Operations and Logistics

Disaster management is most effective when responding agencies are well trained, well practiced, and familiar with the hierarchy needed for disaster response. Before a major incident, responding organizations and personnel must be organized under a defined leadership structure to effectively coordinate and carry out the tasks needed to properly mitigate the event. One of the hallmarks of a developed country from the emergency response perspective is its ability to effectively respond to and manage a complex disaster event in an organized fashion. ,

By definition, the Incident Command System (ICS) is a management system designed to enable effective and efficient domestic incident management by integrating a combination of facilities, equipment, personnel, procedures, and communications operating within a common organizational structure. ICS is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: Command (directed by the Incident Commander [IC]), Planning (collects and disseminates information about the incident and advises about resources), Finance and Administrative (critical for tracking incident costs and reimbursement accounting), Operations, and Logistics. These functions task individuals with different responsibilities crucial for disaster response and recovery. They can also be applied routinely for local and regional incidents, not just disasters.

The Operations section is responsible for carrying out the response activities described in the Incident Action Plan (IAP). This includes directing and coordinating all operations, assisting in the development of response goals and objectives, requesting and releasing resources, and providing situation and resource status updates. The Logistics section is responsible for services and support necessary to sustain the tactical objectives of the Operations section. This includes facilities, services, materials, and personnel to operate the requested equipment for the incident. This function is most significant with respect to long-term or extended operations when more resources are required. Operations and Logistics are two completely separate functions and functional entities, but an efficient and effective Operations section at a major incident is partly dependent on a well-organized and properly functioning Logistics section.

Historical perspective

History has documented disasters on many levels all around the world. Some of the larger disasters were the result of infection (North American Smallpox Epidemic of 1775, Black Death of 1348 to 1351, Spanish Influenza in 1918) as well as natural disasters (Great Earthquake of 1202, Aleppo Earthquake of 1138, volcanic eruptions in Greece and the Pacific). These horrific events killed millions around the world. Documentation of “disaster preparation” and “disaster response” internationally was very poor, essentially nonexistent. In the United States, we have documentation of a series of fires in the city of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, in 1803. After the devastating fires demolished the area and injured many, the Seventh U.S. Congress passed the Congressional Act of 1803, which provided relief for Portsmouth merchants by extending the time they had for remitting tariffs on imported goods. This is widely considered the first piece of legislation passed by the federal government that provided relief after a disaster. , In 1900 Congress granted a charter to the American Red Cross, which had provided disaster relief following the Johnstown Flood in Pennsylvania in 1889. The charter included the mandate to “carry on a system of national and international relief in time of peace and to apply the same in mitigating the sufferings caused by pestilence, famine, fire, floods, and other great national calamities.” This was the so-called American Amendment calling for peacetime disaster relief. For the next several decades, disaster relief was expected to be delivered by charitable organizations. Military assistance, however, was provided following the San Francisco Earthquake in 1908.

The next documented federal action came in 1932, when President Herbert Hoover commissioned the Reconstruction Finance Corporation (RFC). This federal assistance lent money to banks and institutions, with the goal of stimulating the economy and is considered the first organized federal disaster response agency. Over the last half of the twentieth century, the U.S. federal government continued to grow, while disastrous events stimulated the growth of the idea of “disaster response” and “disaster preparedness” largely as a result of the effects of war, hurricanes, earthquakes, and wildfires. It is important to state that, like most laws in the United States, provisions for disaster response have been more reactive rather than proactive.

Disaster response in the United States is largely legislated at the federal level, but it is also legislated at the state and local levels. Local resources and personnel are ultimately responsible for coordinating and deploying resources needed after an incident. All disasters are “local,” and most jurisdictions across the United States authorize and recognize the Fire Chief (or designee) as the IC of any incident involving imminent danger to life or property. The exception to this is any situation that is more of a law enforcement issue (e.g., sniper, hostage situation). It is the IC who has overall authority for any disaster operation, unless he transfers command to another individual.

The IC must assess every situation and determine the scope of resources needed. If local resources are insufficient to manage the incident, additional manpower and equipment and supplies are typically requested from neighboring communities (a concept known as “mutual aid”). This may or may not be based on a formal agreement between individual agencies and/or political jurisdictions. For any major incident, local resources need to rely on each other as national resources typically take a few days to organize and deploy. In more progressive fire-rescue systems, mutual aid resources are dispatched according to a predefined algorithm or plan, and this concept is known as “automatic aid.” The difference is that “mutual aid” is requested once the scene is assessed and it is determined that there is a lack of resources. “Automatic aid” is requested by the service upon dispatch to a situation that is recognized immediately as requiring additional assistance not available at the time of the call (e.g., calling for a ladder truck from a neighboring town for a fire in a tall building).

If regional resources do not satisfy the needs of a disaster response, the traditional next step has been to request aid from the state emergency management agency. Governors can declare a state of emergency, thereby allowing for access to necessary materials, equipment, and financial resources. The state governor may also activate the National Guard. In the last 10 to 15 years, many states have developed specialty response teams capable of mobilizing in response to a disaster. These include urban search and rescue (US&R) teams, hazardous materials (HazMat) teams, weapons of mass destruction (WMD) task forces, emergency medical service(s) (EMS) and ambulance strike teams, and similar entities. In 1996, Congress enacted the Emergency Management Assistance Compact, a mutual aid agreement that allows human and material resources to cross state lines and operate in a declared disaster situation in a “state-to-state” assistance operation when requested through the proper channels and approved by the governor of the affected state. Because disaster preparedness and response evolved out of the military in the United States, many of the Logistics and Operations processes today have roots in military practice.

Throughout Europe, the European Commission coordinates emergency relief and assistance in the wake of all disasters. Floods and fires are quite common in the summer months, although all disasters are monitored for and an appropriate response is expected. The Monitoring and Information Centre (MIC) within the European Commission is a centrally based center in Brussels that monitors emergencies worldwide and coordinates European resources for relief operations. The MIC acts as a communication hub between countries after a disaster occurs, whether natural or human-made. Upon receiving a request for help, duty officers alert potential donor nations and match offers of aid to the needs on the ground. In addition to rounding up equipment and supplies, the MIC dispatches field experts to disaster sites.

Asian Disaster Preparedness Center (ADPC) is an organization that helps to reduce the impact of disasters on communities and countries in Asia and the Pacific, the most hazard-prone region in the world. Established in 1986, ADPC is an independent nongovernmental organization (NGO) that promotes disaster awareness and the development of mitigation and management policies in advance of a disaster. With headquarters located in Bangkok, ADPC also has country offices in Bangladesh, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR), and Myanmar. ADPC raises awareness, helps establish and strengthen sustainable institutional mechanisms, enhances knowledge and skills, and facilitates the exchange of information, experience, and expertise. The organization also deploys disaster risk management (DRM) information and systems to reduce local, national, and regional risk across this large region.

Australia has a system very similar to the United States. The states and territories have primary responsibility for life and property within their borders, and they must rely on their own plans and arrangements to respond to natural or human-made emergencies that threaten life or property. When a jurisdiction deems that their resources will not be able to effectively manage an incident it can ask for help from the Australian Government. This request is delivered through the Australian Government Disaster Response Plan (COMDISPLAN). Emergency Management Australia (EMA) receives the request for assistance and responds through the Australian Government Crisis Coordination Centre (CCC).

Current practice


Most disaster response begins with an immediate response from bystanders on the scene. Some will immediately act, and others will run. Most people, if able, call for help (911, 112, 118, 119, 999, etc.). Police, fire, and EMS personnel are usually the first responders to the incident or disaster. Those first on-scene will undoubtedly be overwhelmed, but these important rescuers need to sweep the scene for safety, assess the scope or extent of the situation, identify the number of victims, determine and summon additional resources needed, and then assess for the need for immediate lifesaving techniques. Disaster mitigation very often starts with the very first arriving group to the incident. Triage priorities change during any mass casualty incident (MCI), and personnel must be well versed and well trained with the concepts of disaster management and triage of multiple casualties. An initial command area, known as the emergency operations center (EOC), will need to be designated and set up in an appropriate area, followed by an assessment of short- and long-term additional resources needed from local, state, and federal partners. This will simultaneously include organizing an ICS.

Disaster operations vary in size and complexity depending on the nature and duration of the event, as well as resources needed to stabilize the incident. The operations section is responsible for managing all operations directed toward reducing the immediate hazard at the incident site, save lives and property, establish situation control, and restore the area to normal conditions ( Figure 41-1 ). This section establishes a methodical strategy and the actions needed to accomplish the goals and objectives set by Command (IC, Safety Officer, Public Information Officer, Senior Liaison, and Senior Advisors) to achieve response objectives. Common tactical resources required at a disaster incident include fire suppression, public health, public works, technical rescue, hazardous materials containment, and EMS. The incident itself will define the type and quantity of resources needed to attain the objectives set by command personnel. A hurricane, tropical storm, tornado, or earthquake may often require a national response and will have specific concerns and issues, but an act of war or terrorism will require other additional resources to be deployed.

Fig 41-1

Operations Functions.

The ICS is the national standard for providing guidance and organization with respect to the assets needed to respond to an incident and the process of the response through all stages of the event, no matter the size or complexity. The ICS introduces a number of concepts, including “Span of Control” and “Unified Command” (all discussed elsewhere in this book). It is a flexible management structure, allowing for expansion and contraction of all sectors based on the dynamics of the incident. In late 2004, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) released the National Incident Management System (NIMS) as a template to complement the ICS. NIMS is an essential foundation of the National Preparedness System (NPS). Per the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), NIMS is a “systematic, proactive approach to guide departments and agencies at all levels of government, nongovernmental organizations, and the private sector to work together seamlessly and manage incidents involving all threats and hazards—regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity.” It provides a common approach for managing all incidents consistently while allowing for flexibility. It is strongly encouraged and recommended that all agencies practice the basics on a daily basis with small incidents, so that a response to a larger incident is more seamless and practiced when it occurs.

The Operations Section Chief is the individual designated by the IC to manage and command the Operations section. He is ultimately responsible for developing and implementing strategies and tactics to meet the incident objectives set by the IC and the IAP. This plan details the objectives of the mission and how they will be met. An IAP should be written for every operational period during the disaster. Tactical decision making (i.e., how, when, and where to deploy certain resources to mitigate a disaster) is also the responsibility of the Operations Section Chief. The ability to make these decisions in a competent fashion, however, is predicated on a continual flow of information both from the field and from the command sector. If an incident spans more than one operational period (usually one work cycle), the operations chief may assign a deputy to work the opposite shift to ensure adequate time for nourishment and rest. An Operations Section Chief should be designated for each operational period.

There are several goals that the Operations Chief must accomplish during the initial stages of the response to a disaster. In addition to managing all incident tactical activities and implementing an IAP, the Operations Chief must decide how much to expand his or her organizational structure to match the size and scope of the incident, and the numbers of personnel needed for assigned operations (span of control). Supervisory personnel should be titled and placed in charge of subsidiaries within the operations section by who is most qualified to perform the task rather than on a person’s rank or predisaster title. Span of control within the Operations Section is recommended to be 1:5, but may be as high as 1:10 in larger scale incidents. If this is exceeded, branches need to be established with the same concept. The Operations Chief must decide, in conjunction with the IC and Safety Officer, what degree of risk he or she is willing to assume when sending emergency responders into an unstable environment to perform search, rescue, evacuation, medical care, and mitigation activities related to the disaster event. The Operations Chief must maintain an effective line of communication with the various components within the section as well as with the other ICS sections and the IC. Finally, the Operations Chief must understand the concept of flexibility when making decisions. Disaster events may appear static to the civilian population, but emergency responders understand that these events are dynamic in nature. Changing environmental conditions, secondary hazards, fatigue, resource availability, psychological stressors, and many other factors contribute to ever-changing disaster conditions, and these conditions require adaptability and flexibility in decision-making.

Thankfully, there is usually no reason to expand the operations section of the ICS for the great majority of local incidents. An event that the DHS labels an “incident of national significance,” however, may necessitate creation of divisions, groups, branches, task forces, and strike teams. These entities represent functional and geographic separation of duties. A good example of this was demonstrated after the 9/11 disaster. The fire department of the City of New York (FDNY) retained command and control of the entire incident and eventually developed a “unified command structure” according to principles of the ICS. The terrorist attack claimed many lives and resulted in a disaster site that spanned 16 acres. This required a large-scale expansion of the Operations section. Divisions were created according to street names that bordered the scene. Groups included functional components such as technical rescue, fire suppression, and EMS. Branches of each group were composed of personnel attached to a specific type of resource, such as the US&R branch. Within the US&R were individual US&R task forces. EMS strike teams from FDNY and surrounding mutual aid organizations were deployed in support of US&R task forces and other specialized resources. Health and medical resources to support rescue and recovery workers on site were provided by the National Disaster Medical System (NDMS) under FEMA’s Emergency Support Function (ESF) #8, using disaster medical assistance teams (DMATs).

A variety of federal resources are available to assist local ICs in planning for and handling large-scale disasters and their aftermath. Recognizing that government resources cannot meet the needs of those affected by catastrophic events, the National Response Framework (NRF) was developed to prepare communities. Updated in 2013, it provides context for how the entire community works together as well as the response efforts related to other parts of national preparedness. The NRF uses the comprehensive framework of NIMS and provides mechanisms for expedited and proactive federal support. It is a more operational incident management and resource allocation plan. The NRF aligns federal coordination structures, capabilities, and resources into a unified, all-discipline and all-hazards approach to domestic incident management. The priorities of the NRF include saving lives and protecting the health and safety of all at the incident, ensuring security of the homeland, prevention of imminent incidents, protecting and restoring critical infrastructure, and facilitating the recovery of individuals as well as families, businesses, governments, and the environment.

Regarding federal assets and personnel, there are multiple emergency response resources deployable through the DHS. US&R task forces specialize in the response to collapse of reinforced concrete buildings, and other infrastructure and their primary mission is to rescue persons trapped in confined spaces regardless of the etiology of the event. They are dispatched under ESF #9 (Search and Rescue). (As noted above, health and medical operations are deployed under ESF #8.) The NDMS is now located in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, under the purview of the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) and the Office of Emergency Management (OEM). DMATs are multidisciplinary teams of health care professionals that can provide medical care for prolonged periods in a variety of formats, when local infrastructure is incapacitated. Disaster mortuary operations response teams (DMORTs) can assist or augment local medical examiners in victim identification and mortuary services, while national veterinary response teams (NVRTs) can provide assistance when animal issues arise.


The Logistics section supports Command and Operations. This section performs technical activities to maintain the function of operational facilities and processes. Typical logistics functions during a disaster revolve around providing all the support needs for the incident, including finding and ordering supplies and other resources; searching out and setting up facilities (dining hall, incident command, etc.); arranging transportation for personnel and supplies; equipment maintenance; maintaining fuel, medical, and pharmaceutical supplies; food services; communications equipment or hardware and capabilities; and medical services for incident personnel. The size, duration, and specific needs of an incident dictate whether a separate logistics functional element must be created within the ICS. Most disasters, by definition, meet the criteria that any IC would use to establish a logistics section. Essentially, the Logistics section’s function is to figure out how to obtain what is needed and get it to where it is needed in a timely fashion. This is one of the most challenging sections, as resources are rarely preestablished. Physical space that is structurally sound can be very challenging to find, and manpower may be an issue depending on the scale of the event.

The Logistics Section Chief manages and commands this section. He or she has a list of tasks including briefing the IC, determining which facilities can be used, notifying resource units when they are activated, assessing the Incident Communications Plan, providing input with regard to preparation of the IAP, ensuring coordination between Logistics and other Command and general staff, attending planning meetings, ensuring the safety and welfare of Logistics personnel, and ensuring proper documentation with respect to Logistics tasks. If an incident spans more than one operational period (usually one work cycle), the logistics chief may assign a deputy to work the opposite shift to ensure adequate time for nourishment and rest.

The section is typically divided into two branches ( Figure 41-2 ): Service and Support. units located within the Service branch require human interaction and include Communications, Medical, and Food. The Support branch is composed of functions that typically do not involve human interaction and include Supplies, Facilities, and Ground Support.

Aug 25, 2019 | Posted by in EMERGENCY MEDICINE | Comments Off on Operations and Logistics

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