Become a leader in your community and log on!

Brian Usher
Director of Public Works & Engineering
City of Zion, Illinois
Member, APWA Emergency Management Committee

The Department of Homeland Security's Federal Emergency Management Agency, in consultation with public works professionals, recently released an online course to introduce the concepts of incident command to public works employees and their managers.

The Incident Command System (ICS) was developed in the 1970s by California firefighters to manage large wildfire response operations. It was found to be a very effective response system and was adopted across the country by other fire departments. After gaining wide acceptance in the fire community, ICS migrated to other disciplines, such as emergency medical services and law enforcement. With the creation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), all emergency responders—including public works—must use ICS to manage emergencies.

ICS addresses many of the major stumbling blocks usually encountered in any emergency response, including poor communication and coordination between agencies operating at the scene, confusion over roles and responsibilities (who does what and when), and inefficient resource management practices.

Since public works is an important part of the nation's response system, it is important that we understand how ICS works and how we plug into the program.

IS-700, an introduction to NIMS, is a web-based course that takes roughly two hours to complete and is divided into five lessons. The course includes a knowledge test that, if passed, will result in a certificate of completion being sent to the individual.

Why should you take this time? For many years we in public works have supported our emergency response departments with everything from vehicles and equipment to manpower when the need arises. From tornadoes to terrorist attacks and fires to floods, our people and equipment have played key roles in the response and recovery efforts in our communities. In the past four years the public works profession has been acknowledged as a member of the emergency responder community. We always were, but now it has been acknowledged.

As in everything we do, ICS has its own language, acronyms, and processes. In order to support our communities to our best ability, it is essential that we in public works make this effort to learn and practice this system. If we are going to talk the talk, we also need to walk the walk.

The course is available online at When you log on, the tutorial begins and walks you through the registration and class procedure process.

Become a leader in your community and log on! We owe it to our residents to be as familiar as we can so that when an emergency strikes, we are all talking the same language and working together.

Brian Usher received APWA's Top Ten Public Works Leader of the Year Award in 2005. He can be reached at (847) 746-4064 or