Next Steps for COML Project Underway: SEARCH Helps Develop Training Curricula

  Back  See more recent articles

SEARCH is continuing its involvement in the Communications Unit Leader (COML) training within the National Incident Management System (NIMS). The Department of Homeland Security's (DHS) Office for Interoperability and Compatibility funded the initial development of the COML course in 2007.

In response to the need for standardized communication unit training, SEARCH was tasked through the SAFECOM Practitioner Resource Group to develop an all-hazards COML task list and training curriculum. (See Background for more details on this effort.)

Next Steps
From February 19-22, 2008, 30 public safety practitioners representing multiple disciplines across the nation met in Seattle, Washington, to discuss the COML course. Representatives from the DHS Incident Management Systems Integration Division and Office of Emergency Communications (OEC) also attended the meeting.

The next steps and recommendations that resulted from the meeting included contracting with SEARCH to modify course prequalifications, course curricula, materials and policies. SEARCH also developed a position-specific task book for COML to serve as an Assessment Guide. Individuals may include experience within the previous three years to meet the task book requirements, which comprise a list of practical, hands-on experiences or skills that must be demonstrated. A task book describes functions and tasks of an Incident Command System (ICS) position or function.

Dan Hawkins
Director, Public Safety Programs, SEARCH
"The latest news is that The COML course has been accepted by DHS as NIMS-compliant," said SEARCH Director of Public Safety Dan Hawkins. "OEC is sponsoring training May 27-29, 2008, in the Seattle area for people who will serve in the role of COML during the 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver, British Columbia, as well as during the national political conventions this summer in Minneapolis-St. Paul and Denver. In addition, work is under way to have the course added to the federal course catalog."

A COML Communiqué was issued on April 24, 2008, by the DHS Office of Interoperability and Compatibility, which is designed to assist in updating concerned parties regarding the progress of issues related to the COML position. For more information, contact SEARCH Public Safety Technology Specialist Mallorie Teubner at

Communication Unit Leader (COML) training has been a topic of concern for many years. Although great strides have been made to bridge operational and technical incompatibilities, our nation's public safety community still faces major challenges in addressing the complexity of managing communications during large-scale domestic incidents.

On April 12, 2005, the National Incident Management System (NIMS) Integration Center released an alert, NIMS Alert: 006-05, noting that Incident Command System (ICS) training guidelines must be consistent with the "concepts, principles and characteristics of the NIMS ICS training offered by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) training entities along with that of the National Wildfire Coordinating Group (NWCG)."

However, DHS did not currently have standardized communications unit training. NWCG training for it was the only existing standard that was NIMS-compliant, but it lacked broad application to the first responder community in other types of emergency response. As a result, the NIMS Integration Center asked SAFECOM to develop the all-hazards COML standard of performance and a training curriculum.

The project began on January 24, 2007, directed by an Oversight Committee made up of:
  • representatives from the NIMS Integration Center, SAFECOM and the Association of Public-Safety Communications Officials -International, Inc. (APCO);
  • a COML Working Group made up of practitioners throughout the country with experience and expertise across disciplines in ICS communications; and
  • Project Coordinators—a collaboration between G&H International Services, Inc., and SEARCH.

The project included four phases: 1) COML task list research and development; 2) curriculum development; 3) training pilots using the accepted task list and curriculum; and 4) design of the final training program.

Spring 2007: Pilot Class Held in Los Angeles County
The first (alpha) pilot class based on the curriculum was held in Los Angeles County, May 8-10, 2007. The Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department (LASD) has been an outspoken proponent for all-hazards COML training through U.S. Department of Justice and DHS advisory groups. SEARCH partnered with LASD to pilot the course across response disciplines in the county. Though limited in attendance for pilot purposes, the alpha class and a beta class conducted June 5-7 covered the entire curriculum through 24 hours of instruction and exercises.

Two train-the-trainer classes were held in June and mid-July 2007. With the assistance of the Oversight Committee in identifying qualified participants, approximately 50 persons participated in specialized deliveries of the course designed to prepare them for its delivery. Trained ICS Communications Unit Leaders with multi-hazard, multi-discipline experience and training credentials were given preference for attendance.

It has been given great support from police, fire, communications, and emergency management officials across the country. Representatives of the National Interagency Fire Center, an exponent of NWCG training and qualifications, and urban search and rescue (USAR) teams have contributed tirelessly as part of the COML Working Group. Perhaps most importantly, the question remains to be answered whether NIMS credentialing for any ICS position will extend beyond training to demonstrated proficiency as does the NWCG Wildland Fire Qualification System.