HOUSTON, TEXAS [Jun 2022] In the wake of hurricane Harvey and other high-profile public safety events, the ever-growing integration of communications and IT capabilities required Harris County Universal Services to develop and implement a framework locally to improve IT support structures during countywide incidents. The implementation of our local framework helped to present the urgent need to update the National Incident Management System standards to meet the increasing demand for information technology during incident response.
The latest issue of the National Incident Management System: Information and Communications Technology Functional Guidance, published by FEMA in March, featured the new Information and Communications Technology (ICT) Branch, an updated command structure designed to consolidate ICT services within one branch in the Logistics Section while designating the delivery of services as either interoperable communications, IT or cybersecurity services.
“We had different staff reporting in different places within the ICS organizational structure. We had to look at a framework that would allow us to align our daily IT reporting structures seamlessly with how we function during an incident,” said Glover. “This alignment allowed us better situational awareness of IT support operations, improved personnel management, and provided a higher level of success.”
The first successful local implementation was in May 2021 and has been used ever since, most notably during COVID-19 response. Previously, in the standard incident command structure, a communications unit leader, supported by communications technicians, mainly trained to set up voice and radio communication networks, oversaw communications and IT without expanded knowledge of IT functions. Over time, it was identified across the nation and multiple incidents that this was not enough to support the growing need for IT interoperability.
“In a rapidly expanding incident you need an expandable staffing structure and support cycle capable of a higher level of IT incident management and support,” said Glover.
“It allows, from a management standpoint, to properly task the IT personnel that are first on ground during an incident,” added Jurrens. “It allows management structure on both sides [communications and IT] to work more efficiently.”
The ICT Branch concept was nationally implemented through a series of reviews and approvals by national committees and FEMA. The team seeks to build upon the concept locally through training to increase common language and skillset amongst all ICT Branch leaders, as well as added integration of cybersecurity functions.
“I think it’s exciting to see,” said Glover. “It tells us that the things we were challenged with and able to build a framework to overcome locally; we weren’t the only ones with that problem. What works for us locally and a few other large jurisdictions across the country has helped shape a national framework to help many more across the nation.”
“It makes me proud that we have people on our team that went the extra mile,” said Jurrens. “They took the trouble to seek legitimacy and create a program indicative of a forward-thinking county and team.”