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Back to Archives | Back to October 2008 Contents 

In-State and Interstate Mutual Aid: EMAC and FEMA

By Dwight Henninger, Chief of Police, Vail, Colorado, and IACP Representative to the International Association of Fire Chiefs Emergency Management Committee; and Bill Bullock, Staff Liaison, National Fire Service Mutual Aid System Task Force, International Association of Fire Chiefs, Fairfax, Virginia

n whom can an agency rely when it has the “big one” in its community: a natural disaster like an earthquake, a hurricane, a tornado, or a wildfire, or a man-made incident like a bus crash, a construction accident, or a terrorist incident? Agencies never have enough resources. After exhausting regular mutual aid, do they have a system for countywide or regional mutual aid? Do they have access to a statewide system that tracks and moves resources from place to place?

Several states have developed excellent systems to move resources. During a recent exercise in Ohio, in just 90 minutes over 30 police units, 30 emergency medical services (EMS) units, and 30 pieces of fire apparatus were moved from several agencies to a stadium. The farthest distance a piece of equipment traveled to the call for help was over 78 miles. Police chiefs should consider how long it would take in their communities to do the same.

Shortly after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita struck the United States, the International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC) recognized the need to develop an improved national plan to organize and deploy fire-based resources. Therefore, the Mutual Aid System Task Force (MASTF) was formed and charged with producing a report within one year on what improvements could be made to the national plan. The MASTF report, completed in 2006, focused on the issue of state-to-state, or interstate, mutual aid.

The IAFC has been concerned with the issue of mutual aid for some time. In fact, several months before the United States had ever heard of Katrina, the IAFC had begun to form the Intrastate Mutual Aid System (IMAS) to address aid within states. As is now well known, had each state hit by Katrina had a functional, operational, and practiced state plan, the state’s resources could have handled most emergencies related to the storm. But in 2005, very few states had that ability.

The Emergency Management Assistance Compact (EMAC) is a congressionally ratified organization managed by the National Emergency Managers Association. EMAC provides form and structure to interstate mutual aid. Through EMAC, a state affected by disaster can request and receive assistance from other member states quickly and efficiently. In 2004, EMAC transferred 4,000 resources into states affected by Hurricanes Francis and Ivan. By comparison, in 2005 EMAC transferred over 46,000 resources into the Gulf Coast states after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita.

“The IAFC’s efforts are to construct mutual aid systems to support EMAC requests more efficiently. MASTF’s work is intended to build a better component within EMAC—not to replace EMAC,” said Jay Reardon, a fire chief and a member of MASTF.1

Creation of the In-State Mutual Aid System

Funded in July 2006 by the National Incident Management System Integration Center within the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the National Fire Service IMAS was established with the ultimate goal of supporting the creation of formalized, comprehensive, exercised intrastate mutual aid plans. In many states such as Ohio and Colorado, the system has expanded into other public safety agencies, including law enforcement and emergency medical services. Other states such as Florida and California have in place well-exercised and effective systems that have been used to help model the plans being drafted in states that do not have current mobilization plans.

These state plans, in collaboration with the FEMA Resource Typing Standards, create an effective system to order and deploy resources throughout the states and provide for consistent ordering nomenclature for equipment and teams. Located on the FEMA Web site, the typing standards provide detailed descriptions of how law enforcement resources should be equipped and what assignments agencies should be capable of performing.2

IMAS is nearing completion of the 2006, 2007, and 2008 in-state mutual aid plan for the project states and is starting to focus on the tribal areas and territories for 2009. This five-year project, which will touch all 50 states, is funded by a grant from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and funneled through the National Integration Center to the IAFC.3

Assistance to develop formal, comprehensive mutual aid plans for efficiently mobilizing and deploying public safety assets to incidents within their states is being provided to states through the state fire chiefs associations. The plans that are produced will provide a mutual aid model that can be adopted and adapted to suit the needs of other emergency services and disciplines, the core principle being that if in-state mutual aid is not effective, then there is a low probability that state-to-state mutual aid can be managed effectively in a time of need. The IACP Homeland Security Committee has been working closely with the IAFC’s Emergency Management Committee on this project and fully recommends that each state’s law enforcement associations participate in these projects.

Chiefs who are unaware of their states’ plans should check out the IAFC Web site (, which has many of the states’ plans online, or contact their state offices of emergency management and ask about in-state mutual aid and mobilization plans. It is critical that the law enforcement profession participate in the plan development and exercises. Without this participation, law enforcement agencies might find that plans developed by the fire service do not adequately address their concerns regarding such issues as jurisdiction, authority, and reimbursement.

Remember, there might never be enough time in the day to plan for future emergencies, but when emergencies occur, agencies that do not plan ahead will always wish they had taken the time to address issues of regional mutual aid and statewide mobilizations. ■


1International Association of Fire Chiefs, “Clarifying the IAFC’s Role in Mutual Aid Initiatives,” March 22, 2006, (accessed September 13, 2008).
2See “Resource Management,” FEMA Web site, (accessed September 8, 2008).
3Readers can visit for more information or to review a copy of the MASTF report.



From The Police Chief, vol. LXXV, no. 10, October 2008. Copyright held by the International Association of Chiefs of Police, 515 North Washington Street, Alexandria, VA 22314 USA.

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