EMC002 – An Incident or Disaster?

EMC002 – An Incident or Disaster? Posted Spring 1996.

An incident is defined as an occurance or event (either human or natural caused) requiring action by emergency response personnel to prevent or minimize loss of life or damage to property and/or natural resources.

Incident characteristics include:

  • usually of a short duration (hours or days)
  • primary command decisions made at the incident scene
  • strategy, tactics and resource assignments determined on scene
  • usually a local emergency will not be declared and a local EOC may not be activated
  • a single event (however, there can be more than a single incident; i.e., multiple incidents)
  • with a defined geographical area
  • will use local resources; but mutual aid may be involved
  • may be only one or a few agencies involved (i.e., fire)
  • ordinary threat to life and property – limited population and geographic area

A disaster is defined as a sudden calamitous emergency event bringing great damage, loss or destruction. Disasters may occur with little or no advance warning, e.g., an earthquake, or a flash flood, or they may develop from one or more incidents; e.g., a major brush fire.

Distinguishing characteristics include:

  • generally affects a widespread population and geographic area
  • will last over a substantial time period (days to weeks)
  • local goverment will proclaim an emergency (as may other levels, such as state/federal)
  • Emergency Operations Centers are activated to provide central overall coordination of jurisdiction assets, department and incident support functions and initial recovery coordination
  • single or multiple event (can have many separate incidents associated with it)
  • resource demand is beyond local capabilities and extensive outside aid/support is needed
  • many agencies and jurisdications involved, including multiple layers of government
  • extra-ordinary threat to life and property
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