Critical Incident Management and Thinking Ahead

Here is another paper from my Masters Series years ago.  Over the past several weeks, I continue to receive requests for certain papers from my studies.  Thankfully, plagiarism checkers exist and I am far from worried.  I am posting these in a series because I enjoy helping others understand the evolution of events and the fore-thinking that needs to go into certain types of events taken right out of todays headlines.

Yesterdays standard response is now in need of specialized critical thinking and what SWAT brothers call “deep thought” or “critical analysis.”  It seems like yesterday the answer to everything was dynamic entry.  Then the evolution was “progressive” until a great friend came up with “controlled” and now you see teams react to the situations with a whole host of abilities.  Not just “blow and go” for you explosive breaching types.

Enjoy the read and feedback is always welcome. Respectfully, Chris Grollnek

Critical Incident Management and Thinking Ahead

by: Chris Grollnek M.S. / AJS

Active Shooter Prevention Expert

Critical Incident Management and Thinking Ahead by Chris Grollnek


The need for a standard and measurable response to critical incidents comes from past mistakes made by agencies in both public and private security administrations. During the past two decades, incidents continue to surpass other tragic milestones adding the validity to adopt plans and procedures by coordinating standard responses. The need to prepare for incidents through prevention, preparedness, a strategic response plan, and the recovery phase are important. The evolution of scenario planning basing a response to incidents from the past prepares commanders for the future. Incident commanders became so comfortable with their abilities; critical incident management was thought of as a need for major events. On April 20, 1999, critical incident response models known to the brightest commanders began a culminating change that few could predict. Columbine High School put the school-shooting phenomenon on the map and lessons from the incident continue to save lives.

Critical Incident Management Paper

Role of Scenario-Based Planning

Incident planning through the use of scenarios, serves as a focal point for teaching techniques and correcting poor decisions from the past. Terms such as table top exercises and practice drills assist in forward thinking. As stated by van der Heijden, Bradfield, Burt, Cairns, and Wright (2002):

Organizational learning introduces a number of interesting notions and observations         into the discussion. For example, Edgar Schein suggests that to learn means, among other things, to:

  • Recognize that we [sic] do not possess all the answers;
  • Concede that we often do not know what to do;
  • Question the basic assumptions we have long held.

This requires that we make ourselves vulnerable and as most individuals are reluctant to do this, Schein suggests that we go to extraordinary lengths not to learn (p. 174).

The discussion for scenario planning includes key points of learning from past mistakes.   Scenario planning is the foundation for considerations during training and reactionary planning.  Creating tabletop exercises assist in determining an agency’s exposure and allows managing the scenario with no tangible loss. At the end of the exercise the discussion of each variable and possible situation assist in assembling an appropriate response. One of the benefits of conducting scenario planning in a training environment allows participants to realize multiple sides of threats. These planning cycles are critical to the successful conclusion of critical incidents (van der Heijden, et al, p. 164).

Influence on Institutional Strategic Management

Lessons from scenario planning are influential in deciding the appropriate course and direction for developing a strategic plan. The evaluation of resource management and capabilities determine the agencies ability to provide the correct response to incidents. The four phases or lifecycle of a critical incident to evaluate include;

  • Prevention/Mitigation
  • Preparedness
  • Response
  • Recovery

The scenario-planning portion for an incident generally determines techniques to deter and mitigate incidents before they become critical. Shortfalls in equipment, personnel, technology, and assets determine how an agency can adjust their response model before a critical incident takes place. Mitigating dangers inherent to this type of incident is essential to reduce and possibly eliminate the plausibility of loss of life (Department of Homeland Security, 2011).

Through the evaluation of prior incidents and tabletop exercises, an institution will have an understanding of their level of preparedness to respond to a critical incident. If no response is possible that institution will have an understanding of preparations. The ability to respond is seen in planning and exercises. Coordinating a response and tactics, centralizing one incident commander for the lifecycle of the incident, and managing the response is the solution for negative influences.

The Virginia Tech shooting in 2007 taught valuable lessons of the lifecycle portion of an incident. The recovery phase of a critical incident does not mean the incident is over and no threat exists. Personnel need to remain alert and at the ready while tailoring this phase of the incident to a complete resolution. This leaves the incident commander in charge to delegate the response of other assisting and supporting agencies according to their protocols (System Planning Corp, 2009, pp. 7, 175).

Effects of the Critical Incident Management in

Justice and Security Organizations

        The effect that critical incidents can have on a workplace, school, or community in whole is devastating. The decisions made during a genuine critical incident will remain with the agency or organization that made them during the incident. Criminal justice and security organizations must be willing to learn from their own mistakes during exercises and be bold in their responses. Hostage and active-shooter incidents are the primary type of incidents agencies train for as they have the largest potential for a negative outcome. Through studying models of previous incidents and attending national training seminars, an outside looking in approach to planning assists in viewing the entire scenario. Another approach to evaluating agencies ability is to use active scenarios that may not be a full-scale critical incident but deploy resources as if it were one. This gives the “boots on the ground” the ability to work with equipment. The planners can see how their response model holds together in a deployable incident limiting the need to wait for a full critical incident to evolve. The incident commander can gradually work his or her way through an incident in “real time” with minimal risk (FEMA, 2011).


        Critical incidents are sporadic events that occur without warning and have the highest propensity for loss of life. Scenario planning assists in determining ways to mitigate and reduce the liability and exposure of justice and security organizations. Implementing training and preparing for encompassing scenarios reduces the risk of unnecessary loss of life. Planning and training for these types of situations continue to uncover new techniques and procedures that will no doubt assist others for years to come.


Department of Homeland Security (2011). Preparedness, Response & Recovery Activitie

        & Programs. Retrieved from

FEMA. (2011). Center for Domestic Preparedness. Retrieved from

System Planning Corporation. (December, 2009). TriData Division. Mass Shootings at

Virginia Tech – Addendum to the Report of the Review Panel. Retrieved from

van der Heijden, K., Bradfield, R., Burt, G., Cairns, G. & Wright, G. (2002). The

Sense – Accelerating Organizational Learning with Scenarios. Chichester, West
Sussex, England: John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.

Critical Incident Management and Thinking Ahead

Active Shooter Expert

Chris Grollnek Patrol Corporal Photo 2010

Written by Chris Grollnek in 2011

Nationally sought active shooter prevention expert

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