Why You Should Care About NIMS and NFPA Standards

Campus officials should have a clear understanding of NIMS, NFPA 1600 and NFPA 1561, as well as incorporate these codes into their emergency management programs. This first part of our three-part series discusses how both public and private sector institutions that do this can reduce their exposure to litigation in the aftermath of an incident and be better able to respond to the event itself.

Most campus safety professionals have had to adapt to the continually changing demands brought about by an ever more insecure world. Currently, the big buzz phrase in the industry is the National Incident Management System (NIMS). While most safety professionals will already be aware of NIMS and its guidelines, it should be viewed in the overall big picture of emergency management concepts, systems and protocols at the private, local, tribal, state and federal levels.

Virginia Tech now serves as the mechanism to emphasize security issues on educational and healthcare campuses, including the urgent need for standardized disaster/emergency planning, preparedness and incident command and control implementation outside of the governmental purview. Nationwide focus has been directed to find solutions to better aid responders of all emergency and disaster situations with their duties and tasks.

Unfortunately, those safeguards built into the government take time to implement. This is where entities outside of the government, or Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), have taken the lead.

We are indeed fortunate there are many public and private entities, such as the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA), working to improve the state of their industry, profession or the general welfare of the public by developing standards and codes for their practitioners. Let us now turn our focus on the guidelines associated with disaster and emergency management.

There Are Important Differences Between the Codes

Most campus professionals are aware of the hierarchy of systems. Policies provide general statements of intent, procedures define how the intent of the policy is met, and instructions define how the specific tasks of the procedure are accomplished. This is the same method used in the development of an emergency management system or program.

NFPA 1600 defines the overall requirements and intent of a complete disaster/ emergency management and business continuity program. NFPA 1561 defines how to meet the requirement under clause 5.9 for Incident Management of the NFPA 1600. NIMS is a guidance document and explains how this incident command system works, the command structure, and the roles and responsibilities of the staff levels and functions.

On Jan. 4, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issued a NIMS Alert that recommended state and local governments adopt the NFPA 1600 and NFPA 1561 standards as a means of complying with NIMS. With this in mind, many campus officials may be confused and ask why NIMS is needed at all. It is important because when a disaster or emergency strikes a campus, it is advisable, if not necessary, that the responsible personnel know how the incident command system works.

NFPA 1561 defines the structure(s) and responsibilities of the entity’s incident command. When an incident escalates beyond the campus’ capabilities, NIMS defines the incident command structure, the responsibilities that are consistent through all governmental levels, and who or what agency/department of the federal government fills the relevant position in the command structure and its scope of responsibility in a national incident.

Also, the entity may be required to comply with NIMS. According to the National Response Plan (NRP), “Private-sector owners and operators, particularly those who represent critical elements of infrastructure or key resources whose disruption may have national or major regional impact, are encouraged (or in some cases required under law) to develop appropriate emergency response and business continuity plans and information-sharing and incident-reporting protocols that are tailored to the unique requirements of their respective sector or industry, and that clearly map to regional, state, and local emergency response plans and information-sharing networks.”

Additionally, FEMA and DHS have issued a fact sheet recommending private sector entities adopt NIMS.

Noncompliance May Lead to Lawsuits

There are other fiscal reasons why a campus should have an NFPA 1600 and NFPA 1561 system/program that is compatible with NIMS. Every entity must be concerned about litigation.

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