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Incident Response

The Use of Incident Management in a Dreissenid Rapid Response

Introduction and Benefits

Over the past several decades, states across the west have collaborated, sought advice and discussed management steps to address dreissenid mussel discoveries. While all states and provinces may not hold the same management philosophies or react the same, over time there has been a refinement in how managing partners may respond to dreissenid detections. There has been considerable collaborative work to improve and harmonize boat inspection and decontamination methods, and early detection sampling methods. These improvements have created a more consistent and unified approach to managing dreissenids which in turn have also influenced rapid response strategies.

In 2002, the Western Regional Panel (WRP) released a document that summarized several response efforts for aquatic invasive plant species as a learning tool and provided guidance to managers on response steps. As the movement of dreissenids continued west, managers increasingly were aware of a need to prepare for the scenario of detecting dreissenids in western waters. In 2007, the CRB began what would be a series of hands on exercises that examined specific aspects of response to a dreissenid discovery. The first exercise helped determine strategies to address discoveries and laid the ground work for developing a response plan specific to dreissenids. In 2008, multiple stakeholders in the Columbia Basin identified the need for a guidance document that would assist and guide those that were faced with the discovery of dreissenid mussels. The ultimate outcome of this was the creation of the Columbia Basin Interagency Invasive Species Response Plan: Zebra Mussels and Other Dreissenid Species which was a multi-partner[1] effort. With the response plan in hand, the CRB partners have conducted 10 exercises[2] across the Pacific Northwest engaging diverse partners and testing specific aspects of jurisdictional authority and the practicality of response actions. Further, the plan has undergone several revisions and continues to be used by various partners through the basin. The CRB framework has also helped to inform the creation of individual state, provincial and waterbody plans.

The exercises have helped participants from federal, state, provincial, tribal agencies understand their deficiencies, work through partnership differences and become better equipped to handle a controversial response. The preparation for an event further allows participants to explore aspects of their management program and if they are prepared to react under emergency circumstances. Finally, the exercises differ depending on the participating partners. Many of the early exercises simply practiced integrating a communication response into an Incident Command System; whereas more recent exercises have taken detailed steps to explore chemical applications to eradicate a pioneer population, conduct actual press events and resolve jurisdictional aspects that managers often struggle with.

The original CRB plan was developed with the assistance of veteran emergency responders to wildland fire events who were fully trained in using incident command to deal with wildland fire events. Taking the emergency framework from an existing system of incident command provided an immediate structure to a dreissenid emergency. The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized management structure that provides hierarchy and can encompass multiple agencies to address the coordination of an emergency response. The original development and application of ICS to emergency situations began in the early 1970s to address wildfire in California. It was later adopted outside of fire emergency by the US Coast Guard after the Valdez oil spill in 1989.  Later in 2001, because of specific response flaws that occurred on September 11th, the adoption of a national system was needed to address emergency situations. ICS has become the standard for emergency management in the US and most federal agencies utilize some level of ICS when addressing emergency situations.


Used nationally, ICS is a valuable framework for organizing people and systems for fast-acting responses to emergencies. Responses to natural resource emergencies such as invasive species detections which do not present imminent life-safety hazards, are often better served by a longer timeline and more flexible framework for response. The Columbia River Basin Incident Management System (CRB-IMS) is modeled after FEMA’s National Incident Management System (NIMS) a modified version of ICS intended to:


…provide a common, nationwide approach to enable the whole community to work together to manage all threats and hazards. NIMS applies to all incidents, regardless of cause, size, location, or complexity.


The CRB-IMS resources are intended to provide a comprehensive, systematic approach scaled to respond to a dreissenid introduction - including command and coordination of the initial incident response, coordination of response resources (including personnel), and information management - while remaining familiar to Emergency Management personnel trained in ICS who could be mobilized to assist in a response if, for instance, a state of emergency is declared. The guiding principles of NIMS and subsequently, the CRB-IMS, are:


  • Flexibility: Response components (including the CRB-IMS forms) are adaptable to any situation, from localized responses to larger incidents involving interstate planning or Federal consultation. Some incidents will need multiagency, multijurisdictional, and/or multidisciplinary coordination. Flexibility means that response tools and guidance are scalable and, therefore, applicable to incidents that vary widely in terms of geography, response options, and organizational authorities.


  • Standardization: CRB-IMS provides standardized management procedures that enable coordination with the intent of supporting functionality across organizations, and improving integration, connectivity and coordination. Allowing for information sharing and standard organizational practices allows various incident personnel to work together effectively and fosters an underlying cohesion among the multitude of organizations that may become involved in a dreissenid response. CRB-IMS, like ICS, also encourages the use of common terminology to enable effective communication.


  • Unity of Effort: Unity of effort refers to the deliberate coordination of activities among various organizations to achieve common objectives while recognizing that organizations with specific jurisdictional responsibilities may need to maintain their own authorities while supporting the larger endeavor.


The structure of both ICS and NIMS creates a way for the responding agency to organize and assign response activities. For example, once assigned to a role on an incident an individual will address logistics or finance but not both. The process allows for information-based decisions to be guided and recorded for a specific series of actions. Traditional ICS uses a standard set of forms, and follows a set sequence and flow of events with the use of a planning “P” (Figure 1) [3]. For example, the planning “P” guides incident participants through a timeline of targeted meetings where response actions are reviewed by teams before presenting to the commander. The standard flow of events, incident roles and responsibilities within ICS creates a chain of command and compartmentalizes actions for the incident. The system can be expanded or contracted based on the nature, size and needs of the managing agency. For example, if a situation can be addressed with minimal staff and the incident is able to be addressed with few resources, then few ICS/CRRB-IMS roles may be needed. In contrast, if an incident will require significant staff and resources, then the complexity and number of roles would increase. Traditional ICS skills can be learned and built upon using online resources and training opportunities[4] which can then be applied to any type of emergency incident.































Benefits of using an Incident Management System for a dreissenid response:

  • Facilitates the initial identification of the overall management authority for the incident

  • Provides structure for communication, messaging, convening stakeholders, ensuring compliance and record keeping

  • Creates a framework for establishing and updating situational awareness as the incident progresses

  • Integrates authorities in areas with overlapping management structure

  • Provides legitimacy for response actions

  • Responsive to increasing or decreasing complexity based on incident variables

  • Enhances efficiencies and leverages resources

  • Provides focus for tactical implementation


Often participants in a dreissenid-based incident feel hindered by the ICS structure because many are foreign to its application; the ISC forms often feel unnecessary or mismatched, and ICS roles are often filled by biology-trained staff instead of pulling from other agency staff that could provide different technical insight. There is no doubt that a biological emergency operates on a slower response scale than a wildfire, or oil spill, and has very low immediate threat to human life and structures. But striking a balance in a dreissenid response to provide guidance and a much needed structure to a chaotic event are obvious. After the completion of many exercises and with participation feedback, modification of ICS structure for dreissenids and other AIS responses was realized. This CRB framework capitalizes on the strengths of ICS and provides a better guide for participants in an exercise or the real scenario by learning from past dreissenid incident outcomes and dynamics. Traditional ICS forms have been modified to reflect situations and dynamics common to many dreissenid response exercises but without the reliance on a paramilitary hierarchy that may be unfamiliar to natural resource managers and with less emphasis on short duration timetables. The modified forms also maintain enough similarity that, should an incident warrant it, an incident response can be scaled up seamlessly into an incident run by trained ICS personnel. For example: each of the CRB-IMS forms included herein notes the corresponding FEMA ICS form# it is adopted from should ICS-trained Emergency Management personnel be asked to assume leadership roles as a response unfolds.


[1] Partners that supported the completion of this plan include Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission, US Fish and Wildlife Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Bonneville Power Administration. Document development is a result of multiple state, federal, tribal, industry, and non-governmental organizations. Incident Solutions LLC and Dynamic Solutions Group LLP served as technical advisors.





Figure 1. The Planning P.

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