U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

Issue Brief 2 - Communications in the Incident Command System

NCJ Number
Dan Hawkins
Date Published
May 2007
12 pages
In presenting background information on communications within the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and its Incident Command System (ICS), this report examines the role of communications within these constructs and the context of multiagency response to disasters and emergencies, concluding with a review of operational best practices for the use of incident communications units.
The report first reviews the two presidential directives issued in 2003 that have had a profound impact on emergency response and management in the United States: (Homeland Security Presidential Directive) HSPD-5 and HSPD-8. HSPD-5 established single, comprehensive NIMS to be developed and administered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for use by all levels of government. HSPD-5 also required the Secretary of DHS to develop, submit for approval, and administer a National Response Plan that would use NIMS for the provision of Federal support to State and local agencies during domestic incidents. HSPD-8 provided further delineation of requirements affecting agencies receiving Federal assistance. It required development of a National Preparedness Goal that includes measures of readiness and the full implementation of an interagency grant process for first-responder preparedness assistance. After reviewing the effects of HSPD-5 and HSPD-8 on local agencies, this report presents the principles of the NIMS and its ICS. This is followed by a discussion of operational best practices to be implemented in the ICS. One of the best practices is hierarchical communications. This means that each person fulfilling an assigned role has a clear route of communication up and down the chain of command. Another category of best practices ICS incorporates pertains to communication procedures. These involve emergency traffic, channel span of control, standard language, a communications-order model, and operational unit reporting. Other ICS best practices address communications positions, communications unit staffing, and an incident communications plan.