Adapting the Incident Command Model for Knowledge-Based Crises: The Case of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
The federal government has developed increasingly sophisticated approaches to addressing emergencies and crises. One successful management model is the incident command system (ICS), which was initially developed in the 1970s as a command-and-control approach for fighting forest fires, but has since been adapted to other policy domains. The Department of Homeland Security adopted the ICS model—which it renamed the National Incident Management System (NIMS)—and required its use at all levels of government in emergency and crisis situations.
This report is a case study of one science-based agency—the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the Department of Health and Human Services—which sought to use the standard NIMS model but ultimately developed a significantly revised approach to incident management. The report finds that the transformation happened because the CDC is required to produce authoritative knowledge during a crisis. This calls for a different response structure than might work for direct, frontline operations.
While the CDC experience is but a single case, it demonstrates that the ICS model can be applied as a governance approach outside the context in which it was originally developed—direct operational control of an emergency situation. As a result, the CDC experience in using, and successfully adapting, the ICS model may be useful in other “knowledge-based” agencies such as the National Weather Service, the Securities and Exchange Commission, or the Environmental Protection Agency. The report concludes with a set of recommendations to consider in applying the model to other agency settings.