The Importance of Community Lifelines and Their Integration into Incident Response

How Many Community Lifelines Are There?

On August 1st, FEMA added Water Systems to the list of Community Lifelines. Now, in addition to food, shelter and medical services, drinking and wastewater systems will be tracked and reported as part of daily situation reports.

The fourth edition of the National Response Framework introduced Community Lifelines as a new construct for objectives-based response. NAPSG Foundation has incorporated the concept into our Symbol Library Tool.


FEMA’s Community Lifelines construct provides a framework for planning and responding to the critical functions essential to human health, safety or economic security during disasters. A key component of this construct is the priority given to the rapid stabilization of Community Lifelines during and immediately after an event. To support these efforts, NAPSG Foundation has updated our Symbol Library Tool with symbols reflecting the new Food, Water and Shelter (FWS) Lifeline Components. The updated tool can be found within the Resources area of our website. A guideline document and technical resources related to the new symbols are available as well.


The community needs a variety of services to maintain and thrive including power, domestic water, wastewater treatment, communications and gas. Disruptions to these lifelines can have significant impacts ranging from food spoilage and medicine storage issues to lack of oxygen delivery and backflow of sewage.

In 2019, FEMA introduced the Community Lifelines concept to reframe incident information, understand and communicate impact, and prioritize efforts to restore a set of core functions communities depend on. The framework uses plain language and promotes a holistic view of community wellness.

NAPSG Foundation has developed symbols reflecting Community Lifelines and their components in our Symbol Library Tool for use by local governments, departments and agencies during disaster response. These can be found within the Resources area of this website under the category Lifeline Symbols.


The community lifeline construct provides a simple approach to identify and prioritize the restoration of critical services following a disaster. According to FEMA, a community lifeline “enables the continuous operation of critical government and business functions that are essential to human health and safety or economic security.”

FEMA recently added Water Systems to the existing seven Community Lifelines in recognition of the importance of drinking water and wastewater services during an emergency event. This change is an important step to integrating the community lifelines into incident response.

The framework also introduces a color status tier system that stakeholders can adapt to quickly communicate their issues during an emergency. This streamlined communication tool will help speed up the recovery of essential functions and get people back to their daily lives.


The Community Lifelines framework increases the awareness of the reliance on individuals that make up communities. From the individual residents to the local fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies, school districts, hospitals, public health and other state and federal agencies that support the county during disasters, each has a role to play in the overall success of an incident response.

The new construct, outlined in the National Response Framework (NRF) Fourth Edition V2.0 – 2019, makes the identification and prioritization of stabilizing Community Lifelines during an incident response the primary effort at all levels of response. It also reframes incident information and provides decision makers with root cause analysis through the use of plain language and a common suite of essential functions. It utilizes a simple color status tier system to help stakeholders better recognize what is most important.


While emergency management practitioners have always understood the web of continuity that exists within a community, the Community Lifelines framework brings these connections to the forefront in incident response. It helps teams understand the impact of an individual on the response and recovery efforts and makes bringing those individuals into the EOC a less intimidating process.

ESF-leads and others should report the status of community lifelines in a color-coded format: green means good; yellow indicates a significant disruption with an identified solution; red indicates a critical disruption without an immediate answer. This allows the team to identify and prioritize the restoration of those lifelines.

The Delta County ESF and Community Lifeline annex provides a structure for departments, agencies and special districts to work together in the EOC during an incident. It includes common mitigation, response and recovery responsibilities, planning and coordination formats which should be followed in any event in Delta County.

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