Critical Incident Management
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Critical Incident Management

A Complete Response Guide, Second Edition

Vincent Faggiano, John McNall, Thomas T. Gillespie

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eBook - ePub

Critical Incident Management

A Complete Response Guide, Second Edition

Vincent Faggiano, John McNall, Thomas T. Gillespie

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About This Book

Terrorism threats and increased school and workplace violence have always generated headlines, but in recent years, the response to these events has received heightened media scrutiny. Critical Incident Management: A Complete Resource Guide, Second Edition provides evidence-based, tested, and proven methodologies applicable to a host of scenarios t

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CRC Press

The Nature of Critical Incidents 1


After completing this chapter, you should be able to:
  • Recall the most common characteristics of critical incident response.
  • Describe the three universal criteria for agency response plans.
  • Recognize the impact of politics on agency response.
  • Differentiate between controllable and uncontrollable incident factors.
So what is a critical incident? This book uses a broad definition that covers every conceivable type of occurrence:
A critical incident is an extraordinary event that places lives and property in danger and requires the commitment and coordination of numerous resources to bring about a successful conclusion.
Within the definition lies the greatest obstacle to success. As emergency responders, we train to respond to a scene, resolve it, and return to service. The majority of calls for service are handled in this manner. However, when the first responders are not capable of resolving the scene and it will require numerous resources, sometimes from multiple agencies, problems arise. It is the coordination of these resources and their integrated response that are key to success.
You can probably recall a few responses that fit this definition. It is deliberately inclusive. Within the critical incident category, there are several types of events that you could be called upon to manage. A short list includes the following:
  • Terrorist Activities (Weapons of Mass Destruction): Weapons of mass destruction can range from biological (think anthrax or smallpox) and chemical to nuclear, radiological, and explosive.
  • Natural Disasters: In the event of earthquake, hurricane, tornado, flood, ice storm, or blizzard, the problems are often magnified due to the size of the incident. A different type of natural disaster may involve health issues. Both the SARS incident in Toronto, Canada, and a MRSA, influenza, or meningitis outbreak are natural disasters, which can impact entire communities.
  • Transportation Accidents: These can range from mass-casualty bus accidents and train derailments to airplane crashes and shipping mishaps. Each classification has its own hazards. Additionally, any transportation accident has the potential to involve hazardous materials. Basically any transportation accident that fits the definition of requiring large numbers of resources from numerous agencies to resolve would qualify as a critical incident.
  • Criminal Activities: This broad category can include bombings, arsons, active shooters, barricaded gunmen, and hostage situations.
  • Fires/Hazardous Materials Incidents: Hazardous-chemical spills and explosions, industrial fires, high-rise fires, and multiple-dwelling fires can quickly become the most dangerous events of all. In the vast majority of HazMat situations, a police officer is first on-scene.

Incident Types

Incidents may be typed on the following five levels of complexity in order to make decisions about resource requirements:
Type 5
  • The incident can be handled with one or two single resources with up to six personnel.
  • Command staff and general staff positions (other than the Incident Commander) are not activated.
  • No written Incident Action Plan (IAP) is required.
  • The incident is contained within the first operational period and often within an hour to a few hours after resources arrive on scene. Examples include a vehicle fire, an injured person, or a police traffic stop.
Type 4
  • Command staff and general staff functions are activated, only if needed.
  • Several resources are required to mitigate the incident.
  • The incident is usually limited to one operational period in the control phase.
  • The agency administrator may have briefings and ensure that the complexity analysis and delegation of authority is updated.
  • No IAP is required, but a documented operational briefing will be completed for all incoming resources.
  • The role of the agency administrator includes operational plans with objectives and priorities.
Type 3
  • When capabilities exceed initial attack, the appropriate ICS positions should be added to match the complexity of the incident. Some or all of the command staff and general staff positions may be activated, as well as division/group supervisor- and/or unit leader-level positions.
  • A Type 3 incident management team (IMT) or incident command organization manages initial action incidents with a significant number of resources, an extended attack incident until containment/control is achieved, or an expanding incident until transition to a Type 1 or 2 team.
  • The incident may extend into multiple operational periods.
  • A written IAP may be required for each operational period.
Type 2
  • This type of incident extends beyond the capabilities for local control and is expected to go into multiple operational periods. A Type 2 incident may require the response of resources out of area, including regional and/or national resources, to effectively manage the operations, command, and general staffing.
  • Most or all of the command staff and general staff positions are filled.
  • A written IAP is required for each operational period.
  • Many of the functional units are needed and staffed.
  • Operations personnel normally do not exceed 200 per operational period, and total incident personnel do not exceed 500 (guidelines only).
  • The agency administrator is responsible for the incident complexity analysis, agency administrator briefings, and the written delegation of authority.
Type 1
  • This type of incident is the most complex, requiring national resources to safely and effectively manage and operate.
  • All command staff and general staff positions are activated.
  • Operations personnel often exceed 500 per operational period, and total personnel will usually exceed 1000.
  • Branches need to be established.
  • The agency administrator will have briefings and ensure that the complexity analysis and delegation of authority are updated.
  • Use of resource advisors at the incident base is recommended.
  • There is a high impact on the local jurisdiction, requiring additional staff for office, administrative and support functions.
The ability to effectively categorize incidents will allow a clear understanding of the size, scope, and seriousness of an incident, especially when ordering assets from other levels of government. Although an incident may not be able to be categorized specifically during its inception, this becomes critically important in the after-action reporting phase.
That’s a wide range of incident types, but they have more in common than most people would imagine.

Common Characteristics

As we mentioned in the Introduction, we have had the opportunity to share the management strategies discussed in this book since the mid-1980s with tens of thousands of emergency responders. Participants have included:
  • Law enforcement personnel, from patrol officers to police chiefs
  • Fire service personnel, from firefighter lieutenants to chiefs
  • Emergency medical technicians and supervisors
  • State, local, and federal authorities
  • Emergency management personnel
  • Elected officials
  • K–12 officials
  • Campus personnel including faculty, staff, administrators, and executive-level management
In one classroom exercise, students identify common issues that have caused them problems in managing critical incidents, especially in the crisis phase. The similarities among the lists from each session are truly amazing. Geography doesn’t matter. Agency representatives from every corner of the United States and beyond identify the same issues. Think the size of your organization makes a difference? Similar issues apply regardless of whether respondents work in small, midsize, or large departments—rural or urban, for that matter. They are the tasks that, if accomplished well, usually result in an excellent response, but they are also the issues that can be problematic at a scene—the issues raised in the after-action and media reports of the incident.
Most interestingly, responses are generally the same regardless of the specific nature of the incident. It does not matter what type of incident you face. The issues described in this chapter apply equally to all, be they barricaded gunmen, hazardous-material spills, or mass-casualty incidents.
Common issues fall into the following broad categories:
  • Communications
  • Who’s in charge?
  • Resources and resource coordination
  • Intelligence gathering and problem assessment
  • Crowd and traffic control (perimeters)
  • Environmental issues
  • Planning and training
  • The media


As you read through these, think of an incident you have responded to. Try to recall if any or all of the identified issues had an impact—positive or negative—on your response.


Communications encompasses so many areas that responders almost always identify it as the number one issue that impacts their incident response. Specifically, concerns usually break out into technical, personal, and organizational communication.
Line officers and supervisors usually identify communications concerns in terms of equipment or technical issues such as:
  • Poor radio equipment
  • Lack of quality power sources (i.e., batteries dying in the field)
  • Lack of a common radio frequency that can be shared by all responders. The term “interoperable communications” has become a mainstay of grant writers subsequent to the events of September 11, 2001. The need to be able to communicate not only between local responders but with state and federal assets has become an issue that almost all communication units have either addressed or are in the process of doing so.
  • Garbled or unreadable transmissions from the scene due to poor reception or transmission (weak signals and dead spots)
Obviously, any or all of the these equipment issues can have a direct effect on problem assessment and deployment of personnel to stabilize the scene. What can you do to limit technical communications problems on-scene? Prepare. Plan. Procure!
Personal communication issues, such as the ability to communicate effectively in spite of the high-stress conditions at the scene, are also identified as key. Can you organize your thoughts and give critical orders under pressure? We will discuss leadership issues, including tactical communication, later under “Who’s in Charge?” and in Chapter 4.
Administrative personnel tend to identify organizational communication issues that go beyond technical considerations. These issues can have as great or greater impact at a scene. These concerns include:
  • Departmental sharing of expectations with responders
  • Communication of response plans to those responsible for implementing the plans
  • Communication with other responding agencies—other law enforcement, fire, EMS, utility agencies, and so forth
  • Use of 10-codes
All of the areas just listed directly impact the effectiveness of the first-responding units. Do you know what your organization expects of you in a crisis? Do you know what plans are available? Can your organization effectively coordinate with fire and EMS services? Most of these issues touch on training, which we will address shortly.
It is easy to see why such a broad area as communications can have the single greatest impact on the initial response to a critical incident. Doubtless, you can recall many instances in which communications (both good and bad) affected your response.

Who’s in Charge?

The dilemma of command turns up in every problem assessment exercise. This is cited as a major issue at every scene—even in single-agency responses! The standard answer to the question “Who’s in charge?” is a simple one: “You are!” Clarity of command—to those on-scene and those involved off-site, such as dispatchers—is imperative to prevent confusion and the potentially tragic results that confusion can cause.
Multiple-agency and multidisciplinary (police, fire, public works, and EMS) responses add a whole new spin to the command issue. Of course, the question of a scene’s overall management and the assumption of command can be complex. In Chapter 6 we will discuss the implementation of a unified command structure as outlined in the national ICS model. For response to an incident in the crisis phase, however, use a much simpler approach: Each discipline is in charge of and responsible for its own particular area of expertise.
Simply put, the folks with the hoses are responsible for fire suppression. The folks with the ambulances and medical equipment are responsible for treatment and victim transport. Law enforcement is responsible for traffic and crowd control, site security, and police-related activities. Public health officials will assume responsibility for health issues, and so on.
Focus on your tasks. Don’t make command more complicated than it has to be.

Resources and Resource Coordination

Not surprisingly, when participants talk about resources as a problem, what they usually mean is that they lack resources. Such a lack may well hamper the initial management of a spontaneous critical incident. Expect your initial response to be less than what you need or request.
An unusual characteristic of critical incidents, however, is that the lack of resources in the crisis phase of an incident is us...

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