If your hospital or health system has an initiative to improve the emergency preparedness program, or if you have moved into a new role that has emergency preparedness responsibilities, you have probably been hearing a lot about the Hospital Incident Command System (HICS) framework. You may also be hearing about HICS policies, templates, plans, and forms. If you unsure what “HICS” is or where to start, this perspective is for you. This article introduces HICS and links to resources that can take you to the next level of detail.
What is HICS?
So, all that being said, what is HICS? Per the HICS Guidebook (Fifth Edition, 2014), HICS is an incident management system the can be used by any hospital to manage threats, planned events, or emergency incidents. Keep in mind that just like business continuity, HICS is not a singular activity or plan, it is an overarching program or framework that helps to design, implement, maintain, and improve an emergency preparedness program.
You may have also heard of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Incident Command System (ICS). ICS and HICS are closely related, but HICS is specially adapted to meet the needs of hospitals while ICS can be applied broadly to almost any public and private organization. HICS and ICS are widely accepted frameworks and have been proven over the past 20+ years. From a regulatory perspective, there are three primary forces driving hospitals towards HICS:
- Hospitals that receive federal preparedness and response grants are required to implement a NIMS compliant incident response framework.
- The Joint Commission, and other accreditation bodies, require hospitals to implement emergency preparedness programs.
- The Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) requires emergency preparedness, contingency plans, and exercises for all Medicare and Medicaid providers.
One of the key resources available to help implement HICS are a series of HICS forms. Per the HICS Guidebook, HICS forms are intended to “provide guidance for incident documentation, resource tracking, safety information, cost collection, and other critical activities within the Hospital Command Center”. The forms are not in and of themselves the solution to implement an emergency management program, but they are an excellent resource.
Where HICS Ends and Business Continuity Begins
HICS has been an extremely valuable tool for the healthcare industry; however, it does not always account for a hospital or health system’s complete set of preparedness needs. Traditionally, HICS addresses incidents or circumstances that stress patient care functions. However, the framework does not, in isolation, account for other potential business interruptions (e.g. unplanned technology downtime) or interruptions solely affecting back-office functions. Business continuity is there to address these needs. Furthermore, since HICS has pre-defined roles for business continuity, integrating the two can be a natural evolution. Finally, since HICS is scalable and flexible, it can be designed in such a way that it still serves as the overarching incident response framework for any type of event, whether it impacts patient care or another function.
For more on how business continuity and HICS relate and how an organization can integrate the two to achieve a higher level of preparedness, check out the following perspectives:
- Breaking Down Silos: Evolving and Incident Command System to Include Business Continuity
- A Cross-Functional Approach to Hospital Preparedness
For the next level of detail and for more resources on HICS and ICS, we recommend downloading the HICS Guidebook and visiting the online knowledge base for NIMS. In addition, to the HICS Guidebook, standard HICS forms are available from the Emergency Medical Services Authority of California. This just scratches the surface of what is out there to help.
If you need help working towards an integrated approach to preparedness disciplines, including incident command, business continuity, IT disaster recovery, and information security, please contact us today. We look forward to hearing from you.