NICS is a web-based command and control environment that enables collaboration among Fire-Rescue, Law Enforcement, Emergency Services, and Technical Specialists across Federal, State, County, Local/Municipal, Tribal, Military, Non-Government (NGO), and Public Utility organizations, departments, and agencies. NICS facilitates real-time situational awareness for widely dispersed responders for use as a preparedness, planning, response, and recovery application on all-risk emergency incidents and planned events.
A video that illustrates generic NICS functionality can be seen here.
NICS is sponsored by the Department of Homeland Security Science and Technology Directorate, and is being developed by Massachusetts Institute of Technology Lincoln Laboratory in partnership with the operators from the California First Responder Community.
- Based upon Open standards: It runs on any computer, any operating system, any browser (except Internet Explorer 8 and earlier; IE 9 works fine)
- Non-proprietary: Not vendor owned; this is a community development project
- Uses an "App Store" model: Apps can be developed by anyone, with easy plug-&-play functionality
- Always improving: Like the Web, NICS will never be done; it will always be improved and adapted by the community
- Available at No cost to Emergency Responders
- Aimed at the Tired–Dirty–Hungry: Carefully designed for the responder under extreme stress
- Focused on scalability: Technology for small to large to extreme scale incidents
NICS provides collaboration and communication capabilities across all echelons of responders; it enhances the quality and accessibility of sensor data; and it integrates location data for resources, vehicles, and personnel. During an incident, NICS provides an information backbone that manages and distributes data, including real-time vehicle location feeds, weather, critical infrastructure, and terrain information.
Incident data is displayed by using a web-based, open standards platform that allows users with the proper permissions to log into a map-based environment accessible via an ordinary web browser and Internet connection. NICS offers graphical tools, including geo-referenced virtual whiteboards, for dynamic interagency collaboration that facilitates a coordinated response.
Using these tools, responders are able to quickly form teams, send messages to one another, and remotely share maps and drawings that enhance the management of the incident. As of July 2012, over 700 first responders across more than 50 organizations have been trained in the use of NICS and are employing NICS daily (as examples, all CAL FIRE regional units, California Emergency Management Agency, all CAL FIRE Incident Management Teams, Riverside County Fire and Sheriff's Departments, Riverside County Office of Emergency Services, Sycuan Fire Department and the Golden Eagle Hotshots (Bureau of Indian Affairs), San Marcos Fire Department, San Diego Fire-Rescue Department, and the U.S. Border Patrol, to cite a few.)
CAL FIRE units and local departments (county and municipal) in Riverside and San Diego, as well as other California Counties, are integrating NICS into their day-to-day operations to train personnel and respond to incidents, such as wildland fires. During the 2011 Southern California fire season (June to November), the system was used in operational evaluations on a number of large wildland fires (Riverside and San Diego) that progressed beyond initial attack. Since 2010, NICS has been used on over 200 actual incidents. It has also been used in the Los Angeles, Boston, and San Diego marathons for management of medical team response.
NICS has seen this adoption by first responder organizations because:
- It is web-based and technology neutral
- It does not try to do everything – It is designed for the responder under extreme stress -- the Tired-Dirty-Hungry; it is easy to learn and use.
- It is free for responder organizations (all funding has been provided by the government; no vendor has proprietary rights to NICS; it is an open standards, community development project).
The NICS interface
NICS supports an apps plug-in model, including the following:
- The ability to organize and share whiteboard rooms
- The ability to communicate and document information using “Text Based Chatting” (public and private)
- Multiple base map layers including streets, topographical, satellite, and aeronautical
- A well-organized data warehouse
- Automatic Vehicle Location (AVL)
- Position Location Information (PLI) satellite based personnel tracking
- Automated Aircraft Flight Following (AFF)
- Robust real-time weather feeds
- Form and Reports