Always Ready – An innovative approach to ICS training

Recognizing the unique challenges in not only training but preparing personnel to be a part of a response, experienced, qualified ICS coaches from the U.S. Coast Guard Incident Management Assistance Team, Atlantic Strike Team and First Coast Guard District Incident Management Team assembled at Sector Boston to provide a two-day interactive workshop centered on ICS training and obtaining ICS postion specific qualifications.

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Coast Guard personnel take part in an Incident Command System training exercise at U.S. Coast Guard Sector Boston. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell.
U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 3rd Class Ross Ruddell.

With contributions from Lt. Cmdr. Engrid Backstrom, Sector Boston, and Lt. j.g. Michael Barker, First Coast Guard District.

Coast Guard personnel take pride in our service motto, Semper Paratus, and our ability to be always ready to respond to all hazards and all risks. Yet, real world, large scale responses, like Hurricane Katrina, the Deepwater Horizon oil spill or the Hurricane Sandy,  are rare and test our training not only in responding to the emergency itself but also in working with various public and private entities to protect lives, property and the environment. That’s why the National Response Framework is so important and why we only deploy those with current Incident Command System qualifications as part of a response.

“Incident Command System Watch Quarter Station Bill qualifications are different from normal operational qualifications – where you typically attend training, perform on-the-job training with qualified professionals, learn and build proficiency in the role on a regular basis and then complete the process with a qualification board,” said Cmdr. Marc Knowlton, deputy commander of U.S. Coast Guard Sector Boston. “With ICS, the classroom training is there, the task requirements and the qualification boards are there, but exercising the ICS position tasks may be pretty infrequent, particularly for the variety of positions in the WQSB. Doing so with someone qualified to sign-off on the member’s the personnel qualification standards can be even more rare.”

ICS in action! Captain of the Port of Boston Capt. John C. O'Connor III, Operations Section Chief Lt. Cmdr. Robert Kistner and Situation Unit Leader Petty Officer 3rd Class Jessica Olmeda watch the events of the Boston Red Sox World Series Championship Duck Boat Parade unfold in the Sector Boston Command Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo.
ICS in action! Captain of the Port of Boston Capt. John C. O’Connor III, Operations Section Chief Lt. Cmdr. Robert Kistner and Situation Unit Leader Petty Officer 3rd Class Jessica Olmeda watch the events of the Boston Red Sox World Series Championship Duck Boat Parade unfold in the Sector Boston Command Center. U.S. Coast Guard photo.

Recognizing the unique challenges in not only training but preparing personnel to be a part of a response, experienced, qualified ICS coaches from the U.S. Coast Guard Incident Management Assistance Team, Atlantic Strike Team and First Coast Guard District Incident Management Team assembled at Sector Boston to provide a two-day interactive workshop centered on ICS training and obtaining ICS position specific qualifications. Over 70 participants, both active duty and reserve, from various commands across Sector Boston, Sector Southeastern New England, Sector New York, Sector Northern New England, Maritime Safety and Security Team Boston and the First Coast Guard District, were put to the test with an exercise involving a mock oil spill scenario with only the U.S. Coast Guard Incident Management Handbook and their coaches on hand to help them develop an Incident Action Plan to respond to the mock oil spill.

You may ask how this exercise differed from table-top exercises you have participated in – where the ICS system is set up and the entire process is played out? The answer comes in the coaching and training emphasis of the Sector Boston workshop. Participants were given minimal information at the start of the exercise, similar to the real-world information they would have in an actual response, and received “real-time” updates throughout the exercise. This gave the participants the opportunity to quickly assemble in their respective ICS sections and role play their ICS position while the unified command defined objectives to move the exercise forward.

“This workshop was innovative, and ultimately effective, because it was tailored by ICS coaches to provide exercise tasks for virtually every position in the Incident Command Structure and it provided enough ICS coaches to actually witness performance of tasks and to sign-off those tasks in the PQS,” said Knowlton. “This training approach diagnosed the significant challenges of the relative infrequency of engaging in real-world ICS tasks and identified the cure, building proficiency, teamwork and confidence.”

Bravo zulu to all First Coast Guard District units and personnel involved in this innovative training. Please use the comment section below to tell us about unique training opportunities you have benefited from in your Coast Guard career or leave a question for Lt. Cmdr. Backstrom and Lt. j.g. Barker to learn more about the workshop at Sector Boston.

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