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What Is the National Incident Management System (NIMS)?

The 911 system is one of the keys to every municipality’s emergency management.

After Hurricane Harvey crashed into the Texas coast in 2017, thousands of people rushed into affected communities to help locals respond and recover. It was the largest disaster response in Texas history.1 To a casual observer, it might have seemed impossible to manage, with federal, state, and local officials; nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) like the Red Cross; private businesses; and individual volunteers all trying to help. But thanks to the National Incident Management System (NIMS), coordinating so many different groups was more feasible than it might have been otherwise.

What Is NIMS?

The National Incident Management System is an emergency preparedness, response, and recovery system designed by the Department of Homeland Security and spearheaded by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.2 Its purpose is to provide a comprehensive, nationwide approach to emergency management, enabling all stakeholders in a community to work together effectively, regardless of the cause, size, location, or complexity of the emergency or threat.

What Is the National Incident Management System (NIMS)?

NIMS focuses on three key areas: command and coordination of incidents, resource management, and information management. In other words, NIMS helps all groups involved in emergency planning, response, and recovery avoid duplication of efforts, communicate clearly, and distribute vital resources to the places they’re needed most. However, NIMS doesn’t offer specific plans for any particular incident or type of incident. Rather, it offers a set of best practices for emergency management, laying out the principles and concepts everyone involved in emergency preparedness, response, and recovery should follow. As such, NIMS is adaptable to any emergency or threat.

How Does NIMS Work?

NIMS works best when everyone involved in a specific incident is familiar with the principles and concepts of NIMS and is prepared to abide by them. FEMA, through the Emergency Management Institute, offers NIMS training for anyone who wants to be a part of or anticipates being a part of emergency preparedness, response, and/or recovery. This training helps ensure that everyone involved in an incident has a shared vocabulary and a shared understanding of procedures and operational systems such as the Incident Command System (ICS), the Emergency Operations Center (EOC), and Multiagency Coordination Groups (MAC Groups).

FEMA recommends that everyone involved in emergency management take the baseline NIMS courses. Those who are likely to be involved in command and general staff roles in an emergency situation should take more advanced ICS courses. The more people who have the proper training, the more likely it is that planning, response, and recovery will go well. NIMS, in short, is not something that can be flipped on when needed. It’s something everyone in the emergency management community needs to be a part of.

How Can You Start or Advance an Emergency Management Job?

NIMS training is important, but it only provides a basic knowledge of emergency management. If you want the kind of advanced knowledge it takes to become an emergency management leader, consider earning an MS in Criminal Justice and specializing in emergency management. Much more than a public safety degree or homeland security degree, a degree focused in emergency management can provide you with a full scope of knowledge that can help you lead emergency response efforts, improve public policy, and protect communities from natural and human-caused disasters.

Of course, earning a master’s degree takes time, and—if you’re like most working adults—time isn’t something you have a lot of. Fortunately, online education can help. When you participate in an emergency management program online, you don’t have to spend hours every week driving to and from a campus. Instead, when you enroll in an online college, you can study from home. On top of that, online learning lets you stay in control of your time, allowing you to complete coursework at whatever time of day works best for your schedule.

Good emergency management can make a huge difference. And with an MS in Criminal Justice, specializing in Emergency Management, you can be part of that difference.

Walden University is an accredited institution offering an MS in Criminal Justice degree program online. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.


Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,