NIMS: The Lasting Legacy of 9/11

By Michael D. Brown
Under Secretary of Homeland Security for Emergency
Preparedness and Response

The events of 9/11 have become a part of the fabric of this nation. Those who died, both the heroic rescuers and the innocent victims, are immortalized in myriad ways and will be long remembered in song, in art and in special monuments.

And their legacy will also live on in a newly adopted management approach that builds on the long-effective incident command system coupled with lessons learned from 9/11 and elsewhere, and the realization of the new landscape facing emergency responders.

President Bush directed Secretary Tom Ridge and the Department of Homeland Security to develop the first national, standardized incident management approach to emergency incidents, known as the National Incident Management System or NIMS. This new approach will make America safer and our emergency response more effective, which is a goal of the Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5. As Secretary Ridge says, NIMS puts into practice the concept of “one mission, one team, one fight.”

So what is NIMS and how will this new system affect you? Quite simply, NIMS establishes standard incident management processes, protocols and procedures so that all responders – including those at the federal, state, tribal and local level – can coordinate their response actions. By using this same standardized procedure, responders will share a common focus and be able to place full emphasis on resolving the event.

The response community will be united as never before with practices developed and proven in the past and vetted by emergency representatives from all sectors of the country.

The Incident Command System (ICS) is one of the key features of NIMS. This should be reassuring for those of you who have been using this system for years. We know that ICS works. The principles of unified command have also been incorporated into NIMS to ensure joint decision making in multi-jurisdictional events.

Another key feature of NIMS includes communication and information management. Responders and managers across all agencies, professions and jurisdictions must have a common operating picture for a more efficient and effective response. We’ve already identified technical specifications for a baseline, interoperable communications system as a short-term solution while we work on a longer-term approach.

NIMS also uses the Joint Information System, long part of FEMA’s all-hazards disaster response, to provide accurate, timely information to the public. The Joint Information System also incorporates preparedness, including planning, training, exercises and certification. All of these preparedness actions ensure that pre-incident approaches are standardized and consistent with overall accepted principles. In fact, federal preparedness funding will be linked to the adoption of NIMS to further ensure a standardized approach. NIMS also places emphasis on mitigation, including public education and outreach, to reduce loss of life and property.

The NIMS Integration Center, called the NIC, will provide strategic direction and oversight of NIMS. The NIC was established by Secretary Ridge with FEMA as the lead in order to assure the all-hazards approach is an integral part of our response training. The NIC will develop and facilitate national standards for NIMS education and training and long-term refinement of the system over time. The NIC will continue to use the collaborative process that first created NIMS, ensuring that you continue to have a voice in how this nation sets standards in emergency response.

The training experts at FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute have created an online course to help first responders understand the concepts and principles underlying NIMS and how to begin incorporating NIMS into their own planning and policies. The course takes about three hours and those who successfully complete it receive a certificate. I strongly urge you to take the few hours necessary to learn more about this important system. Go to:

NIMS just makes sense. We want everyone responding to an event to use the same management approach, to be able to communicate, to be able to resolve the incident as quickly and efficiently as possible. Clearly that is a goal shared by all of us in emergency management. Using NIMS makes response safer for responders and victims alike. It will no doubt save lives in the future. I believe this is one of the greatest and most fitting tributes to the men and women who died on Sept. 11, 2001.

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