Enhancements to the ICS-202

Anyone who has been through at least intermediate level ICS training (ICS-300) understands that one of Command’s many responsibilities is to establish the incident priorities and objectives and to communicate them to all responders.  The two most common mechanisms for communicating these Command Directions are verbally during Operational Planning Cycle meetings and documentation on the ICS-202 form.  But when it comes to establishing Command Direction, should Command simply stop at priorities and objectives?

On simple incidents (Type 5 and Type 4), this might be sufficient, but as we expand in complexity to Type 3 and beyond incidents, we often find that Command needs to establish and communicate a more thorough set of Command Direction to adequately guide the response organization.  This article introduces an enhanced ICS-202 that can be utilized to capture a more comprehensive set of Command Direction.  Although not always taught in standard ICS curriculum, such detailed Command Direction may be required on complex incidents in an effort to foster more comprehensive incident management in complex situations. 

Traditional ICS-202

The most commonly used ICS-202 is very basic, including only two primary fields for Command to enter information:

  • A block for the objectives
  • A somewhat ambiguous block that can be used to capture information as varied as priorities, Command emphasis, safety message, or weather, to name a few.

Assuming the ICS-202 is most commonly used to document priorities and objectives, let’s review the following definitions.


Priorities are critical factors that influence the allocation of resources or actions necessary to achieve incident objectives.  When listed in order of importance, priorities provide the IMT with guiding factors to consider when taking action and managing their functional responsibilities.  When objectives or specific tasks are in-conflict, such that they cannot be accomplished simultaneously, incident response personnel should refer to the priorities to determine which objective or task takes precedent.



Objectives, simply stated, are Command’s desired outcomes.  More thoroughly, they are actionable statements of direction that guide the efforts or actions of the IMT to achieve Command’s desired outcome.  Objectives clearly describe the outcomes that the response organization is working to achieve without being overly prescriptive and limiting the options to accomplish the objective.  They are necessary for the selection of management actions to address the problem or for the selection of operational strategies and tactical direction of resources.

Some people use the SMART mnemonic when crafting objectives, requiring objectives to be Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time Sensitive (there are several variations of SMART).  Another, simpler mnemonic, is AMF: Achievable, Measurable, Flexible.  However you develop them, objectives are actionable and as such, commonly begin with an action verb.

Objectives are typically operational or management in nature.  Operational objectives address operational response issues and are based on realistic expectations of what can be accomplished when all allocated resources have been effectively deployed.  The Operations Section Chief is responsible for accomplishing these objectives and plans for how to meet them in the Incident Action Plan (IAP). Management objectives address non-operational incident management issues.  The rest of the Command & General staff is responsible for accomplishing these objectives and the plan for how to meet them is not typically captured in the IAP.

Other Considerations for ICS-202

In addition to priorities and objectives, what other elements of Command Direction can, and should, be documented on the ICS-202 in complex incidents?  Below are some of the ICS-202 gaps identified in our experience, so let’s discuss these key areas:

  • Intent
  • Operational Period Emphasis
  • Key Decisions
  • Critical Information Reporting Requirements

Command, whether Single or Unified, must have a vision of an end-state or acceptable overall outcome.  Whether you call it Leader’s Intent or Command Intent, this is a clear, concise statement of purpose for the response organization to ensure all responders are on the same page and know what must be done to succeed.  It should guide and help align the actions of the IMT, spell out the overall goal, provide a sense of direction, and inform decision-making at all levels.  The intent statement breaks the incident response mission into three parts:

  • Task: What is to be done
  • Purpose: Why it is to be done
  • End State: How it should look when complete
Operational Period Emphasis

In addition to intent, priorities, and objectives, Command may issue a statement clarifying the incident response and management emphasis for a given Operational Period.  This is called Operational Period Emphasis and should be communicated at the Command & General Staff Meeting, included in the Incident Action Plan on the ICS-202, and briefed to all incident personnel at the Operations Briefing.  It may include specific direction or expectations, anticipated accomplishments, or major milestones for the Operational Period.  This statement from Command can be valuable to an IMT when particularly important time periods within an incident lifecycle are approached in an upcoming Operational Period and added clarity and emphasis from Command will help with unity of effort.  

Key Decisions

IMTs rely heavily on Command to make effective decisions that enable them to carry out their responsibilities in support of the response effort.  Key decisions consist of specific and immediate directions provided by Command and communicated to the IMT.  Key decisions are issued during the initial stages of the response when critical initial decisions must be made, in periods of the response when more formalized direction has not yet been developed, when the dynamics of the incident are rapidly evolving, or at any other time Command deems necessary to fill gaps in their clarity of direction.  These decisions need to be communicated and understood by the IMT.

Critical Information Reporting Requirements

Critical Information Reporting (CIR) Requirements are specific information thresholds of which Command requires immediate notification.  They are typically a comprehensive list of critical time-sensitive information requirements that must be reported through the chain-of-command to facilitate timely decision-making at all levels, and should be understood by all responders.

The Enhanced ICS-202

So what improvements have we made?  We’ve chosen to close those gaps we identified above by incorporating them into our ICS-202. The enhanced ICS-202 includes the following components of Command Direction and is included in the IAP.

  • Intent
  • Objectives
  • Priorities
  • Operational Period Emphasis
  • Key Decisions
  • Critical Information Reporting Requirements

An example for a mock scenario is provided to illustrate how we envision the updated ICS-202’s employment. In addition, a blank fillable Adobe pdf version of the form is available on our website.

But What About…

Limitations and Constraints

We often teach that Command should identify and communicate potential limitations and constraints.   Limitations and constraints are influences that may hinder the completion of a planned action or something that may adversely affect how or when a task can be performed.  They may be the result of difficulties in the operating environment, technical challenges, health or safety hazards, agency policy, budget constraints, public perception, or political influences or implications, to name a few.  Identifying potential limitations and constraints helps set realistic expectations for the IMT while further defining the operating environment and encouraging consideration of alternative approaches.

While EMSI believes strongly that limitations and constraints need to be identified and communicated, this element of Command Direction is sometimes best kept internal to the IMT.  With IAPs oftentimes becoming public documents, or even just documents that become widely disseminated outside of the IMT, documenting potential limitations and constraints on the ICS-202 and in the IAP can become politically sensitive.  For this reason, EMSI recommends keeping limitations and constraints as a stand-alone internal document.

Incident Operating Procedures (IMT Operating Procedures)

Incident Operating Procedures are specific procedures required to ensure incident personnel utilize consistent processes and protocols while working on the incident.  Incident Operating Procedures are required when various agency procedures are in conflict and have potential to complicate the overall management of the incident or a unique situation arises that requires an incident specific procedure. Command is responsible for identifying the need for Incident Operating Procedures and then assigns the task of developing the procedure to a staff member.

The requirement to develop an Incident Operating Procedures is typically communicated through Staff Assignments.  Once these procedures are developed, they may be included in the IAP if appropriate.

Staff Assignments

Staff Assignments are specific taskings given by Command to a member of the Command & General Staff.  These assignments may be issued for a number of reasons, including completing a specific task or action, or developing a specific incident operating procedure.  Staff Assignments are usually clear, direct, and deadline driven, but need not be issued for routine activities that fall within the normal work scope of a functional area, unless Command has specific direction on how or when it should be completed.  Staff Assignments differ from Objectives in that they are specific, short-term assignments for a member of the Command & General Staff, as opposed to a longer-term, desired end-state or Command.

While the completion of these taskings and assignments is required to support overall incident management, they are not typically captured in the IAP and instead are documented on an Open Action Tracker (ICS-233).

Safety Message or Emphasis

It has become commonplace for a general message and guidance related to incident safety to be included in the IAP.  On the traditional ICS-202, there is a small space for this type of message, typically lumped in under the block for priorities and operational period emphasis.  Most Safety Officers prefer the opportunity to develop a full-page message and include the safety message as a standalone page in the IAP, usually right before or right after the ICS-202.  This safety message does not have a standard ICS form number.

Closing Thoughts 

Effective incident management in complex incident management environments requires mindful application of incident management tools.  We highly encourage Incident Commanders to consider the full suite of Command Direction tools available to them to effectively lead and manage the incident, and when appropriate, make use of this enhanced ICS-202 to document and communicate some of that direction through the IAP.

EMSI is a premier all-hazards, full-service, multi-discipline incident management and emergency management services and solutions provider.  Additionally, EMSI is a global leader in the application of the Incident Command System (ICS) for all-risk, all-hazards, multi-discipline incidents.  Our ICS related services include ICS training development and delivery, ICS-themed exercises, ICS coaching, and response.  Contact us today to learn how EMSI can help your organization manage response incidents, large or small.