What Is an Emergency Response System?

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An emergency medical response professional talks on a phone inside an ambulanceDisasters carry a high cost. Data from multinational insurance company Munich Re shows that the U.S. lost nearly $145 billion in damages due to natural disasters in 2021, a significantly higher loss than the previous two years. The death toll is equally alarming, with natural disasters responsible for over 700 deaths in the U.S. in 2021. That was more than double the number recorded in 2020, according to data from the National Centers for Environmental Information (NCEI).

Often, the difference in the outcome of an emergency depends on how efficient the response is. Quick, effective responses can reduce potential damage and long-term issues for individuals, infrastructure and other impacted areas or elements.

As the effects of climate change increase the chance of disasters, it becomes all the more important to have efficient emergency response systems in place.

Emergency management professionals play a critical role in designing and implementing these emergency response systems. They are also crucial to helping communities recover from disasters. Those who wish to know what an emergency response system is and how to implement it should consider seeking an advanced degree to help them protect communities from unanticipated disasters.

Emergency Response System Defined

The most well-known and established emergency response system in the U.S. is the incident command system (ICS). This system establishes the guidelines for how to respond to a disaster and the methods to manage emergency response. The ICS sets out a plan to coordinate and manage resource distribution in the event of an emergency, to keep various elements of a community safe from danger, damage, or destruction.

Because resources can often be limited in a crisis, the ICS can expand or contract to cover any needs in a given situation. This adaptability makes this emergency response system highly cost-effective and an efficient method for a variety of circumstances. It’s often used in situations where communities are in harm’s way, such as during a wildfire or large-scale public discord.

A major difference between federal and state emergency response systems is scale. While more resources are available at the federal level, the ability to mobilize or respond may not be as quick as at the state level, especially if multiple states are affected by a disaster.

The Components of an Emergency Response System

The five functioning components of an emergency response system, such as the ICS, are versatile and can be used to respond to disasters and emergencies of any degree of severity. Each section references the goal of the component and the personnel involved. Each component adds a layer of efficiency to the emergency response.


The command component features the team that is in charge of the emergency response, which then determines the exact methods to be used by the other components. They establish the goals and priorities of the response team and hold overall accountability for emergency events. This component includes the commander in charge and their command staff. An example of command in action is communication which indicates what resources should be accessed and how they should be used.


The operations component performs the labor of an emergency response. While other components may work behind the scenes, operations feature the teams that carry out the job. They establish the strategy to complete the goals set out for them by command. An example of this component in action is when firefighters or medical technicians are sent to the field in the event of a wildfire.


Logistics provides the resources. They are in charge of supplying facilities, transportation, communications, supplies and any resources related to the emergency response. Examples of logistics in action include arranging a safe area to serve as a medical aid station or procuring transportation for operations personnel to travel more quickly to areas in need.


The planning team gathers and analyzes information about the situation and available resources. They then use this information to form action plans, such as emergency action plans, briefings and the use of maps. For example, a planning team might create a document summarizing an emergency in progress to keep command and other teams aware of what is going on.


This component keeps track of the expenditures associated with the emergency. This team offers accounting and cost analysis services to ensure the emergency response stays on budget and that command understands how money is spent. For example, the team would determine the cost of food shipped to a shelter, indicating to command and the other teams to readjust resources based on budget limitations or seek an alternative cost-effective option.

<h2>The Role of the Emergency Management Professional</h2>

Those in emergency management roles set emergency response systems in motion by determining each phase of the planned response. These professionals use their knowledge of the most successful emergency response methods to craft an action plan for a given scenario. With their leadership and communication skills, they can precisely explain to their teams and superiors what the optimal strategy should be.

Successful emergency management professionals are able to use their knowledge of past events to prepare emergency response plans in anticipation of future issues.

Develop Advanced Skills in Emergency Management

If previous years are any indication, disasters will continue to impact lives and property and may increase to higher levels of severity, making the skills of an emergency management professional all the more critical. Understanding that an emergency response system can make all the difference when it comes to a disaster is an integral part of being an emergency manager.

Those interested in the disaster response field would do well to seek out Eastern Kentucky University’s online Master of Science in Safety, Security & Emergency Management program.

With this program, students can receive training from partners such as the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), giving them a unique experience to learn more about planning and preparing for disasters.

Discover how Eastern Kentucky University can prepare you for a career responding quickly and efficiently to emergencies, helping protect people, communities, businesses, infrastructure, and our society at large.

Recommended Readings

5 Threats to National Security and How Government Protects its Citizens

Corporate Compliance Officer: Salary and Job Description

Safety Audit vs. Safety Inspection: What Are the Differences?


Federal Emergency Management Agency, National Incident Management System

Munich Re, “Hurricanes, Cold Waves, Tornadoes: Weather Disasters in USA Dominate Natural Disaster Losses in 2021”

Ready, Incident Management

SEAPRO, What Is the Incident Command System (ICS)?

U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, Emergency Management Directors

USDA, ICS 100 – Incident Command System