March 2002

Land Use

Organizing Your Event

by Del Albright, BlueRibbon Ambassador

I would like to introduce you a management system that you can use to organize your organization (or event or conference or meeting or training). It works wonders and is used by thousands of agencies across the United States.  It's called the Incident Command System (ICS).

ICS is a management and communications system that provides a standardized method of getting the most out of folks and making your activity all the more productive.  It's designed to give you an organization to meet your objectives.

First used by emergency service providers (like fire departments), ICS has now become widely accepted as a management tool to handle about anything that requires organization.  I've used it for conferences, meetings, training sessions, workshops, and recreational events.  It works.  And boy does it save time and confusion.

I am one of the trainers and developers of the ICS system, especially as it applies to conferences and events.  I can help you get this idea off the ground if it has appeal to you.

ICS starts with the premise that everyone should have a job; know what that job entails; and know how that job relates to other jobs in the organization.  It then ties everyone together with a common language and communications system.  Then it sets up parameters for meeting your event objectives through the various positions in the organization.

The leader is called the Incident Commander (IC).  Working for the IC are the Operations Section Chief, Logistics Section Chief, Planning Section Chief, and Finance Section Chief.  As you can see, right from the start, positions are related to functions.  Each function is clearly defined as to their role on the team.

Under each Section Chief are Unit Leaders to handle things like Food Unit; Communications Unit; Supply Unit; Check In Unit; Cost Unit; and many others.  Oh, and don't be discouraged by what looks like a lot of staff.  You can have more than one job, especially when staff is limited or the event doesn't warrant a lot of staff.

Further, with ICS, the principle is to staff up to the level of your needs; then staff down as the incident diminishes.  It works well.  Each Section Chief is responsible for staffing up their section to meet the needs of the incident. 

ICS has standardized forms that you can use to assign jobs; layout objectives; develop a medical or communications plan; and about anything else you can think of.

For a conference example, here's some Unit Leaders that might be assigned to work under one of the Section Chiefs:  Raffle Unit Leader (UL); Food UL; Entertainment UL; and Facilities UL.  Each job has specific duties/responsibilities and no one else gets in their business.

Although not specifically part of ICS, it does depend on good management practices.  For example,  each leader or chief should set  up specific objectives and expectations (in other words, give the rest of the crew a better picture of what's going on in their head).  We aren't expected to read minds as to what someone wants.  ICS does depend on everyone knowing their job and what's expected of them.

Objectives come with targets and time lines; and expectations give us the rules of the game.  A conference Incident Commander might have objectives that look like this:

  1. To conduct a worthwhile and entertaining event;

  2. To not waste anyone’s time.

  3. To stay within budget;

  4. To fulfill the overall mission of the organization/group;

  5. To have valuable and positive press coverage of the event.

IC Expectations might look like this:

  1. I'd like to avoid surprises; keep me posted ahead of time of anything that might throw off our plan;

  2. Please deliver what you promise and don't promise what you can't deliver;

  3. Put yourself in my shoes.  Let me know what you'd like to know if you were my shoes and in charge of this thing.;

  4. Please meet deadlines.  If you can't, please let me know well ahead of time so I can make alternate plans.

ICS does take a little training and practice to get used to.  But you'll save a lot time and effort in the long run.   If nothing else, we all should take better advantage of the idea of Objectives and Expectations for nearly everything we do with volunteers. 

We used ICS to organize our efforts on the Rubicon Trail repairs during 2001.  It worked wonders.  I can attest to its power and effectiveness, as can over 150 volunteers who worked on the trail under ICS. 

Even if you don’t use the ICS system, the day is here when anyone who wants the time of volunteers needs to be very organized.  Folks don’t want to spin their wheels or waste time.  So we must provide organized ways of getting organized. Otherwise, we’ll lose our volunteers and members of our groups.  We are all just too busy these days. In order to be something that folks want to be a part of, you’ve got to be organized and efficient.  ICS is one proven, guaranteed way to do that.

If you need further information or training please feel free to get a hold of me.

Also, visit my web site for more on ICS:

Email me at