9/11 and Hurricanes Katrina and Maria viscerally overwhelmed response operations. The complexity and scale of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has systematically overwhelmed responses around the world, prompted a broad international collaborative effort that challenged existing response mechanisms. Command and Control is both the traditional and dominant approach to emergency management. Thus, it is built into the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the National Response Framework (NRF) in the form of the Incident Command System (ICS) which was mandated for local, state and federal usage in 2003. Given the centrality of Command and Control within emergency management policy and practice in the United States of America. And, the increasing frequency and severity of disasters and catastrophes, a deeper understanding of how emergency management practitioners interpret Command and Control is critical to enhancing preparedness.
Accordingly, this study employed a novel visual metaphor methodology to deepen understanding of how practitioners interpret Command and Control. During interview, 15 participants selected from federal and State emergency management and local first responder organizations provided a drawing of how they viewed Command and Control. This visual corpus demonstrated a localized and hierarchical on-scene perspective framed within ICS and aligned to the status as position metaphor. Significantly, only one participant referred to the local-state-federal system indicating limited cognizance of the scale and complexity of the NIMS and NRF defined national Command and Control system.