The Incident Management System

The Incident Management System (IMS) is a tool that provides a standard framework for responding to internal and external events that require an immediate reordering of daily priorities and deployment of human or material resources. It is based on an understanding that there are certain management functions that must be carried out as part of an emergency response.

The desired outcomes of IMS are:

  • To provide a safe working environment for staff involved in controlling the incident
  • To minimize the impact on the community and the environment; and
  • To effectively and efficiently control the incident

IMS is used by Emergency Management Ontario and the municipalities and responder organizations in our region. The Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care has also adopted the IMS framework for emergency response in the Ontario Public Health Standards.

IMS provides a standard structure to organize personnel, facilities, equipment, procedures and communication. Whatever the level of complexity of the situation, IMS is flexible and can be scaled up or down as a situation develops. In an emergency, the Incident Management System also facilitates a common approach and understanding when organizations need to work together.

WDGPH will use the Incident Management System to respond to small or large-scale events to reduce harm and health risks to staff and the public.

IMS Organizational Structure

The IMS organizational structure establishes a command and reporting process to ensure an effective and coordinated response to all incidents. The command structure takes into account the number of individuals reporting to one person. This is referred to as “span of control.” The number of reporting individuals is limited to a person’s ability to effectively delegate and monitor tasks and performance.

The Medical Officer of Health oversees the assignment of an Incident Manager who is responsible for the overall strategy and management of the emergency response.

Every job function in IMS has a specific Job Action Checklist that details the responsibilities of the assignment. Job Action Checklists are available in Section A-3. The Emergency Control Group (ECG) consists of the job functions in the following organizational chart. Each of the positions provides a key management function in the emergency response. The type and scale of the incident will dictate what Group Leads and other job functions below the Group Leads are necessary (see Job Action Checklists in Section A-3 for these other job functions).

Emergency Control Group 

Figure 1.4.  The Incident Management System (IMS) – Emergency Control Group (ECG)

 Scribe, Safety Officer, Communications Officer, Liaison Officer, Operations Section, Continuity of Operations section, Planning & Surveillance Section, Logistics Section, and Finance & Administration Section.


There are six key sections in the agency’s IMS organizational structure: Command, Operations, Continuity of Operations, Planning and Surveillance, Logistics and Finance and Administration.

Command Section

  • Incident Manager: Takes overall charge of the incident within the agency; delegates authority to get work done efficiently and effectively.
  • Safety Officer: Ensures all health and safety precautions are taken and that any concerns are addressed.
  • Communications Officer: Ensures accurate, up-to-date information is provided to the media, the public and staff.
  • Liaison Officer: Maintains links with other agencies involved in the emergency response.
  • Scribe: Records minutes and tracks all activities.

Operations Section

Figure 1.5. Operations Section Organizational Chart. The Operations Section manages all activities required to directly resolve the incident. Site Investigation Group Lead, Education & Training Group Lead, Case & Contact Management Group Lead, Exclusion Group Lead, Vaccination/Prophylaxis Clinic Group Lead, Lab Liaison

Planning & Surveillance Section

Figure 1.6. Planning and Surveillance Section Organizational Chart. The Planning and Surveillance Section manages the collection and analysis of data.

 The Surveillance Group Lead, Document Management Group Lead, Data Entry & Analysis Group Lead, and Recovery Planning Group Lead.


Logistics Section

Figure 1.7. Logistics Section Organizational Chart. The Logistics Section manages all facilities, equipment, transportation and supplies.

 Security & Financial Group Lead, IT Support Group Lead, and Equipment & Supplies Purchasing Group Lead

Finance & Administration Section

Figure 1.8. Finance & Administration Section Organizational Chart. The Finance and Administration Section manages all financial aspects and human resources.

 Finance Group Lead, Human Resources Group Lead, and Contract Staff Group Lead.

Continuity of Operations Section

Figure 1.9. Continuity of Operations Section Organizational Chart. The Continuity of Operations Section manages the continuation or disruption of services.

 Community Health & Wellness Lead, Family Health Lead, Health Protection Lead, Information Systems Lead, and Administrative Services Lead

A fillable chart of the complete Incident Management System is available in Section A-5.

The IMS organizational structure can be modified to suit the activity level of the incident and a toolbox approach provides the flexibility to use only those aspects of IMS that are appropriate for the situation. The tools available in IMS include position checklists, forms and templates.

WDGPH Emergency Operations Centre

An Emergency Operations Centre (EOC) is the pre-designated meeting place for those responding to an emergency. The MOH may require the activation of an EOC at one of WDGPH’s offices once IMS is activated to respond to an emergency. Each location is equipped with supplies and equipment that may be required. Ensuring the EOC is ready to be used in the event that IMS is initiated is the responsibility of the Emergency Preparedness Health and Safety Officer. Information regarding the WDGPH EOCs is found in Section A-2. 

Steps in the IMS Process - (See Section A. - IMS Response Toolkit)

When determining if a situation requires activation of the ERP and IMS, consider the following:

  • Could the event seriously impact the health (e.g., the physical well-being of people, environmental safety) of an affected group or community?
  • Will it require the immediate deployment (or redeployment) of resources within WDGPH programs beyond normal or routine levels, such as nurses, inspectors, communications or administration staff?
  • Is it an unusual incident, even if it is a small or isolated occurrence?
  • Will the incident affect other jurisdictions or agencies?

If the answer is “yes” to any of the above questions, Senior Leadership (SLT) will make the decision to activate the ERP and IMS..

IMS Activation Phase

An incident can be either an internal or external emergency (see Glossary) and depending on which type it is will determine how IMS is activated and structured, who is notified and the lead agency. (See Section A-1 for examples of scenarios.)

Declaring an Emergency

The Head of Council or designate of a municipality is responsible for officially declaring an emergency in a community. The decision to declare an emergency will be made in consultation with the MECG/CCG.

The Medical Officer of Health may recommend that an emergency be declared in a community in the event of a disease outbreak or other threat to public health. A declared emergency requires the completion and distribution of a signed declaration form.

1) Activation Steps

Senior Leadership (SLT) will make the decision to activate the ERP and IMS and the following steps will be taken:

  1. An initial meeting is scheduled to assess the situation and to develop incident objectives.
  2. Based on the type and size of the incident it will be determined if the EOC needs to be activated.
  3. The ECG will be formed and the IMS organizational chart will be created based on the incident needs. (See Section A-5. for chart template.)
  4. Staff will receive their assignments according to the IMS command structure and will be given their Job Action Checklists explaining their roles and responsibilities. (See Job Action Checklists in Section A-3 organized by section.)
  5. Whatever resources are needed will be mobilized.
  6. The Incident Manager will oversee the development of a consolidated Incident Action Plan (IAP). The IAP outlines the incident objectives, the strategies to achieve them and the tactics for deploying staff and resources. (The IAP template can be found in Section A-4).

The IAP is prepared for a specific period of time known as an operational period and is updated for each Business Cycle, which are regular briefings of the ECG.

2) IMS Response Phase

  1. During the operational phase of IMS staff will complete all tasks of their assigned positions, maintain an activity log, and complete standard forms and reports to maintain records and accountability.
  2. Communication is an essential component of the emergency response and is maintained through regular Business Cycles.
  3. During each business cycle the IAP is updated for that operational period outlining action items to be completed before the next Business Cycle.  
  4. After each Business Cycle the Section Coordinators brief their Group Leads and other section staff.

3)  IMS Recovery Phase

Recovery from an incident begins as soon as the active response phase has ended. The trigger is either by the timeline of events (the fire is out) or by the diminishing volume and scope of the response work (the number of cases in a disease outbreak is dropping).  

4) Terminating an Emergency

If a health emergency required a formal declaration of a community emergency, the MOH advises the Head of Council when it is appropriate to issue a termination. If no formal declaration of a health emergency is made, the MOH will declare the outbreak over through the media and other channels as required.

5) Maintaining the IMS Structure into the Demobilization of the Recovery Phase

Even if it is decided to exit IMS once an incident is declared over, it is advisable to maintain the IMS structure into the demobilization of the recovery phase, as all areas will have demobilization activities that will take time and resources to complete. 

  • Physical resources (e.g., equipment and supplies) need to cleaned and returned
  • All Section Coordinators may need to phase staff into and out of roles and evaluate the need for employee counselling
  • Communications to convey appreciation to those in and outside of the agency who assisted with the response
  • Debriefing completed at Group, Section and overall Command levels 

6)  Debriefing Steps 

  1. A debriefing with the ECG, coordinated by the Incident Manager and the Emergency Preparedness Health and Safety Officer, will take place no sooner than one week following closure of the incident and no later than four weeks. Each Section Coordinator is expected to share the debriefing findings with their respective staff.
  2. A debriefing report is created within the same timeline to capture the findings. 
  3. Within eight weeks of the incident a final After Action Report is completed and shared.

There may be times when a formal debriefing cannot be undertaken. These occasions should be rare. However, a debriefing should still be held and it will be the function of the Emergency Preparedness Health and Safety Officer in consultation with the Incident Manager to determine the style and use of specific debriefing methodology and reach agreement with the participating staff.

The objectives of the debriefing are:

  • To allow participants, either on behalf of themselves and/or the area they represent, to reflect on the event and their experience in a process-oriented way (i.e., it is not a performance appraisal).
  • To consider actions that took place during the event, and focus on what was supposed to happen and what actually happened.
  • To identify any positive points or ideas that might establish “good practice” when responding to future incidents, exercises or training.
  • To identify issues that may require further review and follow-up.
  • To measure the response and set specific, measurable goals for quality improvement.  

Refer to the Debriefing Process Protocol in Sections A-7, 8, 9