Have You Considered Incident Command as a
Part of Your
The Importance of Critical Incident Command
Critical Incident Command is an extremely critical, yet often neglected area of Emergency Management training within our businesses and schools. In public safety professions (for the sake of this article when I use the term “Public Safety Professionals” I am referring to Police, Fire and EMT professionals), on the other hand, we receive extensive training in the skills and expertise of Incident Command. Why is this? Because, as public safety professionals we are the ones responsible to respond, rescue, and eliminate the threat or danger. And we do! Its critical, however, that skills and proficiency in Incident Command be recognized and achieved by those tasked with the safety of their employees, students, and patients as well. In fact, in those instances, it may be even more critical!
So what role does Incident Command play during a sudden and traumatic incident of workplace/school violence, active shooter, explosion, fire, etc.? While I will go into the details of incident command in just a moment, for now, and to answer this question, it is the need for someone to immediately manage the danger and safety of those that they are tasked to protect, including themselves. In more simple terms, to make decisions about what needs to be done “RIGHT NOW” to save those in immediate danger and potentially eliminate the threat of danger. This may be by escape to safety or dealing directly with the threat.
So lets go into Incident Command
Lets start with a definition of “Incident Commander” according to “Wikipedia”
the person responsible for all aspects of an emergency response; including quickly developing incident objectives, managing all incident operations, application of resources as well as responsibility for all persons involved. The incident commander sets priorities and defines the organization of the incident response teams and the overall incident action plan. The role of incident commander may be assumed by senior or higher qualified officers upon their arrival or as the situation dictates. Even if subordinate positions are not assigned, the incident commander position will always be designated or assumed. The incident commander may, at their own discretion, assign individuals, who may be from the same agency or from assisting agencies, to subordinate or specific positions for the duration of the emergency.
So from this definition we can break Incident Command down into decisions regarding immediate goals and objectives of the incident and ultimately transferring to decisions regarding overall goals and objectives of the incident. It is the decisions regarding immediate goals and objectives that we are concerned with in this article.
First, Training Must Be Practical
For training of any type to be effective, it must be practical. What is practical in safety and self-defense? If you cant use your skills or weapons, whether they be physical or mental, without thought; if your weapons are not instinctual; if they require something specific from your opponent (like a straight punch to the stomach) in order for your practiced moves and defensive techniques to be effective; if they are based on a pre-programmed series of movements, locks, holds, etc.,; if they require extensive thought in order to be placed into action; then they are not practical.
So How Does “Practical” Apply to Incident Command?
Consider that in any incident of sudden and traumatic violence or danger, chaos naturally ensues. And, without training, it will almost assuredly ensue! To have the best opportunity to protect others or ourselves we must manage fear, control the heart rate, bring order to chaos, and make good, fast, effective decisions.
How Does Incident Command Work
In most cases where an Incident Command is required, a designated Incident Commander is not only appropriate, but a necessity. Here’s how an incident plays out in regards to Incident Command in a Public Safety Incident:
The first responder (first to arrive on-scene) always assumes the role of “Incident Commander”. This person makes decisions based on incoming, received information and current circumstances. When the designated Incident Commander (typically the highest ranking person in the department that controls the scene – Chief of Police or Chief of Fire) arrives on-scene, Incident Command is relinquished to them and they are briefed on all current and previously received information. The key is that the first person to “establish command” (first responder) is typically trained to take on this responsibility with proficiency.
Incident Command is a trained structure that is highly effective and has been proven to work. And, typically, that first responder or temporary Incident Commander directs and controls the incident from a location either at, or extremely close to, the scene. The ultimate Incident Commander, in contrast, will direct and control the incident, many times, from an offsite or remote location to the actual scene.
Incident Command works! So why do we not spend far more time preparing those responsible for our businesses, schools, hospitals, and rehabilitation facilities, etc. to manage a potential incident in the same way that public service officials manage crime scenes and disasters? How are things different? First, it is a highly unrecognized necessity within our businesses and schools. Second, most businesses and to a lesser extent schools, believe that they will experience an incident of violence or disaster within their facility. “It’s not going to happen to me/us”! This must change as a proficient Incident Commander can save lives! Conversely, a lack of proficiency in incident command or training in the dangers of workplace/school violence can destroy your life or business. You MUST recognize the need for the responsibility and provide the appropriate training to everyone who might find him or herself in a position to establish Incident Command.
What Needs to Be Done?
So there are three distinct yet critical needs in Incident Command:
1) Immediate Internal Incident Command
2) Designated Internal Incident Command
3) Overall Incident Command (Public Safety)
This article and topic focuses on the first one – Immediate Internal Incident Command.
What is the Difference?
In most all businesses, schools, hospitals, rehabilitation facilities, etc., the Overall Incident Commander is a designated individual, many times either the highest ranking person within the company or location, and in others, it may be the person responsible for security. But what are the likelihood that this designated person will be present when and where the disaster strikes? What is the likelihood that they will be able to begin making life saving decisions the second that a sudden and traumatic violent encounter or disaster strikes? More likely, this person will be someone who is located, briefed and, at some point, takes command at best, several minutes after the incident begins. This is too late!
There will be people, however, near to or at the point of the initiation of a violent encounter or the initiation point of a disaster. These are the people who need to be trained and able to take command and immediately begin to direct a life saving effort based on circumstances that are happening right now, in many cases, in their presence.
Remember – There is Strength in Numbers!
I have said this many, many times – there is strength in numbers. Do not neglect your masses – your employees and/or students! Too many schools and businesses, after recognizing the very real danger of the possibility of workplace violence, proceed to train only their administration staff or faculty. While this is a huge step forward, it falls way short in an overall safety plan that must allow for each and every school and/or business to take advantage of its most powerful advantage – Numbers! Again, in incidents such as those that we are focusing on in this article, numbers wills undoubtedly always defeat weapons. Psychologically, weapons will usually defeat anything else. But for those who are trained to understand this, it takes very, very few to overpower someone with a firearm or other weapon.
So we MUST train everyone within our respective schools or places of business on safety and tactics as well as Incident Command and the skills necessary to act as temporary Incident Commander, and most importantly what information and tactics are required to end the threat, or at least contain it.
Consider this example:
In the very crowded hallways of a large high school, students are moving in all directions as they prepare for their next class. At one point a student notes a male subject with a duffle bag walking down the hallway amongst the other students. Inside this bag this students clearly sees a handgun that she is convinced is real. So, what does she do?
She goes to the Principals office to report the incident. Good job right? Exactly what is expected of her?
Possibly. This student, in all likelihood, had no previous instruction or training on how to handle such an incident. So she does the only thing that makes sense to her and runs to the Principals office to report the problem.
So, if you were the person that this incident was reported to in the Principals office, what would be the first thing that you would want to know? My first question would be – Where is this person now? In this case, the reporting person wouldn’t have any idea. There would be numerous additional questions that this person would likely not be able answer. Why? Because they left the person that posed the potential danger to report the problem. Does this create an issue with making life-saving decisions and how to proceed to protect the others inside the facility? No one knows where this person is at this point, who they are, what they are doing/planning, etc. How can you make appropriate decisions without all of this information?
Now Lets Consider an Alternative:
Instead of going to the Principals office to report the problem, she tells another student, or teacher, that is in closer proximity to the problem.
Would this be better? For numerous reasons, I would submit that this would be a far better and more effective solution. Why? Because the person that this is reported to would become the initial Incident Commander and will begin to make far more accurate decisions based on more immediate, accurate, and useable information.
How can this be even more effective? The student who notices the problem takes on the immediate role of Incident Commander and is trained to formulate a plan and immediate response to the potential threat. Now, all decisions are being made are being made based on real time circumstances.
Again, this Immediate Incident Commander role is only temporary. But like public safety responders, someone must immediately begin to bring order to an incident in order to save lives.
So What Does All This Mean?
Everyone (numbers) must be trained to be able to make effective, fast, practical decisions and to establish himself or herself as Incident Commander. Everyone! Everyone must be trained to formulate a very fast and effective plan that will immediately begin to alleviate the potential threat.
One Possible Plan for the Above Scenario (Although There are Many)?
If the student notices a firearm inside this persons bag, and there are numerous other students inside the hallway at the time, she could gather other students, inform them of the problem, and then as a group address the person with the firearm without allowing him any access to the bag in which he carries the firearm until school staff and/or police can arrive to deal with the potential threat.
There are many who would say that this might create a danger for those addressing the problem. There are those who would say that addressing the person might cause him to act. There are many would might think to immediately jump on him and take the bag by force; not allow him to gain control of the firearm. There are yet others who would say “protect yourself and just get out and leave others to their own devices”.
Again, there are no right or wrong answers. Everyone, however, needs to be trained in how to effectively and quickly make good decisions, guide and direct others to safety, and decide for themselves based on their particular circumstances, how to react to the danger that is present. Good decisions will likely not be made without appropriate training, the ability to access effective and practical options, and a controlled heart rate.
The bottom line is that everyone in your business/school must be trained in Incident Command. Everyone should have the ability and authority to take immediate command of a situation.
Don’t Forget Policy
Remember, as with everything else in school/business safety, we must have policy that addresses Incident Command. Everyone must know that the policy exists and what its purposes are, what their respective roles and responsibilities in such incidents will be, and they must be trained to be able to enact the policy and carry out their responsibilities with confidence.
Incident Command is Critical
The role of Incident Commander is critical! It may be the most critical role in an incident where preservation of life is at stake. Please do not take this lightly. If you don’t have training in Incident Command, get it immediately. If you do not have policy and procedures that include Incident Command, develop one! If every person capable of taking on the role of Incident Commander is not trained to do so, get them trained! If everyone inside of your school or business are not training in how to react to the types of incidents that might be faced, get them trained. Unless everyone know exactly what information will be needed by the Incident Commander and how to quickly get this information to them, you need to get them trained “know and do”. And remember, there is a difference between the need for immediate decisions (Initial Incident Commander) and longer-term decisions (Designated School/Business Incident Commander), and overall scene Incident Commander (Police/Fire). Don’t confuse these roles, the responsibilities of each role, and how command will transition from one Commander to the next. Again, your role as Incident Commander, whether it be initial or designated, will only be temporary until public safety agencies arrive. Incident Command brings order to what would otherwise be chaos. Incident Command saves lives.