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Who Designates The Process For Transferring Command

In incident management, transferring command is essential to ensure smooth operations and effective decision-making. 

This procedure is designated by the Incident Command System (ICS), a standardized, on-scene, all-hazards incident management approach in the United States. 

The ICS was developed to help organizations from different fields and specialties work together more effectively during emergencies or planned events. It provides a clear chain of command and delineates responsibilities to avoid confusion and miscommunication. 

The transfer of command process under the ICS is defined to provide seamless leadership transition during incidents that span multiple operational periods or when incidents escalate, requiring higher-level leadership. 

Understanding this process is crucial for any incident response and management organization.

What Is Incident Command System (ICS)

The Incident Command System (ICS) is a standardized approach to the command, control, and coordination of emergency response, providing a common hierarchy within which responders from multiple agencies can be effective.

ICS was developed in the 1970s following catastrophic fires in California’s urban interface. Property damage ran into the millions, and many died or were injured. 

The personnel assigned to determine the causes of this disaster studied the case histories and discovered that response problems could rarely be attributed to a lack of resources or failure of tactics. 

Surprisingly, studies found that response problems were far more likely to result from inadequate management than any other reason.

ICS is used by all levels of government—federal, state, tribal, and local—as well as by many nongovernmental organizations and the private sector. 

ICS is also applicable across disciplines. It is normally structured to facilitate activities in five major functional areas: command, operations, planning, logistics, and finance and administration.

Key features of ICS include:

  • Standardization: Common terminology, modular organization, integrated communications, unified command structure, and manageable span of control.
  • Command: The act of directing, ordering, or controlling under explicit statutory, regulatory, or delegated authority.
  • Planning: Essential to achieving objectives; includes incident action planning and long-range planning.
  • Logistics: Provides resources and needed services to support achieving the incident objectives.
  • Finance/Administration: Monitors costs related to the incident and provides accounting, procurement, time recording, and cost analyses.

The Process of Transferring Command

The process of transferring command involves several key steps:

  • Initial Briefing: The outgoing Incident Commander (IC) briefs the incoming IC about the situation, actions taken, resource status, and immediate threats or concerns.
  • Transfer of Command Announcement: Once the incoming IC is fully briefed, an announcement is made to all personnel that a transfer of command is taking place. This ensures everyone knows who is in charge.
  • Assignment of Key Roles: The incoming IC assigns key roles to incident management team members. These positions include Operations Section Chief, Planning Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, and Finance/Administration Section Chief.
  • Incident Action Plan Review: The incoming IC reviews the current Incident Action Plan (IAP) with the team to ensure it’s still appropriate for the situation.
  • Confirmation of Resource Status: The incoming IC confirms the status of all resources to ensure they are adequate for the current situation.

When and Why Command Transfer Occurs

Transfer of command typically occurs during incidents that span multiple operational periods, when the complexity of the incident increases significantly, or when there is a need for higher-level leadership due to political sensitivity, legal issues, or media attention. It can also occur when the current IC has been on duty for a long and needs to rest.

The Role of Different Personnel in this Process

Different personnel have various roles in the transfer of command process:

  • The outgoing IC is responsible for briefing the incoming IC about the current situation and actions taken so far.
  • The incoming IC assumes command, reviews the IAP, assigns key roles, and confirms resource status.
  • Other personnel, such as section chiefs, inform the incoming IC and take on their assigned roles under the new command.

It’s important to note that the transfer of command should be a seamless process that does not disrupt the ongoing operations of the incident management team. The goal is to ensure continuity of command and maintain effective control of the situation.

Who Designates The Process For Transferring Command

Impact of Effective Command Transfer

Effective command transfer is pivotal in any situation demanding immediate response and action, such as emergency scenarios or military operations. Its impact is multifaceted, influencing the overall success of an operation, enhancing communication, and fostering accountability.

Firstly, effective command transfer significantly contributes to the success of an operation. According to a report from Fire Engineering, a smooth transition of authority reduces risks and potential misunderstandings regarding the incident at hand. 

By ensuring that everyone on the team understands the change in leadership and the current plan of action, an effective command transfer can help maintain the momentum of the operation and avoid costly delays or errors.

Moreover, the process of command transfer inherently involves extensive communication. As one leader passes the responsibility to another, they must share critical information about the situation, available resources, and strategies. 

This exchange fosters clear, open communication within the team, which, according to the U.S. Marine Corps doctrine, is a cornerstone of effective command and control.

Additionally, the transfer of command enhances accountability within the team. When new leaders take charge, they assume responsibility for the operation’s outcome. This sense of ownership encourages leaders to fully engage in their roles, driving them to make sound decisions and take appropriate actions. The U.S. Army Publishing Directorate emphasizes that establishing standard operating procedures (SOPs) during command transfers is critical to effective command and control.

Lastly, flexibility is another benefit of an effective command transfer. In many instances, the need to switch command arises due to changing circumstances, such as the escalation of an incident, the exhaustion of the current commander, or the introduction of new information or resources. An efficient command transfer process enables organizations to adapt swiftly to these changes, ensuring that the operation remains under competent leadership at all time.


In conclusion, the Incident Command System (ICS) and its command transfer process are integral to effective emergency response and incident management. It’s a system designed to provide a standardized command, control, and coordination approach in complex, multi-agency scenarios. 

The transfer of command is a critical aspect of ICS that ensures continuity and effectiveness, even when leadership changes.

This process involves a detailed briefing from the outgoing commander, an official announcement, assigning key roles, reviewing the action plan, and confirming resource status. It usually occurs when incidents span multiple operational periods, the complexity increases, higher-level leadership is required, or the current commander needs rest.

Effective command transfer has a significant impact on the success of an operation. It enhances communication, fosters accountability, and provides flexibility, ensuring the team can adapt swiftly to changing circumstances. 

Thus, mastering the process of command transfer is crucial for any organization involved in incident management and emergency response.


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