The National Incident Management System

The National Response Framework (NRF) is an evolution of a series of national readiness plans that have been adapted to handle various emergencies at the national level (Walsh et al., 2012). According to Walsh et al. (2012), the federal government developed a response plan to guide the efforts and deployable assets in the event of any emergency that overwhelmed local and state capabilities. The first of these plans was developed in 1992, called the Federal Response Plan (FRP), and proved ineffective when implemented during a hurricane response in Miami, Florida, primarily due to a lack of familiarity and a focus on federal efforts instead of local scalability.

At the time the FRP was in effect, many fire departments across the country were adopting a modular system of incident management referred to as the incident command system (ICS). Early in its inception, ICS was not standard between the various departments, but as the federal government began to improve upon the FRP, developing the National Response Plan (NRP) with a focus towards incorporating and standardizing ICS, the various fire departments began to refer to the federal government implementation of ICS which promoted its standardization. The NRP was created in 2004 to answer concerns that were outlined in Presidential directives HSPD-5, HSPD-8, and discussions regarding the recent terror attacks on September 11, 2001, and the federal response to Hurricane Katrina. The NRP, in addition to standardizing ICS, addressed the roles of each level of government (local, state, and federal), non-governmental disaster aid organizations, and private business (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2004; Walsh et al., 2012). This growth, evolution, and adaptation of ICS within the NRP grew into a further adaptation of a comprehensive incident management system, now known as the national incident management system (NIMS) which allows for implementation at each level of government, within business, and with each private citizen (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008a, 2008b; Walsh et al., 2012). This scalability also allows for increased modulation by either increasing the scope of a response or decreasing it as needed. In 2008, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (2008a), understanding the shortcomings of the NRP and the promise of NIMS, further refined the response guidelines while using NIMS principles to develop the National Response Framework (NRF; U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008a, 2008b; Walsh et al., 2012). Both NIMS and the NRF share the foundation principle that most incidents start and end at the local level and are best managed by local interests (U.S. Department of Homeland Security, 2008a; Walsh et al., 2012).

This was evident during the 2008 hurricane season. As a contractor under Emergency Support Function #8 – Public Health and Medical Services Annex – I was part of the largest single mobilization of emergency medical services in history. Although we could have taken over jurisdiction from the clearly overwhelmed local government (as might have occurred under the FRP), we continually offered our assistance and only responded when requested. This allowed for a more focused response with rapid demobilization and remobilization when confronted with a second and third hurricane that threatened another region. This effort was appreciated by the local emergency managers who not only learned from the event but also adapted their local response plans to include variations of significant mobilizations of each of the emergency support functions.
The continued development of the response plans, incident management systems, and command structures and systems is a testament of the government’s ability and readiness to assist in the event of an emergency, but it is also a testament to the understanding of self-reliance.


U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2004, December). National response plan. Washington, DC: Author.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008a, January). National response framework. Washington, DC: Author.

U.S. Department of Homeland Security. (2008b, December). National incident management system. Washington, DC: Author.

Walsh, D. W., Christen, H. T., Callsen, C. E., Miller, G. T., Maniscalco, P. M., Lord, G. C., & Dolan, N. J. (2012). National Incident Management System: principles and practice (2nd ed.). Sudbury, MA: Jones & Bartlett.