The wildfires in 1970 brought about FIRESCOPE, changing the way emergencies are managed

Wildfires in Southern California, 1970 map
Wildfires in Southern California, 1970. Capital Public Radio.

FIRESCOPE has produced a video that describes the evolution of the Incident Command System after the disastrous fire season of 1970.

(UPDATE May 21, 2019: the video has been removed from YouTube, apparently due to a copyright issue.)

Here are more details:

During a 13-day period in Southern California in 1970, 773 wildfires burned 576,508 acres, destroyed 722 homes  and killed 16 people. At the time there was no widely accepted interagency standard for organizing a management structure at an emergency or for sharing resources across agency and state boundaries. To help deal with these issues the federal government funded a project in  Southern California called “FIrefighting REsources of Southern California Organized for Potential Emergencies” — FIRESCOPE. Later when the rest of the state bought into the effort the name was changed, leaving out the word “Southern”, becoming “FIrefighting RESources of California Organized for Potential Emergencies”, but retaining the same acronym, FIRESCOPE.

In the early 1970s tests of the Incident Command System, later also known as the National Interagency Incident Management System (NIIMS), began. By 1982 NIIMS and the Multi-Agency Coordination System (MACS) developed by FIRESCOPE had been fully implemented in some areas. In 1987, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recognized the value of the management concepts of ICS/NIIMS and MACS when used for many types of incidents. Sixteen months after the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks the President ordered the Director of Homeland Security to develop, submit for review, and administer a National Incident Management System (NIMS). The next year the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security issued a memorandum formally adopting the National Incident Management System (NIMS) as the national model. NIMS was built upon NIIMS and was very recognizable to first responders who had been using it since 1982.

After the fires of 1970 California state agencies released what is now a classic film, “Countdown to Calamity”.

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Author: Bill Gabbert

After working full time in wildland fire for 33 years, he continues to learn, and strives to be a Student of Fire.

3 thoughts on “The wildfires in 1970 brought about FIRESCOPE, changing the way emergencies are managed”

  1. There was no US Department of Homeland Security in the 1990s. It wasn’t formed until November 2002.

    1. Fixed the year of the 9/11 attacks and changed “Secretary of Homeland Security” to “Director of Homeland Security”. Here’s the history of the agency:

      Eleven days after the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge was appointed as the first Director of the Office of Homeland Security in the White House. The office oversaw and coordinated a comprehensive national strategy to safeguard the country against terrorism and respond to any future attacks.

      With the passage of the Homeland Security Act by Congress in November 2002, the Department of Homeland Security formally came into being as a stand-alone, Cabinet-level department to further coordinate and unify national homeland security efforts, opening its doors on March 1, 2003.


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