The Secret of NIMS

Georgia Ragland

By: Georgia Ragland on June 25, 2012 Print This Post

The world changed after 9/11.  Traveling by plane today is much more complicated, for one thing, but the post-9/11 world is different today in ways that go way beyond remembering not to pack nail clippers.  One significant change was the establishment by Congress of a new cabinet-level department – the Department of Homeland Security.  Unfortunately, most Americans know very little about what Homeland Security does apart from what they see on television, both fictionally and in terms of terrorist alerts.

One of the things DHS has done that many Americans may not be aware of was to issue Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 5, which established a single, comprehensive approach to incident(emergency) management.  A major challenge identified by Homeland Security for large-scale emergencies involves how to integrate lots of people, from various agencies, to work together when they have different chains of command, use acronyms and jargon unknown to the other departments, have radios that use different frequencies, have little knowledge of what the other departments’ capabilities are, and may even have different and competing objectives.

For example, firefighters may be focused on putting out a wildfire while police are  focused on discouraging looters.  This may sound simple, but what happens when a contractor delivering supplies needed for firefighting is stopped at a police barricade, and there is no way of verifying if the supplies are a legitimate order or communicating where the truck needs to go?

Emergency management professionals worked together to develop the National Incident Management System (NIMS).  FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) describes NIMS this way:  “NIMS provides an organized set of scalable and standardized operational structures, which is critical for allowing various organizations and agencies to work together in a predictable, coordinated manner.”

Of course, this only works if everyone involved is trained, and we all start from the same page.  Public safety departments are constantly training and they have quickly gotten up to speed with NIMS.  However, in a big emergency, a lot more people get involved.  Churches, the Red Cross, volunteers, public works departments, state agencies, federal agencies, purchasing departments, contractors, building officials, and even administrators and elected officials, all are called upon to play a part.

A couple of years ago, Kirkwood civilian staff and elected officials took the initial NIMS training.  Training is renewed periodically to refresh and update the public officials and employees involved.  This week, City staff and officials are completing online NIMS training.  The federal government mandates this training and certification and can withhold federal funds if the City is not in compliance.

In addition to learning how to work together, the St. Louis region has taken steps to be able to communicate with one another in an emergency.  St. Louis City and County residents along with residents of other nearby counties passed a sales tax in 2009 to fund new a new radio communication system (E-911) for all police, firefighters, public works, and municipal utilities. The new equipment will work on the same bandwidth. This will make a huge difference in our ability to train together, respond together, and deal with emergencies.

Interested in learning more? NIMS training is for everybody. It’s online and free. Check it out at:





Georgia Ragland

Written by Georgia Ragland