Glossary of FEMA Terms


Assistant: Title for subordinates of the Command Staff positions. The title indicates a level of technical capability, qualifications, and responsibility subordinate to the primary positions. (FEMA)

Branch: The organizational level having functional or geographic responsibility for major parts of the Operations or Logistics functions. The Branch level is organizationally between Section and Division/Group in the Operations Section, and between Section and Units in the Logistics Section. Branches are identified by the use of Roman numerals or by functional name (e.g., medical, security, etc.). (FEMA)

Cache: A pre-determined complement of tools, equipment, and/or supplies stored in a designated location, available for incident use. (FEMA)

Chain of Command: A series of management positions in order of authority. (FEMA)

Chief: The ICS title for individuals responsible for functional Sections: Operations, Planning, Logistics, and Finance/Administration. (FEMA)

Command: The act of directing and/or controlling resources by virtue of explicit legal, agency, or delegated authority. May also refer to the Incident Commander. (FEMA)

Command Staff: The Command Staff consists of the Public Information Officer, Safety Officer, and Liaison Officer. They report directly to the Incident Commander. They may have an Assistant or Assistants, as needed. (FEMA)

Demobilization Unit: Functional Unit within the Planning Section responsible for assuring orderly, safe, and efficient demobilization of incident resources. (FEMA)

Deputy: A fully qualified individual who, in the absence of a superior, could be delegated the authority to manage a functional operation or perform a specific task. In some cases, a Deputy could act as relief for a superior and therefore must be fully qualified in the position. Deputies can be assigned to the Incident Commander, General Staff, and Branch Directors. (FEMA)

Division: Divisions are used to divide an incident into geographical areas of operation. A Division is located within the ICS organization between the Branch and the Task Force/Strike Team. (See Group.) Divisions are identified by alphabetic characters for horizontal applications and, often, by floor numbers when used in buildings. (FEMA)

Documentation Unit: Functional Unit within the Planning Section responsible for collecting, recording, and safeguarding all documents relevant to the incident. (FEMA)

Emergency: Absent a Presidentially declared emergency, any incident(s), human-caused or natural, that requires responsive action to protect life or property. Under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act, an emergency means any occasion or instance for which, in the determination of the President, Federal assistance is needed to supplement State and local efforts and capabilities to save lives and to protect property and public health and safety, or to lessen or avert the threat of a catastrophe in any part of the United States. (FEMA)

Emergency: An event affecting the overall health center’s target population and/or the health center’s community at large, which precipitates the declaration of a state of emergency at a local, State, regional, or national level by an authorized public official, such as a governor, the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, or the President of the United States. Examples include, but are not limited to: hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, tornadoes, wide-spread fires, and other natural/environmental disasters; civil disturbances; terrorist attacks, collapses of significant structures within the community (e.g., buildings, bridges); and infectious disease outbreaks and other public health threats. In situations where an emergency has not been officially declared, Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA) will evaluate on a case-by-case basis whether extraordinary circumstances justify a determination that the situation faced by the health center constitutes an “emergency” for purposes of extending Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA) coverage to services provided at temporary locations. (HRSA)

Emergency Management: The process of planning, developing, implementing, and executing a comprehensive system of principles, policies, procedures, methods, and activities designed to ensure an organization’s effective response to natural and manmade disasters affecting its environment and business operations. Emergency management is a comprehensive system, which includes planning, mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery activities. Health center emergency management entails developing a plan based on the hazard vulnerabilities likely to affect the health center, conducting exercises and drills to assure sound response and recovery activities, and includes annual reassessments and updates to recognize any new threats or vulnerabilities to improve on emergency management procedures and activities. (HRSA)

Emergency Management Coordinator/Director: The individual within each political subdivision that has coordination responsibility for jurisdictional emergency management. (FEMA)

Emergency Operations Centers (EOCs): The physical location at which the coordination of information and resources to support domestic incident management activities normally takes place. An EOC may be a temporary facility or may be located in a more central or permanently established facility, perhaps at a higher level of organization within a jurisdiction. EOCs may be organized by major functional disciplines (e.g., fire, law enforcement, and medical services), by jurisdiction (e.g., Federal, State, regional, county, city, tribal), or some combination thereof. (FEMA)

Emergency Management Plan (EMP): A document describing the comprehensive system of principles, policies, procedures, methods, and activities to be applied in response to natural and manmade disasters to ensure patient and employee safety, to mobilize resources, to maintain health center business operations, and to assist in providing mutual aid in a community-wide response requiring medical services. (HRSA)

Finance/Administration Section: The Section responsible for all incident costs and financial considerations. Includes the Time Unit, Procurement Unit, Compensation/Claims Unit, and Cost Unit. (FEMA)

General Staff: A group of incident management personnel organized according to function and reporting to the Incident Commander. The General Staff normally consists of the Operations Section Chief, Planning Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, and Finance/Administration Section Chief. (FEMA)

Group: Groups are established to divide the incident into functional areas of operation. Groups are composed of resources assembled to perform a special function not necessarily within a single geographic division. (See Division.) Groups are located between Branches (when activated) and Resources in the Operations Section. (FEMA)

General Staff: A group of incident management personnel organized according to function and reporting to the Incident Commander. The General Staff normally consists of the Operations Section Chief, Planning Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, and Finance/Administration Section Chief. (FEMA)

Group: Groups are established to divide the incident into functional areas of operation. Groups are composed of resources assembled to perform a special function not necessarily within a single geographic division. (See Division.) Groups are located between Branches (when activated) and Resources in the Operations Section. (FEMA)

Homeland Security Presidential Directives: Homeland Security Presidential Directives (HSPDs) are issued by the President of the United States on matters pertaining to Homeland Security. Two key HSPDs were created to establish national initiatives that develop a common approach to domestic incident management and include the National Response Plan (NRP), the National Preparedness Goal, the National Incident Management System (NIMS), the Universal Task List (UTL), and the Targeted Capability List (TCL). These are HPSD-5: Management of Domestic Incidents and HSDP-8: National Preparedness. (HRSA)

Incident: An occurrence or event, natural or human-caused, that requires an emergency response to protect life or property. Incidents can, for example, include major disasters, emergencies, terrorist attacks, terrorist threats, wildland and urban fires, floods, hazardous materials spills, nuclear accidents, aircraft accidents, earthquakes, hurricanes, tornadoes, tropical storms, war-related disasters, public health and medical emergencies, and other occurrences requiring an emergency response. (FEMA)

Incident Action Plan (IAP): An oral or written plan containing general objectives reflecting the overall strategy for managing an incident. It may include the identification of operational resources and assignments. It may also include attachments that provide direction and important information for management of the incident during one or more operational periods. (FEMA)

Incident Commander (IC): The individual responsible for all incident activities, including the development of strategies and tactics and the ordering and the release of resources. The IC has overall authority and responsibility for conducting incident operations and is responsible for the management of all incident operations at the incident site. (FEMA)

Incident Command Post (ICP): The field location at which the primary tactical-level, on-scene incident command functions are performed. The ICP may be collocated with the incident base or other incident facilities and is normally identified by a green rotating or flashing light. (FEMA)

Incident Command System (ICS): The ICS is a standardized on-the-scene emergency management system that is used nationwide. It is specifically designed for an integrated multi-organizational structure and is scalable to handle the complexity and demands of a single or multiple incidents without being hindered by jurisdictional boundaries. The ICS manages and coordinates facilities, equipment, supplies, procedures, and communications within a common and defined organizational structure, to effectively accomplish stated objectives pertinent to an incident. (HRSA)

Incident Objectives: Statements of guidance and direction necessary for the selection of appropriate strategy(ies), and the tactical direction of resources. Incident objectives are based on realistic expectations of what can be accomplished when all allocated resources have been effectively deployed. Incident objectives must be achievable and measurable, yet flexible enough to allow for strategic and tactical alternatives. (FEMA)

Jurisdiction: A range or sphere of authority. Public agencies have jurisdiction at an incident related to their legal responsibilities and authority. Jurisdictional authority at an incident can be political or geographical (e.g., city, county, tribal, State, or Federal boundary lines) or functional (e.g., law enforcement, public health). (HRSA)

Leader: The ICS title for an individual responsible for a Task Force, Strike Team, or functional unit. (FEMA)

Liaison Officer (LNO): A member of the Command Staff responsible for coordinating with representatives from cooperating and assisting agencies. The Liaison Officer may have Assistants. (FEMA)

Logistics: Providing resources and other services to support incident management. (FEMA)

Logistics Section: The Section responsible for providing facilities, services, and materials for the incident. (FEMA)

Managers: Individuals within ICS organizational Units that are assigned specific managerial responsibilities, e.g., Staging Area Manager or Camp Manager. (FEMA)

Mitigation: The activities designed to reduce or eliminate risks to persons or property or to lessen the actual or potential effects or consequences of an incident. Mitigation measures may be implemented prior to, during, or after an incident. Mitigation measures are often formed by lessons learned from prior incidents. Mitigation involves ongoing actions to reduce exposure to, probability of, or potential loss from hazards. Measures may include zoning and building codes, floodplain buyouts, and analysis of hazard- related data to determine where it is safe to build or locate temporary facilities. Mitigation can include efforts to educate governments, businesses, and the public on measures they can take to reduce loss and injury. (FEMA)

Mitigation: Pre-event planning/actions intended to minimize the impact of a potential disaster. Examples of mitigation activities include risk identification (hazard vulnerability assessments), structural (reinforcing/strengthening/anchoring heavy furniture and equipment), and non-structural (light fixtures/hazmat containers). (HRSA)

Mutual-Aid Agreement: Written agreement between agencies and/or jurisdictions that they will assist one another on request, by furnishing personnel, equipment, and/or expertise in a specified manner. (FEMA)

National Incident Management System (NIMS): A system mandated by HSPD-5 that provides a consistent nationwide approach for Federal, State, local, and tribal governments; the private-sector, and nongovernmental organizations to work effectively and efficiently together to prepare for, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents, regardless of cause, size, or complexity. To provide for interoperability and compatibility among Federal, State, local, and tribal capabilities, the NIMS includes a core set of concepts, principles, and terminology. HSPD-5 identifies these as the ICS; multiagency coordination systems; training; identification and management of resources (including systems for classifying types of resources); qualification and certification; and the collection, tracking, and reporting of incident information and incident resources. (HRSA0

National Preparedness Goal (NPG): The NPG will guide Federal departments and agencies, State, territorial, local and tribal officials, the private sector, non-government organizations and the public in determining how to most effectively and efficiently strengthen preparedness for terrorist attacks, major disasters, and other emergencies. The NPG also includes seven national priorities. The national priorities are: Implement the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the National Response Plan (NRP), Expanded Regional Collaboration, Implement the Interim National Infrastructure Protection Plan, Strengthen Information Sharing and Collaboration Capabilities, Strengthen Interoperable Communications Capabilities, Strengthen Chemical/Biological/Radiological/ Nuclear/Explosives Detection, Response and  Decontamination Capabilities, and Strengthen Medical Surge and Mass Prophylaxis Capabilities. Focusing on these priorities will ensure adequate infrastructure that is prepared—at the Federal, State, local, and regional levels—through shared priorities, goals, and objectives. (HRSA)

National Response Plan (NRP): A plan mandated by HSPD-5 that integrates Federal domestic prevention, preparedness, response, and recovery plans into one all-discipline, all-hazards plan. (HRSA)

Officer: The ICS title for the personnel responsible for the Command Staff positions of Safety, Liaison, and Public Information. (FEMA)

Operational Period: The period of time scheduled for execution of a given set of operation actions as specified in the Incident Action Plan. Operational Periods can be of various lengths, although usually not over 24 hours. (FEMA)

Operations Section: The Section responsible for all tactical operations at the incident. Includes Branches, Divisions and/or Groups, Task Forces, Strike Teams, Single Resources, and Staging Areas. (FEMA)

Planning Meeting: A meeting held as needed throughout the duration of an incident, to select specific strategies and tactics for incident control operations, and for service and support planning. On larger incidents, the Planning Meeting is a major element in the development of the Incident Action Plan. (FEMA)

Planning Section: Responsible for the collection, evaluation, and dissemination of information related to the incident, and for the preparation and documentation of Incident Action Plans. The Section also maintains information on the current and forecasted situation, and on the status of resources assigned to the incident. Includes the Situation, Resources, Documentation, and Demobilization Units, as well as Technical Specialists. (FEMA)

Preparedness: The range of deliberate, critical tasks and activities necessary to build, sustain, and improve the operational capability to prevent, protect against, respond to, and recover from domestic incidents. Preparedness is a continuous process. Preparedness involves efforts at all levels of government and between government and private-sector and nongovernmental organizations to identify threats, determine vulnerabilities, and identify required resources. Within the NIMS, preparedness is operationally focused on establishing guidelines, protocols, and standards for planning, training and exercises, personnel qualification and certification, equipment certification, and publication management. (FEMA)

Preparedness: Actions taken before an emergency to prepare for response. Examples of preparedness activities include developing an Emergency Management Plan (EMP) and communications plan, conducting drills and exercises, and stockpiling. (HRSA)

Prevention: Actions to avoid an incident or to intervene to stop an incident from occurring. Prevention involves actions to protect lives and property. It involves applying intelligence and other information to a range of activities that may include such countermeasures as deterrence operations; heightened inspections; improved surveillance and security operations; investigations to determine the full nature and source of the threat; public health and agricultural surveillance and testing processes; immunizations, isolation, or quarantine; and, as appropriate, specific law enforcement operations aimed at deterring, preempting, interdicting, or disrupting illegal activity and apprehending potential perpetrators and bringing them to justice. (FEMA)

Public Information Officer (PIO): A member of the Command Staff responsible for interfacing with the public and media or with other agencies with incident-related information requirements. (FEMA)

Resources: Personnel and major items of equipment, supplies, and facilities available or potentially available for assignment to incident operations and for which status is maintained. Resources are described by kind and type and may be used in operational support or supervisory capacities at an incident or at an EOC. (FEMA)

Recovery: The development, coordination, and execution of service- and site-restoration plans; the reconstitution of government operations and services; individual, private-sector, nongovernmental, and public-assistance programs to provide housing and to promote restoration; long-term care and treatment of affected persons; additional measures for social, political, environmental, and economic restoration; evaluation of the incident to identify lessons learned; post-incident reporting; and development of initiatives to mitigate the effects of future incidents. (FEMA)

Response: Activities that address the short-term, direct effects of an incident. Response includes immediate actions to save lives, protect property, and meet basic human needs. Response also includes the execution of emergency operations plans and of mitigation activities designed to limit the loss of life, personal injury, property damage, and other unfavorable outcomes. As indicated by the situation, response activities include applying intelligence and other information to lessen the effects or consequences of an incident; increased security operations; continuing investigations into nature and source of the threat; ongoing public health and agricultural surveillance and testing processes; immunizations, isolation, or quarantine; and specific law enforcement operations aimed at preempting, interdicting, or disrupting illegal activity, and apprehending actual perpetrators and bringing them to justice. (FEMA)

Response: Activities that address immediate and short-term effects of a disaster. Examples of response activities include implementing the Emergency Management Plan (EMP), implement an Incident Command System structure, and activating an Emergency Operations Center. (HRSA)

Recovery: Activities that would restore essential functions and allow for the resumption of normal operations. Examples of recovery activities include ensuring adequate backup of critical systems, assessing appropriateness of insurance coverage, and developing a business continuity plan. (HRSA)

Safety Officer: A member of the Command Staff responsible for monitoring and assessing safety hazards or unsafe situations, and for developing measures for ensuring personnel safety. The Safety Officer may have Assistants. (FEMA)

Section: The organizational level having responsibility for a major functional area of incident management, e.g., Operations, Planning, Logistics, Finance/Administration, and Intelligence (if established). The section is organizationally situated between the Branch and the Incident Command. (FEMA)

Service Branch: A Branch within the Logistics Section responsible for service activities at the incident. Includes the Communication, Medical, and Food Units. (FEMA)

Span of Control: The number of individuals a supervisor is responsible for, usually expressed as the ratio of supervisors to individuals. (Under the NIMS, an appropriate span of control is between 1:3 and 1:7.) (FEMA)

Strike Team: A specified combination of the same kind and type of resources with common communications and a Leader. (FEMA)

Supervisor: The ICS title for individuals responsible for a Division or Group. (FEMA)

Support Branch: A Branch within the Logistics Section responsible for providing personnel, equipment, and supplies to support incident operations. Includes the Supply, Facilities, and Ground Support Units. (FEMA)

Targeted Capability List (TCL): The identification of target levels of capabilities that Federal, State, local, and tribal entities must achieve to perform critical tasks for homeland security missions. Capabilities are combinations of resources that provide the means to achieve a measurable outcome resulting from performance of one or more critical tasks, under specified conditions and performance standards. The TCL identifies 37 capabilities integral to nationwide all-hazards preparedness, including terrorism. The full documentation for the TCL can be viewed at (HRSA)

Task Force: A combination of single resources assembled for a particular tactical need with common communications and a Leader. (FEMA)

Unit: The organizational element having functional responsibility for a specific incident Planning, Logistics, or Finance/Administration activity. (FEMA)

Unity of Command: The concept by which each person within an organization reports to one and only one designated person. The purpose of unity of command is to ensure unity of effort under one responsible commander for every objective. (FEMA)

Universal Task List (UTL): The UTL was developed in close consultation with Federal, State, local, and Tribal entities and national associations to help the homeland security community implement the capabilities-based planning process established under HSPD-8. The UTL is a “living” document that will continue to be refined and expanded as it is put into practice. (HRSA)

Glossary Sources:

  • HRSA Program Information Notice 2008: Federally Qualified Health Center Look-Alike Guidelines and Application
  • FEMA Emergency Management Institute, ICS Resource Center

Glossary of FEMA Terms – Download [Optimized PDF]

Glossary of FEMA Terms – Download

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