FEMA Publishes NIMS 3.0

FEMA Publishes NIMS 3.0

On October 17th, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) published National Incident Management System (NIMS), Third Edition. Released fifteen months after the public draft, NIMS 3.0 is the first update of the Nation's incident management system since March of 2008. And at 132 pages it weighs in nearly 40 pages lighter than NIMS 2.0, making it more efficient, nimble. Right?

"Other than cutting 40 pages of fluff, is NIMS 3.0 different?" you ask. Why yes it is. "Is it better?" you chomp back." Well, it depends on what you mean by "better." You see, to understand why NIMS 3.0 is what it is, you must know how it grew up; you've got to meet the parents.

NIMS 1.0, 2.0 & 3.0 Covers Image

So, before diving into NIMS 3.0, let's take a brief look at the life of NIMS.

"The attacks on New York’s World Trade Center and the Pentagon were also the catalyst for major changes in legislation and policy that affected how the Federal Government would be organized to prevent subsequent attacks and respond to disasters. The changes led to the creation of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

When DHS was created in 2003, it integrated FEMA and 21 other legacy organizations. Although FEMA’s name remained intact, the Agency’s functions were transferred to the new DHS’s Directorate of Emergency Preparedness and Response. In 2005, four FEMA programs were assigned to the new DHS Office of State and Local Government Coordination and Preparedness: Emergency Management Performance Grants, Citizen Corps, Metropolitan Medical Response System, and Assistance to Firefighter Grants.

In the aftermath of the September 11th attacks, the focus throughout the Federal Government was on terrorism preparedness, prevention, protection, and response. Shortly after DHS was formed in 2003, most of FEMA’s preparedness programs were moved from FEMA and consolidated with other counterterrorism activities in a separate DHS Emergency Preparedness and Response Directorate. The rationale was that this would free FEMA to focus on disaster response, recovery, and, to some extent, on natural hazards.

Although FEMA reflected these new priorities, the Agency continued to respond to a series of significant natural disasters, including the historic hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005."

FEMA Publication 1, 2016

Why start with this quote when I'm writing about NIMS? Well, It's important to recognize that many of our challenges with NIMS today have their roots in the environment surrounding its development in 2002 and 2003. America was attacked on its soil and was at 'war' domestically and abroad.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) was a new behemoth agency with a rudder locked on a compass heading (some argue it had no compass) consistent with that mindset. Emergency management was an afterthought. It was all about law enforcement focused 'homeland security.

To be blunt, FEMA, which was responsible for writing NIMS 1.0, was a shell of its former self, a castrated agency living in a basement closet at DHS. FEMA had lost its mojo, its soul, its compass. And NIMS 1.0 reflected it.

Before breaking down NIMS 1.0, let's get a sense of why it was and continues to be needed.


Before NIMS, the Nation had no overarching incident management system. Each state, jurisdictions within states and agencies within jurisdictions did their own thing.

Makes sense, right? States have rights, and when it comes to emergency management, the Constitution does not give the federal government authority over them, right? All disasters start local, right? And they stay local, rrrriight? Uhhh..., maybe not.

And therein lies the problem.

Incident Command System Incident Management Mutual Aid Agreement National Incident Management System
       "A standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of on-scene incident management, providing a common hierarchy within which personnel from multiple organizations can be effective. ICS is the combination of procedures, personnel, facilities, equipment, and communications operating within a common organizational structure, designed to aid in the management of on-scene resources during incidents...."        "The broad spectrum of activities and organizations providing operations, coordination, and support applied at all levels of government, using both governmental and nongovernmental resources to plan for, respond to, and recover from an incident, regardless of cause, size, or complexity."        "Written or oral agreement between and among agencies/organizations and/or jurisdictions that provides a mechanism to quickly obtain emergency assistance in the form of personnel, equipment, materials, and other associated services. The primary objective is to facilitate rapid, short-term deployment of emergency support prior to, during, and/or after an incident."         "A systematic, proactive approach to guide all levels of government, NGOs, and the private sector to work together to prevent, protect against, mitigate, respond to, and recover from the effects of incidents. NIMS provides stakeholders across the whole community with the shared vocabulary, systems, and processes to successfully deliver the capabilities described in the National Preparedness System..."

When we speak of catastrophic incidents that require people, supplies, and equipment from many states and many disciplines– the people, who may not even know each other using incompatible equipment– to "systematically" work together in the worst of conditions, we must speak of incident management.

Sure, before 9/11 there had been disasters that caused interstate response heartache, Hurricane Andrew, and the Oklahoma City Bombing the most prominent at that time. But not even they could match the scale, complexity, emotional environment, and political implications of 9/11.

It was 9/11 which demonstrated that States' rights were enabling a systems upon systems approach to emergency management for large-scale incidents; it was 9/11 that blurred the lines between national security and emergency management; it was 9/11 that exposed gaping holes in the Nation's ability to coordinate a prolonged multistate incident. 

It was 9/11 that birthed NIMS 1.0

NIMS 1.0: 2004-2008

NIMS 1.0 Cover ImageNIMS 1.0, was a mandate of Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD)-5, Management of Domestic Incidents. It was intended to "provide a consistent nationwide approach for Federal, State, local, and tribal governments, to work effectively and efficiently together to prepare for, prevent, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity," wrote Homeland Security Director, Tom Ridge.

Huh! NIMS 1.0 sure seemed to be led by 'Homeland Security' dudes...

"Of course, NIMS 1.0 fractured. It had to be rushed out during one of the most chaotic times in our Nation's history..."

Go to Part 2 Here...

Karl Schmitt, MPA

Karl Schmitt, MPA

Karl is the Passionate Founder & CEO of bParati. He is on a mission to build a national network of effective, sustainable healthcare coalitions. More...

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