I was attracted to this post by Chris Bellavita at Homeland Security Watch, where he discusses the use of Incident Command System (ICS) in the federal response to the BP oil spill. For those of you who haven't heard of ICS, it is a way to develop a unified, standard approach to responding to incidents or accidents when you've got a cast of agencies involved. It was developed by the military, who as you may suspect, loves unified, standard approaches to command and control. It works best, however, when everyone understands the system and everyone has practiced the process in exercises prior to the incident. So the question is, does ICS really work as the one standard approach to all accidents and incidents?
I don't know the answer to that question. There are a lot of qualifications to such a discussion, but it's one that's worthy of an analytical study. My impression is that ICS works well for the state and local response, and as for folding in the federal agencies, that all depends on how well the feds work with the state and local officials. But the approach, on its own, appears to be sound. Using the federal response to Deepwater Horizon may be illustrative for how not to do ICS. There is this one report of heavy staffing by BP personnel to the point where neighboring state officials are being deliberately excluded from assisting. Reports of integrating international offers of assistance have not been encouraging.
BP has been allegedly doing its best to block reporters from covering the oil spill's effects as it hits the shoreline. The Danger Room reports that BP is going so far as to hire security specialists to stop reporters from getting to the scene of the spill. And hiring operators to take calls from the concerned public probably doesn't help when BP uses this as a vehicle to shield its corporate office from complaints. I'm not sure how this plays out when the ICS process executes its public information plan. All taken together, it ought to be very healthy to review how the federal goverment has implemented ICS for this major operation and where it could improve the process, either through cleaner implementation or changing the way it's exercised, in preparation for future significant incidents and accidents.