Module 10.3 – Tools and Methods

There are many tools and measures that you can use to increase your speed and efficiency in critical incident response. Some of the most basic and most useful items to have in place before a critical incident occurs are shown below:

  • Specific security scenario-based contingency plans
  • Rehearsals and drills of emergency procedures
  • Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) for key incidents, and responses (e.g., building evacuation, fire response, taking shelter if under fire)
  • Standby arrangements with other potential responder.
  • Communications systems – with emergency back-up provided
  • Staff tracking systems
  • Information management systems and procedures
  • For larger offices or operations, a room specially dedicated and equipped to serve as an Operations Center in time of emergency

Specific security scenario-based contingency plans have already been discussed as a vital tool of critical incident management. Remember that good plans should involve likely partners in the planning process, and should be reviewed and updated regularly.

Rehearsals, drills and exercises of emergency procedures “Practice makes perfect” is the common saying, and it is true for critical incident response as it is for any other activity. There are three levels of practice to consider using in your office or operation:

1) Rehearsals are designed to familiarize staff with the planned responses; they may involve full walk-through of the plan, or merely “talk-through” the sequence of events. These activities are explanatory in nature and are done to make the plans clear in physical terms, to the staff.

2) Drills are practices of specific activities that are done routinely, usually on a predetermined schedule. The most common of these is the fire drill or building evacuation drill. It is announced that a drill is planned at a set time so that people can schedule important meetings and other activities around it. The drills should be observed by managers and any errors or misunderstandings corrected.

3) Exercises are designed to test staff, as individuals or teams, on how they would react in an emergency situation. These activities are also planned to avoid disrupting other planned and important events, but should be announced to the staff with an element of surprise. The idea of these security exercises is to determine if staff can act quickly in a simulated emergency, know the correct protocols, and can solve unanticipated problems that may arise. In some cases elaborate informational inputs and simulated emergency effects can be simulated to add realism to the exercise.

4) Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs) – SOPs do not need to be as rigidly prescriptive as regulations, rather they can serve as default procedures to be implemented automatically unless circumstances dictate otherwise, thus reducing response time. These are generally concise in nature and describe step-by-step responses, with titles like: Treatment for Snakebite, Taking Cover If Under Fire, Response to Fire in the Building or Guest House, Earthquake Safety Procedures, and so on. The particular SOPs that are written for your office naturally depend on where you are and what threats you may expect to encounter. These are similar to contingency plans, but are simpler and more generic in nature.

5) Stand-by arrangements – In situations where there are other potential rescuers or responders nearby or with superior equipment or abilities, you should investigate the possibility of making stand-by arrangements for their services in the case of emergency. Exact services needed, whom to contact and how, and expected cost or reimbursement should all be clarified in advance.

6) Communications systems – If you cannot locate and communicate with your staff in an emergency, you will not be able to manage the incident. Considerations here include the electronic and technical specifications of the equipment and systems, e.g., do you have the equipment you need, is it in good working order, will it work in an emergency, and do staff know how to use it?

7) Staff tracking systems – Efficient ways to quickly find and communicate with staff require more than equipment. Procedures for using the equipment in an emergency and structures or systems for quickly contacting all staff are also essential. In high-risk areas you may need to control staff movements and ensure that contact can be made and maintained without delay. This includes organizational arrangements like a warden system or telephone information “tree” that organizes contact data and identifies responsibilities for contacting each staff member.

8) Information management systems – Reporting systems are needed to ensure managers at all levels receive information promptly. Do you know which kinds of reports are required, by whom, and under what circumstances? Information management systems can include consideration of what details can be publicized (possibly posted on a web page to facilitate rapid dissemination) and what facts will need to be controlled tightly (e.g., names of casualties). The information management system can be very simple, from spoken instructions to staff on what information to release and what not to release, to sophisticated communications networks. Whatever system you have, the point is that in a critical incident, important situational information must reach decision-makers, and important decisions, requests, or orders must reach their intended destinations.

9) Operations rooms or “Ops Centers” An operations center is the hub of activity for the critical incident response. It may be very formal, with pre-assigned equipment, or may be ad-hoc, and rebuilt from remaining still-functioning equipment. In principle, the Ops Center activities should be dedicated to the strategic overview of the incident so that managers can respond appropriately rather than in a piecemeal manner. The staff of the Ops Center will collect and analyze information and make decisions that protect life and property. The goal is to allow continuity of the organization’s program or activities to the extent possible, while those dedicated to the Ops Center focus on the urgent activities associated with the critical incident. Staff assigned to this duty must be properly trained, and be given the proper authority to carry out actions that are necessary to respond to the disaster, and which may not be their normal or day-to-day activities.

The tools and methods shown above illustrate an important point made at the beginning of this module: it is difficult to define the exact starting point of critical incident management because so many steps essential for good crisis management can only be taken well in advance of the incident. Simply put, good critical incident management depends on good security assessment and good plans and planning.