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  • Writer's pictureRev. Carlene Appel-M.Div.


by Rev. Carlene Appel, MDiv., PC, SC, CERC, CISM, CTP, CCFP, CDCS, CGP

We’ve had several mass shootings in the past couple of weeks. A Buffalo, NY Supermarket, a Uvalde, TX school, a Tulsa, OK medical practice. A disgruntled patient came after the surgeon. Yesterday, someone used their car as a weapon and barreled into a train station in Philadelphia. Not long before those, there was a shooting at a very sprawled out Mall in Oakbrook, IL. There were large open air spaces, between groupings of stores in separate buildings. But that can become a nightmare if you are a SWAT team, because of multiple structures in which a well prepared perpetrator can move between. I was called to that scene the next day as part of a walk-in Counseling team by the Owner of the Emergency Response Chaplain team I am part of. So a shout-out to Rev. Tim Perry, Nationwide Chaplain Services, & 10-41.

So we can see, based upon the variety of Mass Casualty events I just named, Critical Incidents can and do happen in any business, any place, any time. If I were to speak to all the store owners, my advice from a trained Incident Commander Point of View would be that each one should have a team in place if the unthinkable happens to manage an incident. In this way, the number of casualties will be kept to as minimal as possible. With the rise in the number of active shooter events, every business owner who has customers, clients, patients, and even employees, needs to be prepared. When you consider all the scenarios this could evolve to, my advice is to think about it in a NOT IF, BUT WHEN frame of mind.

First, let me qualify myself for this topic. I’m a trained WMD Incident Commander COBRA—[Chemical, Ordinance(Explosives), Biological, and Radiological] through the DHS. My First Responder training has come through multiple agencies including the Henry Co. (IL) Sheriff's Dept., American Red Cross, (American Baptist Churches)AB Men Disaster Response Team, DOJ, Kane Co. Coroner's Office, & the DHS. I am Certified in Trauma, Critical Incident Stress Management, and Emergency Response Chaplaincy. I’m trained for Weapons of Mass Destruction COBRA incidents, Suicide Intervention, Death Investigation & Notification, and Natural Disasters. In 2002, while also a Church Pastor, I founded a Chaplain Corps for the Henry County, IL Sheriffs’ Department’s, Specialized Interagency Response Team or SIRT, and served as the Coordinator, recruiting and training local Pastors for my team.

While this blog article is focused on primarily brick and mortar businesses, i is valuable information for anyone in leadership at Senior Centers, Parks and Rec. Depts., Daycare businesses, or any other place where you have a potential for someone or something that can have a disastrous effect upon anyone and everyone there. Everything you read in this blog are transferable skills, adaptable to many different situations.

Let’s talk about Critical Incidents. A Critical Incident or traumatic event is any event that causes unusually strong stress reactions which overwhelm your normal coping abilities.

It can interfere with your ability to function normally. In other words, it’s a normal response to an abnormal event. Let me reiterate Effective crisis response doesn’t discount anything and has both designated personnel and protocol in place to handle when the unthinkable or worst-case scenarios happen. Effective Crisis Response plans for “when” not “if.” The only “if” is if you fail to plan, you plan to fail, and the physical, cognitive, emotional, behavioral carnage can be long and costly.


In this blog, I’ll be sharing planning concepts from the nationally recognized Incident Command System (ICS). It is used by emergency response agencies across the country, and is the model tool for command, control and coordination of a response as it provides a means to coordinate individual agencies’ efforts as they work toward the common goal of stabilizing the incident and protecting life, property and the environment. ICS uses principles proven to increase efficiency and effectiveness in business settings and applies these principles to emergency response. The bonus is that these are transferrable skills that can help you become an effective planner for virtually any kind of event or situation. The principles work because emergency response operations are never business as usual. No situation is exactly alike, the ICS plans for this, and that’s why it is effective if used properly.

Purpose of the crisis response team is crisis management. It is their job to identify, acquire,

plan, and anticipate to prevent and/or resolve a crisis. The team meets regularly during the

year to review, revise, anticipate and tweak plans. This includes identifying, addressing and

working to resolve or minimize any existing conditions that can interfere with or render ineffective even well planned crisis management.

Structure of team. Many Incidents major or minor require a response from multiple agencies and regardless of the size or how many agencies involved, all require a coordinated effort to ensure both an effective response and the efficient, safe uses of resources. Some of the tasks that your team will be responsible for are: communications, effective command structure, consolidated action plan, safety officer and safety briefs. ICS gets built around 5 major functional areas.

Incident Command, Operations, Logistics, Planning, and Finance/Administration. Preplanning and regular training can prevent poor performance once a crisis happens.

Experience has shown that action in emergencies is seldom effective unless planned and exercised in advance. In planning stages, the best part is that mistakes can be explored and addressed without risk to anyone. The longer it takes to respond effectively, the greater the potential for loss.

The team develops protocol response to address potential situations, objectives, priorities, hazards, resource needs and conducts team review and training sessions to maintain and enhance response readiness.

Possible scenarios in addition to sudden death

Include fire, suicide, bomb threat, biological, homicide,

disgruntled former/present employee, angry former/current clients.

Tasks of team/dedicated roles/practice

The head of the team is the Incident Commander. He or she is the one who is in charge at the Incident and is responsible for managing the response. They assess the incident, identify contingencies, determine response objectives, identify needed resources, build a plan and organizational structure, and take action. In other words the buck stops with him or her. Effective Incident Command must be assertive, decisive, objective calm and quick thinking. It must also exhibit adaptability, flexibility and realistic limitations. Additionally the Incident Commander must be allowed to delegate roles appropriately as needed for an incident. Everything done must be cleared through them Incident Commander. The Planning function is a role the whole team can work with the Incident Commander on.

The Public information Officer handles all media inquiries and coordinates the release of information to the media. Similarly, the Liaison officer works in tandem with the Public Information Officer. He or she is the on-scene contact who contacts the proper authorities, patients, and any other persons who need to be notified. In some case, it may be possible to combine these two functions into a single role depending on the size of the business.

All communication is handled by this person to avoid misinformation and conflicting stories which occurs when there is no one designated to this role and multiple people are talking to reporters or putting premature information on Social Media.

Any inquiries and information requests when an Incident occurs should be directed to the Public Information person who has worked with the Incident Commander to develop a protocol. It’s very important that all employees of a business no matter what size know who the Public Information Officer is and understand how crucial it is for safety sake for them to direct any reporter to the Public Information Officer and avoid posting on Social Media .

The Safety Officer monitors safety conditions and develops measures for ensuring the safety of all personnel. This can include obtaining resources such as fire extinguisher, AED, and first

aid kit, to evacuation plans, and identifying existing conditions (including staff issues) that can hinder or interfere with effective incident management.

The Safety Officer works with the Incident Commander to develop protocol, evacuation planning and drills, identify needed resources and allocating funds to obtain them. Resources may be tangible items such as a fire extinguisher or obtaining the services of a consultant to address personnel matters. The Safety Officer also has the responsibility to contact the regional Critical Incident Stress Debriefing Team to arrange for a team to come out and debrief the staff after a critical incident occurs.

In sum, 3 or 4 people can be the make-up of the Crisis Response Team for a medium sized business, though I would recommend having 4 to better assist the Incident Commander with his or her many oversight tasks. The Incident Commander will determine when the team meets during the year to review and modify action plans, identify, analyze and make contingency plans for any new risks or conditions, rehearse so that every team member is on the same page, working together, and confident enough to carry out their designated roles. The Incident Commander must be competent enough to lead under extreme pressure following the SEE principle.

Safe-no one gets hurt.

Effective-Every team member works toward the same objective.

Efficient-All resources are utilized to maximum benefit

Scene Safety

One of the very first things that needs to be addressed by the Incident Commander is scene safety. Why is that a priority? Consider the School shooting in Uvalde,TX. There was

realistically no safety perimeter because a teacher had propped open a door and it was left unlocked. Was the scene safe? (No). The school had a perimeter security system but the best security system in the world will fail if its system is compromised. The teacher's failure to close and secure the door rendered the school's security useless. In health care, we talk about the chain of infection. It only takes one broken link in the chain to allow the infection entry into a person’s system. One irresponsible action allowed the gunman easy access into the school. Tactically, there was No clear leadership. The ad hoc team that rushed in and took down the shooter wisely determined that the incident command system had broken down before defying a “Do not breach order.”

Unsafe scenes can become even more unsafe. For example, a counseling practice where you’ve got a critical incident going on. There is no apparent leader taking charge, some people are panicking, others are yelling, some are weeping. No one was delegated the responsibility of rescheduling clients, so that’s not happening. One of those clients who didn’t get rescheduled comes early, looks distraught, and is in crisis. He's walking into a crisis that has dissolved into utter chaos. Why is this a potential danger? That person could be suicidal or homicidal. Of course that could apply to any business as well as someone coming in early to settle a score, who's angry at the workplace or a particular person. And they might have a gun, a knife, or a dirty bomb. This is based upon a real incident that I had graduate Counseling Students at Concordia University examine and do role play for.

Preplanning must include considering and addressing any existing conditions that could hinder or prevent the successful execution and management of the incident.

Some of the Questions for the Incident Commander are:

What are some existing conditions that need to be addressed?

How can these be detrimental to effective Crisis Response? (No leadership, teamwork, or trust).

In what ways could these be addressed and minimized?

What might be the long term fallout if not remedied? (Lack of accountability, boundary issues, lack of leadership, failure to review and enforce documentation standards)

Long term—lawsuits- In the case of a counseling practice-inadequate charting is a litigation attorney’s delight in the courtroom, especially if an overly dependent client is so distraught they harm themselves or others. Are there other issues anyone on the team can think of and suggestions for addressing these?

When I am hired to go into a company and teach this, I set up a mock scene tailored to that company and engage the staff in role play. The goal is to demonstrate what it can look like without Critical Incident Preplanning, how to set up Team, and how vital this is to a safe office environment in a society where workplace violence is becoming more commonplace. Whether you are on the Critical Incident Team or not, everyone can take responsibility for not becoming a hinderance to the safety of themselves or others. For a site assessment and custom presentation on Critical Incident Preplanning tailored to your company, or to have our former Navy SEAL/Naval Intelligence Cybersecurity Expert assess the state of your network security, please call us at (630)557-6229 or email

Stay safe out there and remember, God loves you, and so do I.


The Rev.

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