The History of the Incident Command System

Homeland Security Presidential Directive 5 (HSPD-5) and the subsequent release of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) have recently made the Incident Command System (ICS) a household concept among emergency management and incident response personnel.  Many people misleadingly point to NIMS as the commencement of ICS application to all-risk, all-hazards incident management, but they may not be aware of ICS’s complete origins.

ICS was developed by an interagency group in Southern California called FIRESCOPE (FIrefighting RESources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies).  While the group originally set out to develop a system to support wildland fire management, the design intent of the system almost immediately evolved into an all-risk, all-hazards system with far greater applicability than simply wildland fires. Since inception, ICS has been successfully implemented across a myriad of incidents and events, enabling responders to speak a common language and more effectively handle crises.

EMSI has compiled, from several sources, a comprehensive history of ICS and has made it available on our website.  The history tracks the simultaneous development of ICS and the Multiagency Coordination System (MACS) in the 1970s, the first application in the wildland fire and all-hazards environments, expansion outside of the fire service, ICS implementation in the U.S. Coast Guard, national adoption in the United States after 2004, and international adoption and application.  The history even discusses the precursor to ICS, the Large Fire Organization (LFO) and how that helped shape some of the ICS organization and concepts.

As this is a working history, we will continue to update it as we come across additional facts and details.  If you have something to contribute to this history, please do not hesitate to contact us.

History of ICS