Bahamas + 22 more

USAID/OFDA Newsletter Aug 2009 - Regional office for Latin America and the Caribbean, San Jose, Costa Rica



Latin American Countries Adopt the Incident Command System

USAID/OFDA is providing assistance to 16 countries in Latin America and the Caribbean (LAC) that are implementing the Incident Command System (ICS).

The ICS is a predefined chain of command first employed in the U.S. state of California in the 1970s in response to extensive forest fires. The system helps response personnel - firefighters, police, medical staff, and others - collaborate more effectively during responses to emergency situations.

"USAID/OFDA is helping strengthen the capacities of first response organizations and supporting countries in their efforts to establish procedures and protocols for managing emergencies," explained disaster management specialist María Luisa Alfaro, who oversees the ICS component of the USAID/OFDA Regional Disaster Assistance Program (RDAP).

The ICS project has its roots in a USAID/OFDA survey conducted in the early 1990s that suggested the region's emergency response institutions had various organizational and operational deficiencies when it came to responding to disasters. USAID/OFDA launched its ICS project in May 2003 and today assists Argentina, Barbados, Bolivia, Brazil, Colombia, Costa Rica, Ecuador, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Mexico, Nicaragua, Panama, Paraguay, Peru, and Venezuela with 23 different processes to implement the ICS.

Implementation of the ICS processes varies greatly, as some began in 2003 and others just last year. For example, the Cali Volunteer Firefighters Corps in Colombia and the Firefighters Corps of El Salvador have succeeded in training 100 percent of their staff and recently finalized their institutional procedures manuals, while other organizations working to implement the ICS have trained approximately 5 percent of their personnel so far.

RDAP technical manager Fabian Arellano points to the Cali Volunteer Firefighters Corps' adoption of USAID/OFDA training standards as a significant example of the project's success.

"The Cali Volunteer Firefighters Corps has just published its 2009 Operative Procedures Manual on the organization's website ( with an introduction recognizing USAID/ OFDA's role in creating the manual. Additionally, the organization recently adopted norms requiring the completion of USAID/OFDAdesigned courses in order to work as a volunteer firefighter as well as to be eligible for promotion within the corps," Arellano explained.

Last month, in response to the increasing interest of the region's states, provinces, municipalities, and individual response agencies in adopting the ICS, USAID/OFDA published its "Guide for Orienting the Implementation of the ICS Process in Latin America and the Carribean." The guide, available in English, Spanish, and Portuguese, provides an overview of the five phases recommended for implementing an ICS process: approximation, construction of the base line, training, implementation, and consolidation and follow-up.

USAID/OFDA provides training to interested parties who have committed to implementing the ICS. Training packages include information for leaders, basic and intermediate ICS courses, specialization workshops, and courses for local instructors to provide the ICS courses to ensure the ICS process becomes self-sustaining.

The two-day basic ICS course provides first responders with an overview of the system and how it works. The more advanced fourday ICS course is geared toward decision-makers and provides participants with the capabilities necessary to apply the system during large-scale events. It covers ICS principles and structure, installations, resources, expansion and contraction of the structure, the incident action plan, mobilization, demobilization, and closure.

During the past five years, 9,547 men and women from throughout Latin America and the Caribbean have successfully completed the basic ICS course, and more than 2,895 participants have taken the intermediate ICS course. Additionally, USAID/OFDA has trained 262 instructors to provide the basic course and 89 instructors to provide the intermediate course.