NewsIncident Objectives That Drive Incident Operations Are Established by the

Incident Objectives That Drive Incident Operations Are Established by the

In the complex landscape of emergency response and crisis management, incident objectives play a pivotal role in guiding and shaping incident operations. When unforeseen events, such as natural disasters, accidents, or other emergencies, strike, it is imperative for response teams to establish clear and effective objectives. These objectives serve as the North Star, providing direction, purpose, and focus to the multifaceted and dynamic process of incident response.

The Foundation of Incident Command Systems (ICS): Establishing Objectives

Incident objectives are foundational elements of the Incident Command System (ICS), a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response. Whether it’s a wildfire, a hazardous material spill, or a public health crisis, ICS is designed to be scalable and adaptable to various incidents. At the core of the ICS structure are clear, concise, and measurable incident objectives.

Key Principles of Incident Objectives:

SMART Criteria: Incident objectives are often formulated following the SMART criteria – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound. This framework ensures that objectives are not only clear but also realistic and actionable. For instance, a SMART objective for a wildfire incident might be to “contain 75% of the fire perimeter within the next 24 hours.”

Risk Assessment: Incident objectives are closely tied to risk assessments. Response teams evaluate the potential impact and consequences of an incident, which informs the establishment of objectives. The primary goal is to mitigate risks, protect lives and property, and restore normalcy as efficiently as possible.

Hierarchical Structure: Incident objectives are hierarchical in nature. At the top level, there are strategic objectives that provide an overarching vision for the response efforts. These are then translated into operational objectives that guide the actions of various response teams on the ground. This hierarchical structure ensures alignment and coordination across all levels of the response hierarchy.

Adaptability: Incident objectives need to be adaptable. As an incident evolves and new information becomes available, objectives may need to be adjusted to reflect the current situation accurately. Flexibility in response planning allows for a more effective and agile incident management process.

Example Scenario: Wildfire Incident

Let’s consider a wildfire incident to illustrate how incident objectives drive incident operations:

Strategic Objective: The overarching strategic objective might be to “safely contain and extinguish the wildfire while minimizing damage to property and protecting human lives.”

Operational Objectives:

Evacuation and Sheltering: An operational objective could be to “evacuate residents from the path of the fire and establish shelters for those displaced within the next 6 hours.”

Fire Containment: Another operational objective might be to “deploy firefighting resources to establish containment lines and control 50% of the fire’s spread within the next 12 hours.”

Communication and Information: An additional objective could focus on “providing timely and accurate information to the public regarding evacuation orders, road closures, and safety measures within the next 2 hours.”

Tactical Actions:

Firefighting Crews: Tactical actions involve specific tasks assigned to different response teams. For instance, firefighting crews would work on containing the fire by creating firebreaks, employing controlled burns, and utilizing water or fire-retardant materials.

Law Enforcement: Law enforcement teams would implement evacuation plans, manage traffic flow, and ensure public safety.

Public Information Officers: Teams responsible for communication and information dissemination would work on updating the public through press releases, social media, and public briefings.

In this scenario, the incident objectives not only guide the strategic vision but also inform the tactical actions on the ground. Each operational objective is a stepping stone toward achieving the broader strategic goal of containing and extinguishing the wildfire.

Challenges in Establishing Incident Objectives:

While incident objectives are crucial for effective incident management, challenges may arise in their establishment. These challenges include:

Uncertainty: In the early stages of an incident, limited information may be available, making it challenging to set precise objectives. Incident commanders must adapt as more information becomes available.

Changing Dynamics: Incidents are dynamic, and conditions can change rapidly. Response teams must be prepared to reassess and modify objectives based on the evolving situation.

Resource Limitations: Limited resources, whether personnel, equipment, or time, can impact the feasibility of certain objectives. Incident commanders must prioritize and allocate resources strategically.

Interagency Coordination: Incidents often involve multiple agencies and jurisdictions. Ensuring effective coordination and collaboration among diverse entities can be a complex undertaking.


In the world of incident response, establishing clear and effective incident objectives is not just a procedural requirement but a fundamental component of success. These objectives serve as the linchpin of incident command systems, guiding response efforts, allocating resources, and ultimately working towards the resolution of the crisis at hand. By adhering to principles such as the SMART criteria, adaptability, and risk assessment, response teams can navigate the complexities of incident operations with a shared purpose and a focused direction, turning objectives into tangible outcomes for the communities they serve.