


4. Brief on Situation and Resource Status.
The Planning Section Chief and/or Resources and Situation Unit Leaders should provide an up-to-date briefing on the situation. Information for this briefing may come from any or all of the following sources:

Initial Incident Commander

Incident Briefing Form (ICS 201)

field observations

operations reports

[Top of Page]

5. Set Control Objectives.
This step is accomplished by the IC. The control objectives are not limited to any single operational period but will consider the total incident situation. The IC will establish the general strategy to be used; will state any major policy, legal, or fiscal constraints on accomplishing the objectives; and will offer appropriate contingency considerations.

6. Plot Control Lines and Division Boundaries on Map.
This step is normally accomplished by the Operations Section Chief (for the next operational period) in conjunction with the Planning Section Chief who will determine control line locations, establish division and branch boundaries for geographical divisions, and determine the need for functional group assignments for the next operational period. These will be plotted on the map.

7. Specify Tactics for Each Division.
After determining division geographical assignments, the Operations Section Chief will establish the specific work assignments to be used for each division for the next operational period. (Note that it may be necessary or desirable to establish a functional group in addition to geographical divisions.) Tactics (work assignments) must be specific and must be within the boundaries set by the IC’s general control objectives (strategies). These work assignments should be recorded on the planning matrix. The IC, Operations Section Chief, and Logistics Section Chief should also at this time consider the need for any alternative strategies or tactics and ensure that these are properly noted on the planning matrix.

8. Specify Resources Needed by Division.
After specifying tactics for each division, the Operations Section Chief, in conjunction with the Planning Section Chief, will determine the resource needs by division to accomplish the work assignments. Resource needs will be recorded on the planning matrix. Resource needs should be considered on basis of the type of resources required to accomplish the assignment.

9. Specify Operations Facilities and Reporting Locations and Plot on

The Operations Section Chief, in conjunction with the Planning and Logistics Section Chiefs, should designate and make available the facilities and reporting locations required to accomplish Operations Section work assignments. The Operations Section Chief should also at this time indicate the reporting time requirements for the resources and any special resource assignments.

10. Place Resource and Personnel Order.
At this time, the Planning Section Chief should assess resource needs assessment using the needs indicated by the Operations Section Chief and resources data available from the Planning Section’s Resources Unit. The planning matrix, when properly completed, will show resource requirements and the resources available to meet those requirements. Subtracting the resources available from those required will indicate any additional resource needs. From this assessment, a new resource order can be developed and provided to the IC for approval and then placed through normal dispatch channels by the Logistics Section.

11. Consider Communications, Medical, and Traffic Plan Requirements.
The IAP will normally consist of the Incident Objectives (ICS 202), Organization Chart (ICS 203), Division Assignment List (ICS 204), and a map of the incident area. Larger incidents may require additional supporting attachments, such as a separate Communications Plan (ICS 205), a Medical Plan (ICS 206), and possibly a Traffic Plan. (For examples of ICS forms, see Appendix A, Tab 9.) The Planning Section Chief must determine the need for these attachments and ensure that the appropriate units prepare such attachments. For major incidents, the IAP and attachments will normally include the items listed in Table A-2.

[Top of Page]

Normally Prepared By

Common Components

Incident Objectives (ICS 202)

Incident Commander

Organization List or Chart (ICS 203)

Resources Unit

Assignment List (ICS 204)

Resources Unit

Communications Plan (ICS 205)

Communications Unit

Logistics Plan

Logistics Unit

Responder Medical Plan (ICS 206)

Medical Unit

Incident Map

Situation Unit

Health and Safety Plan

Safety Officer

Other Potential Components
(Scenario dependent)

Air Operations Summary

Air Operations

Traffic Plan

Ground Support Unit

Decontamination Plan

Technical Specialist

Waste Management or Disposal Plan

Technical Specialist

Demobilization Plan

Demobilization Unit

Operational Medical Plan

Technical Specialist

Evacuation Plan

Technical Specialist

Site Security Plan

Law Enforcement Specialist

Investigative Plan

Law Enforcement Specialist

Evidence Recovery Plan

Law Enforcement Specialist


As Required

Table A-2 - The IAP and Typical Attachments

Prior to the completion of the plan, the Planning Section Chief should review the division and group tactical work assignments for any changes due to lack of resource availability.

The Resource Unit may then transfer division assignment information including alternatives from the planning matrix board or form (ICS 215) onto the Division Assignment Lists (ICS 204).

12. Finalize, Approve, and Implement the Incident Action Plan.
The Planning Section is responsible for seeing that the IAP is completed, reviewed, and distributed. The following is the sequence of steps for accomplishing this:

Set the deadline for completing IAP attachments.

Obtain plan attachments and review them for completeness and approvals.

Determine the number of IAPs required.

Arrange with the Documentation Unit to reproduce the IAP.

Review the IAP to ensure it is up to date and complete prior to the operations briefing and plan distribution.
Provide the IAP briefing plan, as required, and distribute the plan prior to beginning of the new operational period.


Incident Briefing
Summary of Current Actions
Current Organization
Resources Summary
Incident Objectives
Organization Assignment List
Assignment List
Incident Radio Communications Plan
Medical Plan
Organizational Chart
Incident Status Summary, with Instructions
Status Change Card
General Message
Operational Planning Worksheet

Table A-3—ICS Forms that
Can Aid the Planning Process


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: