US Army Corps of Engineers
Buffalo District

Incident Command System: staying safe in light of a crisis

Public Affairs Specialist, USACE Buffalo District
Published Jan. 27, 2014
The all volunteer team of first responders is what makes the Buffalo District's Incident Command System, effective during a crisis situation, January 22, 2014. Photo ID: left-right: Lesta Ammons, Mikhail Boutsko, Michelle Barker, Diane Kozlowski, Martin Crosson, Philip Stitzinger, not all team members were available for the team photo. Photo by Andrew Kornacki, USACE Buffalo District.

The all volunteer team of first responders is what makes the Buffalo District's Incident Command System, effective during a crisis situation, January 22, 2014. Photo ID: left-right: Lesta Ammons, Mikhail Boutsko, Michelle Barker, Diane Kozlowski, Martin Crosson, Philip Stitzinger, not all team members were available for the team photo. Photo by Andrew Kornacki, USACE Buffalo District.

You are in the midst of a crisis situation. A wave of adrenaline rushes through your body.  At the same time, you feel fear, panic, anxiety, rage, shock and terror. But, if you are able to stay calm, cool and collected and remember your training, you have a good chance of safely making it out of the situation stronger than you were.   

This is the “What and How” behind the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Buffalo District’s Incident Command System (ICS), implemented soon after the attacks of September 11, 2001. 

“As the events of that morning progressed, it was clear that we in the Buffalo District were not as prepared as we should have been,” said Keith Hall, Buffalo District safety and occupational health manager.  “As part of our own internal after action review of 9/11, we made it part of our mission to institute an Incident Command System, taking after both public service agencies (police, fire, hazmat, EMS) and private sector organizations nation-wide.”  

The Buffalo District implemented a simplified ICS covering notification, response, withdraw and recovery standing operating procedures for district employees during a crisis situation.  The situations the ICS covers range from: fire alarms, hazmat releases, active shooters and employees needing medical attention.     

“What makes our ICS unique is that we tapped into our workforce. They are the ones who make the ICS successful.  Our all volunteer, first aid team of “Good Samaritans” are Red Cross trained at the Advanced Professional Responders level. If one of our employees is in need of medical attention, they are very well equipped to provide immediate medical evaluation and treatment until outside emergency medical services arrive,” said Hall.   

The District’s first aid team is the calm in a storm of uncertainty.  They have literally saved the lives of many Buffalo District employees.  

“Once the emergency announcement comes over across the intercom system, we immediately spring into action,” said Shanon Chader, Buffalo District first response team member.  “The first one to the medical cabinet is the team leader, who coordinates the actions of the other team members.  Team members have various tasks such as: dealing directly with the downed employee; meeting paramedics at the gate and guiding them in; clearing a path to quickly get the employee out; and documenting pertinent information on a checklist that helps to inform the Emergency Medical Technicians.”    

Everyone on the response team is trained to do every job.  This way, no matter who responds, the team will be able to function like a well-oiled machine.   

The District’s first aid team also plays a vital role during evacuation procedures. They are the eyes and ears of the Incident Commander and our Command Post. Once the alarm goes off, team members grab their two-way radios, pair up and ensure that all employees make it safely out of the buildings and to the designated assembly area.  First aid team members then do a building-by-building sweep to insure that no one is left behind.  The only exception to the building sweep is a bomb threat or active shooter event.  Should an employee be found, the team quickly reports back to the District Incident Commander who works with local fire/police command to get the appropriate personnel to that location.   

“Everyone, yes, everyone is accounted for…no matter whether they are in the assembly area, at lunch, on leave, temporary duty station or not able to get out of a building.  You can replace buildings, but not people. At the end of the day, the safety of our coworkers is all that really matters,” Hall said.  

Since the team’s formation in 2001, they have saved two coworkers who were in full cardiac arrest and cared for hundreds of others who were injured or sick.  This also includes members of the public who use the bicycle path adjacent to the district office.  

Perhaps the biggest accolade the Buffalo District ICS received was when the Fire Evacuation Plan of the District ICS was modified and adopted by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Afghanistan South District, Kandahar, Afghanistan.  While Buffalo District First Aid Team Member and Collateral Duty Safety Officer, Jean Brockner was deployed as a procurement specialist, she saw the need for a more complete fire evacuation plan, and made it happen. 

“I saw a void in the base’s response and I took it upon myself to ensure that it was fixed.  Those people I was serving with were my friends and at that time my ‘family.’  Anything I could do to ensure their safety, I was going to do,” said Brockner.   

Some of the major changes to the base’s plan were: designation of fire wardens; a process for accountability and sweeping buildings; and having cards with emergency numbers posted by each phone.  During subsequent fire drills on base, the changes proved to be effective.   

“I would like to see a complete ICS system implemented Corps-wide.  If that is not possible, then the next best thing would be to have a first aid team system. It is a no-brainer.  It yields a high return on investment that has been proven to save lives.  And you cannot put a price on that,” said Hall.  

As they say in the military, “Train like you fight, and fight like you train.”  Buffalo District’s ICS is a good plan that is simple and well rehearsed.  It will save lives when executed during an emergency.