News & Events

Incident Command System for Health Care Providers: An interview with Mary Taschner

From the Massachusetts Nurse Newsletter
March 2004 Edition

By Chris Pontus, MS, RN, COHN-S
Associate Director, Health & Safety

Q. What is Incident Command System for Health Care Providers and why is it important to nursing practice?

A. Incident Command System for Health Care Providers (ICS-HCP) is a coordinated integrated management system used by all parties involved in an incident requiring immediate coordination of services, such as a terrorist incident or a public health emergency. This program, which was developed jointly by the Massachusetts Department of Public Health (DPH) and Department of Fire Safety (DFS), teaches health care facilities how to implement a unified management response to effectively manage such an emergency in the commonwealth. Understanding and implementing one standard promotes a coordinated response among health care workers at their facility and increases their understanding of the response at other facilities. Equally as important, it promotes a coordinated and unified community response between first responders such as EMS and fire service professionals and hospital staff.

Q. Is ICS-HCP a new concept?

A. The Incident Command System is not new. Fire service, emergency medical service, and law enforcement professionals use it as a routine component of their practice. Although health care workers practice an institutional form of incident command, ICS-HCP standardizes the facility’s response to an incident and brings health care providers in line with other first responders so that everyone functions with a common understanding.

Q. What value does practicing ICS-HCP add to nursing practice?

A. An increased understanding and coordination of services between first responders and health care staff benefits everyone. It promotes the safety and protection of all health care workers and first responders and it promotes patient safety.

Q. What does ICS-HCP involve?

A. The characteristics of ICS-HCP include a common command structure; management by function; a modular and flexible ability to respond; a consolidated action plan; a manageable span of control; common terminology; an integrated internal and external communication system; and comprehensive resource management. It is effective for both planned and unplanned events. ICS-HCP involves individuals understanding their predetermined roles and responsibilities, which increases the effectiveness of the response to the incident.

Q. How is ICS-HCP being taught?

A. The DPH and the DFS are offering the program to all Massachusetts hospitals. The program is six hours in length and is offered free of charge to all hospitals and participants. Some of the participants include nurses, nurse managers, advance practice nurses, physicians, physician assistants, senior administration, department heads, safety directors and outside health care agency staff, such as community health and public health nurses. Presented as a component of the DPH Hospital Emergency Preparedness Program, ICS-HCP is an effective management tool for all health care providers. We look forward to bringing the program to you and your facility and enhancing your response capability in the event of an incident or public health emergency.

Contact Mary A. Taschner, training liaison for the DFS, at 978.567.3210 or via e-mail at, if you would like more information on the ICS-HCP program, an ICS-HCP program schedule, or information on how to bring the program to your facility.