Office of the Chief, Emergency Management
Ministry of the Solicitor General

By affixing my signature below, I hereby approve this document:

Teepu Khawja
Chief, Emergency Management


The Ontario Incident Management System (IMS) Guidance Version 2.0 is a part of the Government of Ontario’s ever-improving emergency management program. The development of this guidance document was overseen by the IMS Steering Committee, chaired by the Chief of Emergency Management, Ontario Office of the Fire Marshal and Emergency Management, supported by the Doctrinal Advisory Group. Members of the IMS Steering Committee and Doctrinal Advisory Group participated on a voluntary basis, both on their own time and in time made available by the communities and organizations they represent.

The communities and organizations represented on the IMS Steering Committee at the time of publication included:

  • City of Guelph
  • City of Ottawa
  • City of Sault Ste. Marie
  • City of Toronto
  • County of Essex
  • County of Frontenac
  • Emergency Management Ontario
  • Emergency Medical Assistance Team
  • Lake Huron/Elgin Area Water System
  • Metrolinx
  • NGO Alliance
  • Ontario Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Ontario Association of Emergency Managers
  • Ontario Association of Fire Chiefs
  • Ontario Association of Paramedic Chiefs
  • Ontario Ministry of Children, Community and Social Services
  • Ontario Ministry of Health
  • Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development
  • Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources and Forestry
  • Ontario Ministry of the Solicitor General
  • Ontario Municipal Social Services Association
  • Ontario Provincial Police
  • Public Health Ontario
  • Public Safety Canada
  • Region of Durham
  • Toronto Fire Services/HUSAR/CBRNE
  • Town of Cobourg
  • Township of Otonabee-South Monaghan

Emergency Management Ontario gratefully acknowledges the generous contributions made by members of the IMS Steering Committee, the Doctrinal Advisory Group and outside experts:

  • Alain Normand
  • Amanda Davy
  • Andrew J. Henry
  • Andy Glynn
  • Brad Taylor
  • Brian Schwartz
  • Cathy Cousins
  • Cheryl McNeil
  • Clint Shingler
  • Courtney Askin
  • Dan Metcalfe
  • Dave Elloway
  • Denise Blinn
  • Donna Huen
  • Frank Barredo
  • Gina Cliffe
  • James Kilgour
  • James Montgomery
  • Jennifer Smysnuik
  • Jim Kay
  • Joanna Beaven-Desjardins
  • Jose Camacho
  • Katrina Grantis
  • Kenneth J. McBey
  • Leanne Latter
  • Mark Bett
  • Mark Phair
  • Mark Podgers
  • Melissa Lavery
  • Michael Huk
  • Michael Sanderson
  • Michelle McKain
  • Mike O’Brien
  • Mike Vilneff
  • Naomi Thibault
  • Nina Diaz
  • Nora Johnson
  • Paola Parenti
  • Patrick Auger
  • Ray Lazarus
  • Ray Zarb
  • Rebecca Hanson
  • Robert Smith
  • Russell Mawby
  • Sandy McKinnon
  • Steve Elliott
  • Ted Bryan
  • Tim Neufeld
  • Todd Pittman
  • Tom Berczi
  • Trevor Sinker
  • William Neadles

Special thanks

Special thanks to the many representatives of municipal, regional, Indigenous, and unincorporated communities across the province for sharing their wisdom and expertise with Emergency Management Ontario.

Emergency Management Ontario acknowledges its presence on lands traditionally occupied by Indigenous Peoples. You can search the specific treaty area for addresses across Ontario on the digital map of Ontario treaties and reserves.

Version control

This is version 2.0 of the IMS Guidance (issue 2, no revisions).

This replaces the first version published in 2008, which was known as the Incident Management System Doctrine for Ontario. Hereafter, the word “doctrine” shall be replaced with the word “guidance.”

The Incident Management System Doctrine for Ontario published in 2008 will be referred to as “IMS 1.0” for the purposes of this document.

Revision list

Revisions to the current version can occur at any time. The version number should be updated with each revision by changing the number after the decimal point and recording it below.

Current revision

Revision number


Description of change

IMS Guidance Version 2.0 document creation

Date of revision


Publications management

Copies of the IMS Guidance Version 2.0 are to be widely distributed among the emergency management stakeholder community and posted to emergency management stakeholders’ websites. This includes the websites of the Ministry of the Solicitor General and Emergency Management Ontario (EMO), shown below.

This publication is subject to review and amendments. This process is the responsibility of the Office of the Chief, Emergency Management. Stakeholders are encouraged to review and evaluate the IMS Guidance Version 2.0 as they use it and to submit comments and suggestions.

Until a new guidance document supersedes this version, amendments may be published from time to time. The amendment form in this section will be used to keep a record of approved amendments.

Comments and suggestions relating to the IMS Guidance Version 2.0 should be directed to:

Office of the Chief, Emergency Management
Attn: Program Development Manager, Program Development Unit
Ref: Incident Management System (IMS) Guidance Version 2.0, 2021
25 Morton Shulman Avenue, Toronto, Ontario, M3M 0B1, Canada

Email via:


Executive summary — IMS 2.0 Guidance document


IMS 2.0 is a refresh of the Ontario Incident Management System. The IMS 2.0 Guidance document describes how communities and organizations can use IMS to coordinate a structured incident response of any scale and communicate and collaborate effectively. For the purposes of the guidance document, an incident is an occurrence or event that requires a coordinated response by emergency services or other responders to protect people, property and the environment.

IMS 2.0 is simpler to understand and has been updated to improve its interoperability and effectiveness. At the site, roles, responsibilities and structures remain the same. IMS 2.0 is more flexible while maintaining standardized roles, responsibilities and structures.

The core principles of IMS 2.0 are:

  • communication
  • coordination
  • collaboration
  • flexibility

17 principles and concepts found in IMS 1.0 are important tools for the effective and efficient implementation of IMS. They can be found in Section 2 – IMS principles and tools.


The first version of the Incident Management System Doctrine for Ontario (now referred to as IMS 1.0) was developed in 2008. Its purpose was to provide communities and organizations in Ontario with a framework to allow them to coordinate and collaborate effectively during an incident. IMS was based on similar systems used internationally, including those used by our response partners.

IMS 2.0 builds on the strong foundation of IMS 1.0. Its development has been guided by best practices and lessons learned from responders from all areas of incident management. IMS 2.0 aligns with developments in other jurisdictions such as the United States National Incident Management System (NIMS) 3.0 update. IMS 2.0 is also interoperable with systems used by neighbouring jurisdictions and other partners.

IMS 2.0 addresses several recommendations of The Elliot Lake Inquiry.footnote 1 It simplifies the guidance document and updates it “to increase the acceptance and actual use of the Incident Management System (IMS).” IMS 2.0 was developed in collaboration with more than 30 stakeholder organizations including municipalities, responder organizations, ministries, nongovernmental organizations (NGO) and others.

Highlights of IMS 2.0

Emergency operations centre options

The site-based guidance in IMS 2.0 remains largely unchanged. However, in consideration of developments around the world and stakeholder feedback, IMS 2.0 adds more flexibility for emergency operations centre (EOC) incident response structures by offering three EOC options.

More information on the three EOC options can be found in Section 7 – Emergency operations centre (EOC) and additional incident management locations.

Emphasis on coordination

IMS 2.0 places greater emphasis on the role of coordination for effective and efficient incident management. As a result, the oversight function within IMS is now referred to as coordination and command. There is also new guidance around multi-organization coordination and an expanded emphasis on the importance of collaborative coordination, which may occur during a network-wide response in sectors such as health care.

Expanded functions

IMS 2.0 continues to be built on the core functions of coordination and command, operations, planning, logistics and finance and administration. IMS 2.0 also recognizes the importance of communication with the public about an incident and the incident response effort. To address this, public information management has been added as a core function of IMS 2.0.

The core functions of IMS 2.0 are:

  • coordination and command
  • operations
  • planning
  • logistics
  • finance and administration
  • public information management

IMS 2.0 also recognizes that incidents have unique needs. This may be due to a large need for emergency social services, investigation services or for other reasons. To address this, IMS 2.0 explains that in some incidents, additional functions may need to be considered.

Common additional IMS functions include:

  • intelligence
  • investigations
  • emergency social services (ESS)
  • continuity of operations
  • scientific/technical

Unified command (also known as unified coordination)

IMS 2.0 offers specific guidance around the use of unified command (also known as unified coordination). It notes that unified command should only be considered when single command cannot be established. The guidance document explains when unified command may be used. IMS 2.0 also provides guidance and a checklist for the effective use of unified command.

EOC director

In order to maintain interoperability and alignment with common practices, IMS 2.0 introduces the title of EOC director for the coordination and command function within an EOC. In cases where an EOC plays a direct role in the command of an incident rather than an incident support role, the title of EOC commander can be used as an alternative option.

New response escalation criteria

IMS 2.0 includes a new section aimed at helping incident responders properly scale resources to meet the needs of an incident. Section 5 – Response escalation guidelines provides support to responders by offering guidance on the inclusion of three EOC options or multi-organizational coordination for the overall response effort.

A table outlining the elements of each level of response is also included in Section 5 for quick reference.

Future additions to IMS 2.0

IMS 2.0 offers an overview of the Incident Management System for Ontario. It also includes three appendices: IMS glossary and definitions, IMS facilities and references. Future appendices will continue to expand on existing concepts as well as introduce new concepts to help communities and organizations ensure an effective and efficient incident response.

Future appendices will include:

  • site-specific roles and responsibilities
  • EOC roles and responsibilities
  • resource guidance


IMS 2.0 offers clear, straightforward guidance on communicating, coordinating and collaborating during an incident response. The guidance document uses plain language to help communities and organizations improve their understanding of terminology and concepts. This does not change the basics. IMS is still built on a strong foundation of familiar functions; coordination and command, operations, planning, logistics, finance and administration and now includes the important function of public information management.

Familiar roles and responsibilities continue to be in use. For example, the incident commander coordinates the site response. The operations section chief manages the operations section, and so on.

IMS can also be used to help communities and organizations build their own standard operating procedures that reflects responsibilities, resources and legislative requirements specific to that community or organization.

IMS 2.0 offers new tools and options which can help new users adopt IMS more easily. It also gives the ever-growing community of experienced IMS practitioners a larger, more flexible toolbox to help them meet the varying needs of incident response. IMS 2.0 is an important step towards the growth of the IMS program in Ontario.


  • footnote[1] Back to paragraph Report of the Elliot Lake Commission of Inquiry, released on October 15, 2014.