The 1997/98 bushfire season has been a busy season for both the Bushfire Service and the ACT Emergency Service with many people exposed to multi-unit, or multi-agency, responses for the first time.

Also, there are many people who have not undertaken incident management training, been involved, or seen, some of the aspects of our incident management system in operation.

Therefore, I feel it is appropriate to provide an overview for those people, and a reminder of the basics of the system for the others.

In 1989 the ACT Bush Fire Council adopted the AIIMS Incident Control System (ICS) as its management arrangement for dealing with the combating of incidents. Since that time over 100 bushfire fighters have been trained in the concepts and principles of ICS.

The ICS is designed to develop from the time an incident occurs until the requirement for management of operations no longer exists. The structure of ICS is flexible and can be established and expanded as needed by the changing conditions of the incident. The system can be utilised for any type or size of emergency ranging from a minor incident involving only a few units to a major incident involving several agencies.

The ICS is a structure of delegation to ensure that all vital management and information functions are adequately provided for at an incident. The structure is divided into four functional areas:

The Incident Controller and the officer in charge of each section are referred to as the Incident Management Team. The Incident Management Team is normally located in the field.

A Service Management Team is normally located in the Operations Centre at Curtin. The Service Management Team coordinates the total agency resource and provides information and support to the incident management team, and advice up the line to senior management and Government.

During the initial response to an incident, the Incident Controller can perform all these functions. As the incident grows, and the management functions become more demanding, the functions of operations, planning and logistics are delegated. The operations officer is normally appointed first.

The two main principles on which the ICS is based, and the two main things that should be in the forefront of Incident Controller thinking, are:

Management by objectives is a process of consultative management where the management team determines desired outcomes of the incident. These desired outcomes or objectives are then communicated to those involved, so that they know and understand the direction being taken during the operation.

Span of control is a concept that relates to the number of groups or individuals controlled by one person, and provides a structure for the delegation of functions.

At incidents, the nature of the environment in which supervision is undertaken can rapidly change and can be dangerous. For this reason, a maximum of 5 reporting groups or individuals is considered to be optimum, as this maintains the Incident Controller’s ability to effectively task, monitor and evaluate performance.

For example, the situation of a contained bushfire breaking out of a control line, or, floodwaters breaking a sandbag levee bank, the responsible officer needs to be able to quickly receive reports, evaluate information, communicate orders, mobilise and redeploy crews while at the same time cater for personnel safety and welfare.

Responsibility for more than five sector leaders, or units has the potential to jeopardise the safety of personnel and the effectiveness of the operation.

Another basic requirement of ICS is the understanding of the terms, control, command and coordination, which is essential to appreciate the roles and functions of the Incident Management Team.

Control relates to the overall direction in the management of an incident. Control operates horizontally across agencies.

Command relates to the direction of members and resources of an agency in the performance of their tasks. Command operates vertically within an agency.

Coordination is the bringing together and management of resources to ensure effective incident management. Coordination operates:

As I stated earlier the ICS is divided into four functional areas, Control, Operations, Planning and Logistics. These functional areas have different operational requirements.

Control relates to the Incident Controller who is appointed by the CFCO, or the Duty Coordinator, to have overall management of the incident. The Incident Controller prepares objectives that in turn will be the foundation upon which subsequent planning is based. He/she approves all requests for the ordering and releasing of primary resources.

Operations relates to the functions of the Operations Officer who is responsible to the Incident Controller, but takes over the responsibility for control of operations and the assigning of resources in accordance with the incident objectives.

Planning relates to the functions of the Planning Officer who is responsible to the Incident Controller. A planning section may be established in support of the incident and will be responsible for:

Logistics relates to the functions of the Logistics Officer who is responsible to the Incident Controller. A logistics section may be established in support of the incident, and is responsible for providing:

In conclusion I will go back to my comments in the fourth and sixth paragraph of this article, and repeat that the delegation of functions is of critical importance in any management activity, but especially so in control of an incident. The purpose of delegation is to empower subordinates to make decisions and implement them without the need for access to the Incident Controller. Effective delegation protects the Incident Controller from information and decision making overload. It decentralises nominated functions and ensures that at every level there is always a strong focus on achieving the incident objectives.

So remember, be mindful of the management objective, ensure there is a manageable span of control and delegate functions to reduce controller overload.

Peter Lucas-Smith
Bushfire and Emergency Services

Last updated 4 November 2014