Over the last 15 years I have read many articles that touch on some aspect of prepper group organizing. Most have focused on security, and that is understandable. However, all of the articles have been written for a “quick read” and easy solutions. The whole “quick read” thing is based on the assumption that everyone now has ADD/ADHD and won’t spend the time reading a long article…regardless of critical importance. So the authors devolve into providing quick fixes, usually with little actual experience or forethought into what they are proposing. I will do no such thing.
I will explain why organization is important, what has failed in the past, what has actually proven to work and why. My preference would be that you have read, understand, and pre-organized at least your family if not a self-reliance (i.e. prepper) group.
Several years ago on a private members-only website I shared how ICS was a perfect match for preppers. It is the ultimate organizational system to deal with any type of, and any size of, emergency incident or disaster. It is scalable from a very small incident to something along the lines of the response to 9/11 in NY.
How do I know that and can speak with such confidence that it can scale that large? Simple, I attended an ICS academy in 2003 with a Battalion Chief from the FDNY who was on the scene when the towers went down. He was the senior fire department officer on the pile immediately afterwards. We were on the same team at the 2003 NY ICS Academy and he told me that after the towers fell they were lost because they didn’t know ICS. He told me unequivocally that if they had understood and been using ICS they could have been far more able to effectively respond to the horrific event.
I have participated in some 2,000+ ICS incidents over my career, before that we used different organization and command models. And then of course there was my military time where we had a very rigid command structure. So I have a pretty wide and deep pool of experience to draw from. Unfortunately, much of that experience was learning “what not to do” vs. “what to do.”
So how does this tie into “prepping” again? Well, I am going to take the most extreme position and refer to a “grid-down event” that requires the highest degree of application of prepper skills and resources. But not to worry, the system can scale back to much smaller and less extreme applications.
Now, for the “name” of this system, I was leaning towards ZCS (Zombie Command System) but that didn’t sound especially professional. Then I went with something that sounded by applicable POS (Prepper Organizational System). But“POS” has some negative connotations associated to it. And then there was the whole “command” word associated with what it was going to be called. In today’s warm and fuzzy cultural environment I thought that there may be some folks that took exception to being “commanded” and such. So I will hold off with any official designation for the system. In the meantime I will refer to it as it is currently called in emergency responder terms – ICS.
And “incident” will be the word I use for any emergency, disaster, or “grid-down” event. It will apply to your neighborhood group, your self-reliance group or your militia. It will make it easier for continuity purposes and you can apply it as you see fit. This may be one of the most important skills and information you ever learn.
For you military folks you may be wondering why I don’t embrace the military organizational structure. One simple reason, it sucks!
Depending on the military source there are approximately 5 – 15 support personnel for each combat person that ever sets foot on the battlefield. In the ICS system the ratio is far-far less. In many instances a team of 28 – 75 support people can handle 3 – 6 times as many Operations Section personnel. So the ICS system is more efficient in providing effective support than a military system. Much of that is due to the streamlined organizational structure and removal of redundancy. And the military support system tends to be very inflexible and unable to adapt to rapidly changing conditions and situations with any speed or dexterity.
- An overall dangerous environment relative to the safety of people.
- Rapidly occurring events with little to no advanced warning or knowledge
- Of those events.
- Significantly unreliable information; both content and sources.
- Lack of reliable communications.
- Unknown and unpredictable future.
- Potential lack of any infrastructure.
- Confusion, uncertainty
Before we can talk about how good the ICS system is, let’s talk about the challenges that we will face as preppers trying to organize after an event. Here is a partial list as it applies to organizing:
- Different backgrounds of people.
- Different level of professional and hobby skill sets.
- Different career/industry terminology.
- Different career/industry organizational structures.
ICS can address these issues. But before we get into all the details of that, let me list some of the benefits of ICS:
- Based on matching common “needs” with people providing specific skills
- Single terminology
- Logic & practical
- Easy to learn
- Ensures accountability of people
- Ensures clear line of authority
- Ensures clear lines of communications and an organized communications plan
Common Needs – Every response to every incident always has a set of common “needs” that have to be addressed. Sometimes those needs are simple and easily met, other times it becomes much more complicated. But the common needs are:
- Leadership (a.k.a. command)
- Administration & Financial
Everyone who will be with you when the grid goes down has certain knowledge, skills, training and abilities known as “qualifications.” ICS places the most qualified person in the position where they are needed most. Everyone is utilized, skills are maximized.
Scalable – ICS can be used in a very small application. We use it on single engine responses all the way to organizing 5,000 people on Oregon’s largest wildfire in their state’s history. The key is the “needs” mentioned above don’t change, just the scale changes. And ICS can grow and shrink throughout the incident depending on the tempo of events.
Flexible – ICS can be utilized by EVERY possible kind of incident, event, disaster, emergency or even grid-down, and it works. The organizational structure is such that it can meet all the needs of any kind of incident. How well you understand ICS dictates how easy the process goes.
Single Terminology – Regardless of the background of an individual, ICS provides terminology that unites everyone into speaking the same language. Industry or profession specific terminology is set aside and ICS terminology is used. This eliminates the potential for misunderstanding due to lack of common terms.
Logical & Practical – When the principles and application of ICS are understood it is easy to see how it all just seems “to make sense” when put into practice. There is logic and commonsense put into every aspect of ICS to make it as effective and efficient as possible.
Easy to Learn – Yes, this might be subjective; especially if you have to overcome or “unlearn” some other system. But the delegation of responsibilities and processes makes it “feel right” as you learn.
Accountability – This is one area where many organizational structures breakdown. Accountability is referred to in two ways; 1) Tasks and responsibilities can be dropped and forgotten by people thinking someone else is responsible for handling it. That is not the case with ICS. Responsibility is clearly identified and followed-up on. 2) the most important aspect of accountability is safety. With ICS everyone is “accounted for” as in everyone answers to someone above them. And that supervisory person has the responsibility to ensure the safety of everyone who works for them.
Line of Authority – Known in many organizational structures as “Chain of Command,” the principle is the same. Each person takes orders from only one person and is only responsible/accountable to that person they take direction from. This facilitates the flow of directions, orders, reporting and the proper exchange of information.
Communications – As touched on in “Line of Authority,” communications has a clear “route” in ICS. Status reports and orders flow between subordinate and supervisor. One is responsible and accountable for sending the information, the other is responsible that it is received and processed accordingly. While there is formal communications in the form of orders and reports, there is also the informal free-flow of information between ICS functions to ensure needs are coordinated and met.
Let’s recap the benefits, ICS provides an organizational structure that outlines responsibilities and accountability using clear easily understood common terminology while maintaining as safe an environment as possible.
Sounds like a good organizational structure to me!
Let me touch on a couple other points before going on:
- If you have an existing organizational structure, fine. I am not telling you that you have to change it. I am just saying that ICS has proven itself in hundreds of thousands of incidents of every size to be the single most effective way to handle emergencies and disasters of any type and size you can imagine.
- If you belong to a religious organization and tell me “We will use the existing line(s) of authority that our church uses.” ICS is based on needs and skills not on religious authority. I can tell you that in my lay-member run church (LDS) when we reviewed it at the Stake level (13 combined congregations) ICS was seen as a perfect match with the church organizational structure; no conflict at all. Commonsense and logic doesn’t get tossed out when religion is thrown in.
So how and where does all of this “organizational stuff” get started?
Define the “need” first. Without a need you don’t have to do anything at all. But once a need is established then you begin organizing to meet that need.
“Form follows function. Function is based on need.”
Caution, there will be some folks, maybe even highly respected folks that will state that you have to be flexible and adaptable for post grid-down and not get locked into any one plan.
OK, so the next time you have brain surgery ask the surgeon if he has a plan. Ask him how much planning goes into brain surgery. No doubt about it, he will be flexible and adaptable when performing the surgery, but I guaran-damn-tee you he had a plan or two in mind BEFORE he slices your head open.
So dismiss the folks that are “organizational nay-sayers” they are probably so anti-organization based on their own personal failures with previous systems. But don’t let them talk you into something that has failed in the past. There is a reason for the old saying “Fail to plan, plan to fail.”
OK, back to defining the “need” and how to organize for it. The “need” always starts on the ground. Because everything important starts on-the-ground based on a need, nothing important and relevant starts at the top of some bureaucracy. A quick look at our government can confirm that statement.
So a “need” is identified. For this “grid-down” conversation let’s set-up the scenario.
- An event has taken place.
- All transportation is disrupted and is not moving.
- All forms of normal communication is non-existent.
- Police and fire are non-functional.
- Infrastructure is failing and will be non-operational soon.
So, what is you first “need” to be concerned with?
If you have studied any serious emergency and disaster response course material you are aware of L.I.P.S. Or you may have read about it on this website through my articles on the subject. But, a quick review:
Life Safety: The #1 priority during any incident or event is life safety – protecting people from death or injury – in that order.
Incident Stabilization: Don’t let an incident get worse than it already is. The idea is simplistic in nature; the incident is already bad, something has gone wrong, don’t take actions that makes it worse.
Property Conservation: Don’t destroy anything you don’t have to. While that makes all the sense in the world if you give it a second of thought, it escapes many while trying to deal with an emergency or event. Just don’t destroy anything you don’t have to.
Societal Restoration – That’s a mouthful but you just want to put everything back the way it was (or better) before the event or incident occurred. The community, neighborhood, family or individual was in a certain condition prior to an event or incident. The concept is to return that entity to the original condition; or in better condition.
So you now know that the priority is always “life safety” and you must identify those issues that jeopardize life safety. Once that is done, then you decide how to mitigate those issues. The result is a lists of “needs.”
Taking a very simple and basic “need” assuming that all members of your family are home when an event occurs – water. Water is a high priority item to have on-hand. When an event jeopardizing the water supply occurs you must try and fill every possible container with water while it is still running from the tap. So who handles that task? Who is responsible that it happens?
Let’s make it a little more dramatic; your 10-family prepper group is located in your neighborhood. Now, who handles the water issue for the entire group?
But going back to L.I.P.S., is that the #1 priority? No, it is not. Safety of the group is important. So who handles the safety? Safety from what? Do you put a “guard detail” into place? If so, who handles that? What about acquiring fuel for vehicles? Fuel will run out soon so you better get a bunch of it while it is still available. Yes?
So I could keep going with this but it would provide little additional benefit. You already see how quickly this could spin out of control and overwhelming with so many tasks that need accomplished. And responding to a grid-down event is not linear. You must be able to have your group accomplish multiple missions and tasks at once. Hence, the term “multitasking” but this is on a larger scale and with far more urgency.
The natural thing to do would be to start assigning people to the tasks. But who is responsible for making those assignments? Who ensures that it gets done? Who is ultimately responsible for the task accomplishment and the person assigned to it? Who makes sure the person is safe while working on the task? Do you break into groups to get things done? How are those groups organized? Who’s in-charge of the individual groups? How do the groups coordinate and plan?
A thousand questions! But they are all pertinent and could have fatal outcomes if not handled correctly. That is where ICS comes into play and outshines every other organizational model.
Notice I have not given you one shred of hard information about the organization structure itself. Yeah, it takes a little bit to explain it. And that I will do in detail in another series of articles. For now it is fine that you just understand the problem, the solution, and generally what it is and why. More information to follow…I just don’t want to blow up your head right now.
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