DHS Looks to Expand, Update COMU Program
Tuesday, December 04, 2018 | Comments
Officials from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and public-safety agencies are looking to update and expand the communications unit (COMU) program.

The changes come at time when the department is in transition and the former Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) is now the Emergency Communications Division (ECD) of DHS’s newly established Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA).

DHS and other public-safety officials are looking to expand the COMU program responsibilities to manage broadband data and IT functions, as well as elevate the COMU to a higher level in the Incident Command System (ICS).

The plan, called Incident Communications 2.0, will better handle the needs of the National Incident Management System (NIMS), said Wes Rogers, communications specialist, DHS ECD.

He said the problem is that demand for technology has exceeded the capability of ICS, and a unified typed approach is inconsistent within ICS. Under the current organizational chart, the incident commander is at the top with four section chiefs, one of which is a logistics section chief. The communications leader (COML) falls under the logistics section chief.

There is currently no specific position or place within ICS responsible for providing IT personnel or resources. 

The new proposal would see a communications section chief join the other four section chiefs. The COML and an IT service unit leader are under the communications chief. The IT service unit leader oversees six standardized ICS positions to support IT equipment and infrastructure, information management, cybersecurity and help desk operations during events.

ECD set up the Incident Communications Advisory Council (ICAC) to discuss membership, positions, roles, responsibilities and functional changes in ICS. The first ICAC meeting was Nov. 7 – 8 in Seattle, with a second meeting planned for early February, followed by a third meeting with the new FEMA governance group in April.

SAFECOM and the National Council of Statewide Interoperability Coordinators (NCSWIC) are part of ICAC and want to address gaps within ICS through the development of:
• A nationwide, federated, governance framework to promote and provide a consistent recruitment, training, retention and support for all-hazards incident communications
• National standards for qualification, certification and credentialing
• Updated training courses and curriculum
• Clarification of existing ICS position descriptions including the communications unit leader (COML), communications technician (COMT) and radio operator (RADO) to include the all-hazards environment
• Structural changes with the NIMS structure to support the incident communications evolving complexity

Rogers provided the information Nov. 27 during a National Public Safety Telecommunications Council (NPSTC) teleconference.

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