An analysis of Incident Command System

Chang, Hsien-Ho
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University of Delaware
This dissertation explores the nature of the Incident Command System. I utilized the lens of organizational theory (especially in the discussions between mechanistic and organic system) to review the majority of ICS research and discussions over the past several years. After my literature review, I developed the following research question: to what degree is the ICS mechanistic versus organic? I utilized two methodological analyses to answer my research question. The first analysis I conducted is the content analysis. I analyzed two official ICS documents and three ICS online training courses, and found that this system combines both mechanistic and organic design elements. From this analysis, I also found that there are nine ICS decision points that determine whether this system leans towards being more mechanistic or organic in nature. Consequently, to further understand how responders make these decisions on the ground, I conducted a second type analysis: in-depth qualitative interviews followed by data analysis. Results from my interviews illustrate that this system is a combination system that includes both mechanistic and organic design elements, and also demonstrate that there are many ICS organic characteristics hidden within its mechanistic structure. Based on the literature I read and the two analyses that I conducted, I draw five conclusions in this research: 1) Future ICS researchers have to think about how this system actually is being used at the disaster scene, 2) Future ICS discussions should think about the different scales of disasters involved, 3) It is necessary to look at events of the same scale where different choices were made, 4) People need to understand the implementation of the ICS across all scenes and incidents, and 5) Future ICS research should treat the ICS as a new type of system.