In the past few years, there has been an increase in the number of cooperative multi-agency decisions being made across the United States. These multi-agency decisions are those that involve more than one Federal, state or local agency. Furthermore, many such decisions will be cooperative agreements between agencies that may have different missions and therefore , be involved with different levels of authority.

Each NIMS structure has its own requirements for creating these types of agreements. For example, the National Response Framework has a section about Inter-Agency Cooperation. The National Incident Management System does not have a similar standard; it does require that for the NIMS structure to be successful, more than one agency will need to be involved. In other words, each agency will need to cooperate with each other agency, not just as a team of agencies but also individually. Each agency will therefore have its own responsibilities .

Which NIMS structure makes cooperative multi-agency decisions?

1. The National Response Framework

While it is possible for a single agency to be a lead agency for all of the operations that are created in the response structure, it is very difficult to do so. In other words, it is very difficult for a single agency to manage the entire response. 

One example of this is the Federal role in large scale disasters such as Hurricane Katrina. It was extremely difficult for Federal agencies to work together while they had “independent” missions that represented different areas of authority.

The National Response Framework was established by Executive Order 13618, signed by President George W. Bush on May 1 2003, with an implementation date of October 5 2003 (the date when all chapters of Public Law 108-4 were enacted).

 The exact language in the Executive Order was “To establish a national response framework to provide for the comprehensive coordinated management of Federal domestic incidents, including terrorist attacks and other public health emergencies, and for other purposes.”

2. The National Incident Management System (NIMS) Structure

When a Federal agency and other agencies decide to create a joint response structure, each agency must still have specific responsibilities as to how they will perform their roles. For example, one federal agency might be in charge of the preparedness plan for the response organization; another might be responsible for the communications process; another for the medical capabilities, supplies and equipment.

 Within this structure, each agency may have its own roles to play but they must all work together to meet their overall goals.The National Incident Management System (NIMS) Structure is a set of four levels that are formally defined by way of a Guidance and Training Manual, National Guidelines and Training Standards Version 1.0. This structure covers the four components as shown in the following chart:

Which NIMS level is responsible for coordinating all of the resources at the incident site?

3. Mutual Aid Agreements (MAAs) of type I, II or III

Each agency has a particular mission that it must carry out; this is usually reflected in the types of agreements that an agency has with other agencies. Agencies can enter into a number of different types of agreements with one another; this could be anything from acquiring property from another agency to having its own employees work side by side with those of another agency to provide assistance as part of a joint response effort.

The largest number of these types of agreements are known as MAAs. Mutual Aid Agreements are a type of agreement where agencies cooperate in carrying out their missions .

4. Cooperative Agreements of type I, II or III

Cooperative Agreements are also types of agreements between agencies; however, instead of involving cooperation between the agencies, they involve each agency working on their own to carry out specific tasks in serving their individual missions. This type of agreement is usually authorized by law and many states have separate laws that allow for cooperative agreements. For example:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has a number of mutual aid agreements (known as MAAs) with other federal and state agencies. These MAAs typically involve other agencies providing resources such as personnel, equipment or supplies to the FEMA Regional Offices. 

With a MAAs, FEMA trains its State and Local Emergency Operations Center (SLEOC) personnel to become familiar with the other agencies’ response plans. A MAAs benefits both the FEMA Regional Office and those agencies who are part of the agreement.

The critical aspect of the MAAs is that the resources that are used by both sides must be reimbursed by FEMA. The most common funding source for this is from Homeland Security Grant funds . It can also be sourced through FEMA’s National Response System (NRS).

Agencies may also enter into a joint operations committee agreement in order to improve their response capabilities. This type of agreement is formalized when it is totally voluntary for each agency and it does not require congressional approval .


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