Using Incident Command System (ICS), and learning from it

When I was stationed in California during 1997, there was a significant Mystery Oil Spill  that was leaving tarballs along the California coast from San Francisco, north to Oregon.  Oil was coating wildlife, leaving a destructive mess and killing thousands of birds and seals.  It’s far reaching impact concerned environmentalist, residents, and authorities.  It was during the Coast Guard’s response to this mystery spill, that I first worked utilizing the  Incident Command System (ICS).  This concept was developed in 1968 to assist firefighters and address problems that often occurred due to  “communication and management deficiencies, rather than lack of resources or failure of tactics.”

I had been properly trained to use ICS.  However, field application and training can vary, and as a newly assigned member at the Marine Safety Office of San Francisco Bay, I was a bit “wet behind the ears”.  After being placed into a watch rotation for the spill response, I quickly learned my role.  I was most impressed by watching the role of local, state and federal agencies all come together to provide expertise of weather, tides, historical knowledge, spill response and clean up tactics best applied to the varied area(s).  This was a live, and unfolding use of multiple disciplines coming together to serve, and truly being transdisciplinary to not only identify the source of the mystery oil, but minimize the impact to the coast of California and quickly address clean up and wildlife concerns.  The multiple agency response lasted several months and was intensely followed by the local community.  The impacted region included a large shipping port, an area of affluent recreational boaters and high tourism, and environmentally sensitive coastline.

photo courtesy of the San Francisco Maritime National Historic Park.

The ship responsible was later identified as S.S. Jacob Luckenbach, which sank in 180′ of water 17 miles off San Francisco, in 1953.  When it sank it was carrying  457,000 gallons of bunker fuel.  It has been linked to both disasters of 1997-1998 and 2001-2002.  An estimated 51,569 birds between 1990 and 2003 were killed, including 31,806 Common Murres and 45 Marbled Murrelets; and 8 sea otters.

During other assignments, ICS was used to bring together multiple agencies and expertise to not only respond to an oil spill, but to handle the needs and preparedness for when a potential disaster could occur.  We used ICS during events such as the World Series, the New York Marathon, the President’s Inaugural Parade, and all natural disaster preparation and response.  ICS is used today by state, local and federal agencies from FEMA to Fish & Game, your local fire department and all military services.  ICS was one of my first exposures to a Unified Command, and is a great example of Interdisciplinarity.  I’m very pleased to take these real life experiences from my career, and see how bringing multiple disciplines together and being Interdisciplinary can be applied to my education.


One thought on “Using Incident Command System (ICS), and learning from it”

  1. This just makes me so excited for all of those yeoman credits in your IDS contract! What an amazing story to hear about this, and to think about how this informs your integration of academic subjects as you return to the classroom. Students here are so lucky to have you in class with them, and it makes me excited to think ahead to your capstone as well…ok so I am getting ahead of myself…

    Would love to see you run a workshop for faculty here on military approaches to collaboration across sectors/fields/units…very interesting stuff…

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