In the world of emergency response many citizens only consider traditional disciplines, such as fire fighters, law enforcement officers, or Emergency Medical Services. Following implementation of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) in March 2004, the role of traditional emergency response expanded to include a more diverse group of operators and city leaders. City mayors, administrators, public works, planners, and others who have vital leadership roles are key to making sound decisions during an incident or disaster.

More than 20 leaders representing fire departments, police departments, public works, and even administrators and mayors attended training at the Center for Domestic Preparedness, in Anniston, Ala., recently. The group, representing five neighboring cities in central Minnesota, attended the Incident Command: Capabilities, Planning, and Response Actions for All Hazards (IC) course.

These cities are part of a 15 city mutual aid agreement and by planning and working together they increase their ability to communicate and respond effectively and efficiently. The group members know all too well the importance of a combined response. In May 2012 a paper mill explosion rocked the city of Sartell, Minn., requiring emergency response from the 93 cities across the state of Minnesota over the course of eight days. The cities of Sartell, Waite Park, Sauk Rapids, Saint Joseph, Saint Cloud, and Saint Augusta were first to converge on the resulting catastrophic fire. Eight different police departments secured the scene and more than 30 business entities donated food and beverages to assist the Red Cross in supporting the emergency response crews.

"A lot of the instruction from the IC class reinforced our response actions," said Jeff Taufen, the fire chief for the Saint Joseph's Fire Department. "As an incident commander, I need to know how I am going to distribute 90 firefighters, 40 fire trucks, and their supplies."

Taufen added that as the head of the St. Joseph fire department, he and those who work for him must remember everyone who needs to be involved during the response. "This training showed the importance of not forgetting the mayor, administrator, public works, and everyone involved who operates a city—not simply EMS, police, or fire."

"I wanted to come to this training to understand what my role is," said Richard Miller, mayor of Waite Park. "I know that I am not the fire chief; and I can't walk into a command center and say 'Chief, get out of the way, I'm running this.' I can't tell them where to send the police either. I wanted to better understand my role."

The IC course focuses on planning and assessing current standards against possible hazards that may threaten communities. The course reinforces the development of strategic plans that aid emergency responders and elected and appointed city leadership with drafting tools. The 24-hour course culminates with a six-hour exercise using modern forms of communication and scenario injects, that could easily change the way the city's first responders react to the incident.

"The emergency responder landscape no longer solely mirrors law enforcement and fire departments," said Chuck Medley, CDP branch chief of Training Management. "Mayors, administrators, public works, and city managers play a response role, as well. Incident Command training allows community leaders and traditional emergency response an opportunity to work together and develop plans explaining roles and responsibilities."

"This training is similar to a knife sharpener," said Perry Beise, Sauk Rapids police chief and emergency manager. "The more a knife is sharpened the better it gets, and a better tool is created. This class makes us better at what we do as a team. The cities don't generally train together, so this is a good fit and will help us develop consistent response plans."

According to Patti Gartland, Sartell city administrator, this training will strengthen her city and neighboring jurisdictions. "By bringing a good cross-section of leadership to the CDP we identified how we can tighten and improve our mutual-aid response. We also identified gaps and weaknesses. This training is a significant investment for our cities."

The local newspaper in Sartell, Minn., wrote this article about the training their city leadership received.