Discussing IAFC’s National Mutual Aid System (NMAS) with Chief Kim Zagaris

Published: 1/28/2020
Author: Western Fire Chiefs Association

Daily Dispatch had the opportunity to discuss the IAFC’s National Mutual Aid System (NMAS) with WFCA’s Wildfire Policy and Technology Advisor, Kim Zagaris. As the former State Fire and Rescue Chief for the State of California Governor’s Office of Emergency Services (Cal OES), and current Chair of IAFC’s Emergency Management Committee, Chief Zagaris’ extensive background in incident operations and command lends him an educated and insightful perspective on unfolding emergency management initiatives.

Background information: 

KZ: The International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) developed the National Mutual Aid System (NMAS) after Hurricane Katrina. I participated on the development committee at the time, and I am now the Chair of the IAFC Emergency Management Committee, which the NMAS program is part of. I have been involved from the get-go on how we want to roll the program out and in what direction we want to take it.

How is WFCA involved?

KZ: The Western Fire Chiefs Association (WFCA) is very supportive of NMAS and believes it is both important and long-overdue, especially with the increasing number and magnitude of national catastrophic disasters. My involvement as the Chair of the Emergency Management Committee, working directly with Jeff Dulin, is an added benefit to WFCA’s contributions to the program.

What do States need to know about NMAS?

KZ: In 2019, IAFC, in collaboration with WFCA, was able to establish an agreement with the US Forest Service to share data to work with the Resource Ordering and Status System (ROSS) and its transition to the Interagency Resource Ordering Capability (IROC). From a wildland standpoint, the ability to share data between these two programs will reduce dispatch and coordination times, as well as provide additional capability during times of needing to ‘surge’ resources. This is true for the West, for the Nation, and for all risk emergencies.

What developments have taken place in the program over the last 6 months?

KZ: Florida has just signed on to NMAS. There have been informational sessions with several states, including the California Office of Emergency Services. Oregon State Fire Marshal is looking at the program. Idaho and Arizona are also considering it. Montana Emergency Management is committed to using the program.

NMAS is beginning to gain momentum and there is a lot of interest, not only within the fire service, but also other disciplines, such as law enforcement and public works.

Comments on the program’s usability:

KZ: I have been involved in several demonstrations and the key to the whole program is its ability to inventory resources. For example, if you needed 100 fire engines within a two-hour period, NMAS can find the closest 100 engines and send out an electronic notification of your request. This cuts down the lag time in making calls for availability of resources, as well as the time it takes to order and request those resources. It shares a lot of information very quickly. NMAS is also developing a process to share electronic data as resources move to their destinations.

The crux of the program is to request, locate, and deploy resources in real time, using new technology that is available, from a computer or a smart device.

Any additional thoughts about the program or WFCA’s involvement?

KZ: There is plenty of information available on IAFC’s website about NMAS. Additional details about the development of dashboards for local, county, regional, state-wide, and even national use is one of the items currently being considered.

David Blankinship, coming on-board from Intterra, will be able to work more with WFCA and IAFC on NMAS, to assist us in that process. Most people know that David and Brian Collins are working with us to help WFCA establish data sharing from the US Forest Service. We are going to try to use David’s knowledge and abilities to assist IAFC to get us where we need to go with NMAS.

Closing remarks:

KZ: NMAS is an all-hazard, all-discipline capable program that can reduce the time it takes to request, locate, and deploy resources to better protect lives, property, and the environment. With the wildfire problem in the West, and all the technology that is available, WFCA’s collaboration with IAFC ensures that the fire service as a whole is better positioned to respond.  

To learn more about NMAS, visit the IAFC NMAS page

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