Unified Control

Bushfires in or near the ACT frequently burn across areas where two or more fire agencies have jurisdictional responsibility. The Incident Control System operates under the principle of one incident controller per incident. In a situation where a fire does burn into a fuel bed where two or more agencies have jurisdictional responsibility, the unified control concept should be utilised. Simply stated, unified control means the agencies having jurisdictional responsibility agree to have one common set of control objectives, one ordering process, one incident command post and one planning process. All of the above can be agreed upon without loss of individual jurisdictional authority.

Unified control is a systematic means of organising a variety of agencies into one concerted effort. The concept follows all the known and established principles of incident management. It does not require new or untried approaches, or change the way various parts of the actual incident are handled. The concept when used in conjunction with the ICS principles is very flexible; that is, there are no hard and fast rules to restrict experienced incident managers from working co-operatively with other incident managers. There are goals, recommendations, and procedural guidelines and these are expanded upon later in this paper. These goals and guidelines should be used to assist in establishing a management framework that fits the size and type of incident, and the agencies involved.

We all know that no two incidents are ever exactly alike. They each have their own characteristics and problems. The unified control concept must be applied in a configuration to meet the needs of the incident you are combating. Of course any goals and guidelines provide only a general pathway for the managers. Specific actions and decisions, even those that may seem to modify the concept, must be made by those who bear responsibility for the outcome of the incident.

The general goals of unified control are:

Some initial guidelines that will help meet the goals are:

The following diagram shows an example of a Unified Control organisational structure of a multi-agency / multi jurisdictional incident.

unified control diagram

Unified Control is bring people and agencies together into a COMMON incident management organisation to determine objectives, select strategies, perform joint action planning and operations. It is not about handing over control of your responsibilities to someone else or having someone else do your job for you. It is about working together to achieve the best outcome. I urge all potential incident controllers to consider and look for unified control opportunities at any incident you may attend. It can only improve incident ground co-operation and coordination.

Peter Lucas-Smith

Chief Fire Control Officer

Last updated 4 November 2014