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Section 3: IMS objectives and functions

3.1 Setting objectives

It is important to clearly state the overall purpose of an incident response effort. This is achieved in IMS by setting clear objectives, strategies and tactics as a part of the incident action plan (IAP). The IAP informs incident responders of the desired outcomes for an incident and helps coordinate activities to achieve a common goal.

The effectiveness of an incident response effort can be measured by assessing whether incident objectives outlined in the IAP were met over the operational period.

Common response objectives

Common response objectives help incident responders:

  • protect the safety of all incident responders and those affected by the incident
  • save lives
  • treat the sick and injured
  • protect the health of those affected by the incident
  • ensure the continuity of government and critical services
  • protect property and the environment
  • prevent and/or reduce economic and social losses

3.2 IMS functions

Ontario’s IMS is interoperable and closely aligned with other incident management systems around the world, including NIMS 3.0 (United States). At the site, Ontario’s IMS is fully interoperable with the Incident Command System (ICS) used by other communities and organizations.

All of these systems share a common approach to divide the incident response effort. Similar tasks grouped together are known as “functions”.

IMS functions common to all incidents include: coordination and command, operations, planning, logistics, finance and administration and public information management.

IMS core functions

Coordination and command

Coordination and command is the function responsible for overseeing, coordinating and directing the incident or incident-related support activities. The liaison officer, safety officer and the emergency information officer (EIO) are all responsibilities under coordination and command. In addition, coordination and command is responsible for ensuring the delivery of all functions until a functional section such as the planning section has been stood up to manage the tasks associated with the respective function. For example, if the planning section has not been stood up, then the incident commander or EOC director is responsible for the planning function until a dedicated planning section is stood up.

Site coordination and command is the responsibility of the incident commander. The incident commander must first identify urgent priorities. These priorities are often related to the safety of responders and of those affected by an incident. The incident commander must then set incident objectives and work with the command and general staff (see Section 6.1 – Site coordination and command) to develop objectives, strategies and tactics.

In an emergency operations centre (EOC), coordination and command of an incident is the responsibility of the EOC director. The EOC director will often coordinate support to the site of an incident however, in less common cases, the tactical command of the response may be managed from an EOC.

The responsibilities under the following functional sections may be performed by an incident commander (at the site), by an EOC director (in an EOC) or a functional section may be stood up and staffed by personnel to fulfill each functional section.

Operations section: The role of the operations section is to meet current incident objectives and priorities stated in the IAP on behalf of coordination and command. The operations section:

  • At the site: Organizes, coordinates and supervises the tactical elements of an incident such as personnel or equipment
  • In an EOC: Takes on the tactical responsibilities and involves activities such as coordinating communications and providing situational awareness to and from the site

Planning section: Collects, confirms, analyzes and shares incident information gathered from incident responders. Internal communication is a key activity within the planning section. The planning section also prepares the IAP and develops contingency and long-term plans.

  • Situational awareness: Maintaining and sharing situational awareness is often the responsibility of the situation unit within the planning section. In some EOCs, situational awareness can be a section of its own or under the operations section. Maintaining situational awareness is a key function across any incident response. It is important to clearly identify which section is responsible for situational awareness within the incident response structure.

Logistics section: Arranges and provides services and supports including personnel, supplies, facilities and other resources to an incident. For example, the logistics section may arrange transportation or source equipment such as pumps and sandbags.

Finance and administration section: Manages incident-specific finance and administration activities including payroll, vendor contracts and incident cost tracking.

Public information management section: Develops and shares messages directly to the public and through the media. Tracks media reports including social media feeds and shares information with coordination and command. Incident responders under this section should connect directly with the community if required.

EOC functions: Primarily focused on coordination of activities that provide support to the site or on rare occasions, performing command functions from an EOC.

3.3 Additional IMS functions

There are certain incident management functions that are not used in all incidents but are common enough that guidance is provided to help keep communities and organizations interoperable with one another. In most cases, these functions can be managed through the standard IMS structure. For example, the continuity of operations function may be performed under the planning section.

Certain sectors, communities and organizations perform additional functions which may require the need for a dedicated section. The most commonly required additional functions include emergency social services, intelligence, investigations, scientific/technical and continuity of operations. Below are some reasons why additional IMS functions may be added:

  • The function is required to meet the specific operational needs of a community or organization in an incident.
    • For example, police services often require an investigations function when responding to an incident.
    • In another example, an Emergency Social Services section may be required to meet the needs of a community affected by a large-scale disaster.
  • The function involves complex information such as scientific information, which may exceed the subject matter knowledge of a section chief.
    • For example, the Provincial Emergency Operations Centre has guidance for a dedicated scientific section in the event of a nuclear incident.

Additional functions may need to be performed at the site, in an EOC and/or an additional incident management location.

Examples of commonly used additional functions

Emergency social services (ESS): Is responsible for providing social services to individuals and families affected by emergencies or disasters to preserve their well-being. The ESS function aims to assist individuals meet their basic human needs. They may provide food, clothing, shelter, personal services, registration and inquiry services. These services are provided on a short-term, temporary basis where individuals and families affected by an incident can receive physical, mental, social and economic support.

Intelligence: Is responsible for: (1) gathering and assessing incident-related information; (2) operations security and information security; and (3) information management. This includes preventing or deterring unlawful incidents or attacks. Since the Intelligence function involves preventing and deterring attacks, personnel performing this function may only share sensitive information with the incident commander or EOC director.

Investigations: Is responsible for conducting thorough investigations to do one or all of the following:

  • identify, apprehend and prosecute the perpetrators of regulatory breaches or criminal activity related to an incident
  • determine the source or cause of an incident (e.g. disease outbreak, fire or cyber-attack) to control its impact and/or help prevent the occurrence of similar incidents
  • identify, collect, process, create a chain of custody for, protect, analyze and store probative evidence

Scientific/Technical: Performs ongoing monitoring and surveillance of scientific or technical issues including field-based monitoring, sampling and surveillance. This function also analyzes and evaluates scientific data to provide expert technical advice to leadership and makes recommendations for protective action, mitigation and remediation.

Continuity of operations: Ensures that the day-to-day operations within a community or organization are maintained. In certain incidents, there may be a need to closely coordinate these efforts with the overall response.

Every incident has unique needs. Communities and organizations may require other functions such as Victim Services which reflect the specific needs of their operational mandate.

Updated: July 18, 2022
Published: March 24, 2022