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December 9, 2009 > Emergency management systems

Emergency management systems

By Dustin Findley

Office of Emergency Services Supervisor Sean Simonson instructed a class for City of Milpitas employees covering Incident Command System (ICS), Standardized Emergency Management System (SEMS), and National Incident Management System (NIMS) on December 1. Employees are required to learn about existing emergency management systems to become a registered Disaster Service Worker (DSW) to assist in an emergency.

"The Federal government wants you guys to be prepared in the event of an emergency," said Simonson. ICS is the backbone of emergency management. SEMS is California's way of organizing emergency management. NIMS is the national model used (in addition to SEMS in California).

ICS, used to manage emergency and non-emergency events, was developed under Firefighting Resources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies (Firescope) in the 1970s, based on organizational best practices. A basic ICS principle is the first person on scene that can act as Incident Commander until authority is delegated to another person of higher authority or training and experience. "If I am first to arrive at the scene of a flood or earthquake, I'm the Incident Commander. So I'll do, to the best of my ability, what I think is right to protect, control and maintain the City," explained Simonson.

Unified Command is established when two or more agencies, such as fire departments or jurisdictions, respond with their "jurisdictional authority." This might occur during a hazardous materials (hazmat) spill dealt with by Milpitas and San Jose hazmat teams. Area Command oversees multiple Incident Command Posts (ICP) and decides overall strategy and priorities, as in a Public Health Emergency, allocates resources and ensures objectives are met. There is no Operations section because operations are conducted on scene. There are five levels of emergency response - Field, Local Government, Operational Area, Region, and State.

NIMS is a national approach, applicable across jurisdictions and functions with a flexible framework relevant to all incident management phases. Every city, county, state and federal employee studies the same material. "A City of Milpitas employee can go to any emergency, any facility, and say 'I'm a Disaster Service Worker, can I help?'" Simonson said.

Citizens, who are not employed by the city, can become a DSW with Strategic Actions For Emergencies (SAFE), an organization of citizen-volunteers. Contact (408) 586-2810 for more information.

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