One of the most important things we stress to our Critical Incident Response Training (CIRT) participants is the importance of having a solid understanding of the different elements of the environments in which they may find themselves. This is especially important when in crowded public spaces. Identifying and understanding the different strengths and weaknesses of these environments, from a vulnerability standpoint, can make you much more efficient and effective in navigating a critical incident should you find yourself experiencing one.

Critical incidents, especially violent ones like mass shootings, can be very disorienting. Typically, people can easily process all the information our senses are sending to our brain when we are in calm and peaceful settings. In violent or chaotic scenarios, it can become very challenging to process the huge increase in information our senses are sending. The inability to process this sensory information is commonly referred to as sensory overload. Additionally, stressful and dangerous events can cause an elevation of the heart rates of the individuals that are nearby. Elevated hearts rates can negatively impact an individual’s decision-making capability.

Someone who is both disoriented and has a diminished decision-making capacity is going to have a very difficult time making the right choices to protect him or herself during a violent incident. That is why it is so important to gain that environmental awareness. Knowing details about where you are can allow you the ability to remain at least partially oriented. 

Asking yourself a few simple questions about your environment when things are calm and peaceful can assist in making the right choices if things become dangerous and chaotic.

Getting a good awareness of your environment, as it relates to critical incident response, does not have to be an exhaustive process.  It can be as easy as asking yourself 4 to 5 basic questions such as:

  • Where are the exits near me? (Identifying at least 2-3 is preferable)
  • Where is the closest securable space to me? (Identifying 2-3 is preferable)
  • Are there any materials around me that I can utilize to quickly cover or conceal myself?
  • Are there any materials in close proximity I could utilize to help defend myself?
  • Where is the best place for me to go during a severe weather event?

At SEC, we firmly believe that committing to making a habit of developing environmental awareness can potentially make a huge difference if you ever experience being part of a violent critical incident.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) recently released a report analyzing all the active shooter events in the United States during 2020. The FBI defines an active shooter event “as one or more individuals actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a populated area.” According to this report, 40 active shooter events occurred in 2020, which is the highest number in the past four years and is double the number that occurred in 2016.

The Gun Violence Archive, a nonprofit research group, has cataloged every incident of gun violence in the United States since 2014. Their data indicates, to date, the United States is on pace to experience a higher number of mass shooting events in 2021 than in any of the past six years. They define a mass shooting as an incident when four or more people are shot or killed, excluding the shooter. At the time of this writing, the number of mass shootings that have occurred in this country is 20 percent higher than it was at the same time in 2020.

Over the most recent 4th of July weekend, according to multiple media reports, at least 150 people died due to over 400 shootings across the country. In the city of Chicago alone, 108 people were shot, 17 of them fatally.

Because these disheartening trends do not appear to be abating any time in the near future, over the next few weeks, we will be providing reminders of some of the fundamental concepts we emphasize during our Critical Incident Response Training (CIRT) sessions. Like the other topics we have recently covered in our most recent series of posts, we will focus on three main topics. The topics will include the following:

  1. Assessing Environments – The effectiveness of your critical incident response can be greatly enhanced by having a better understanding of both the strengths and weaknesses, from a vulnerability standpoint, of the environments in which you may find yourself. For example, taking the time to find at least some of the entrances and exits within proximity can improve your ability to evacuate from that area if efficient.
  2. Maintaining Situational Awareness – It is not only essential to getting a solid understanding of the elements of the environments in which you may find yourself, but it is equally important to have an appropriate level of focus on what is happening in those environments. Additionally, the process of obtaining situational awareness can begin long before you are actually in the situation. 
  3. Developing Response Options – Decision-making can become incredibly challenging during high-stress violent incidents. It is why it is essential, whenever possible, to develop response strategies before an incident occurs. By simply asking and answering questions about what you would do if certain situations occurred, you will be giving your brain a script that you will be better able to access and follow during an actual emergency incident.

Be on the lookout for more details about these fundamental concepts in the next few weeks. As always, if you would like more information, please reach out to us at [email protected].

Over the past few weeks, SEC has provided guidance on creating an effective crisis communications plan. We like to break down our crisis communication plans into three key elements. Thus far, we have covered the first two: the difference between an emergency and a crisis and the importance of how decisions made in the initial stages of a crisis can impact the outcome.

The third critical element in crisis communications is the audience. This would include determining who the key audiences you need to communicate are, deciding on what they need to know, when they need to know it, who will be doing the communicating, and how it will be communicated. These audiences can usually be broken into two groups: internal and external. Although it may not be accurate in every situation, an advisable general rule of thumb is to start with internal audiences before moving to external ones. Ongoing crises that could impact public safety, though, such as a severe weather event or an active violence situation, are some examples in which external communications may take precedence.

One of the most common mistakes organizations make in crisis communications is not including an audience group that should have been informed. This may not always be easy to determine, so it is essential to be deliberative when making those determinations. Excluding a key target audience often leads to anger, resentment, and mistrust and can result in a backlash that can exacerbate the crisis. You want to avoid receiving questions such as “why weren’t we informed earlier?” and “what are you trying to hide?”.

When dealing with both internal and external audiences, it is essential to remember some fundamental concepts of crisis communications:

  • Who is going to speak, through what medium will they be speaking, and when are they going to say it? The who in this scenario could be a Public Affairs Specialist, Chief of Police, or School Superintendent. The next step would be to determine in which format this person will be communicating, whether it is through a press release, press conference, or an in-person, telephone, or televised interview. SEC recommends, when possible, speaking through a written statement. Written statements can be reviewed and edited by others and limit the opportunity for immediate follow-up questions.

  • What do you want the message to be? The content of the message is obviously the most important component of crisis communications. SEC recommends settling on 3 or 4 key points that you want to get across to the audience. It is important to, as much as possible, not expand on or stray from these main points, as this is when you can lose control of the message. If you cannot communicate something at a specific time, provide an explanation as to why. There could be a number of reasons as to why you would not be able to communicate something, such as the crisis is in its early stages and the information about it is evolving, the desire not to impact an ongoing investigation, privacy laws, or organizational policies. Also, remember it ok to say you do not know something if you do not. This will prevent you from speculating or providing inaccurate information.

  • Set expectations about how you are going communicate in the future. Whether it is committing to providing additional updates at predetermined times or when more accurate information is available, it is important to set expectations as to when you will be communicating further. Your initial communication may not be satisfying to all your targeted audiences because they want as much information as soon as possible. Often times, though, this dissatisfaction is unreasonable. Much like a child who is upset that they cannot have something or do something exactly when they want it, your audiences may experience similar anger or frustration because they are not receiving everything they want when they want it. But like with the child, letting them know when they might receive it and under what conditions can often help to diminish the anger and frustration they may be experiencing.

  • Highlight what you are committed to doing. Talk about your core values and how you have demonstrated in the past and will continue to demonstrate now and in the future your commitment to upholding these values. Continue to reiterate what your organizational priorities are. For example, if you are a school leader whose school has experienced a safety or security issue, a statement such as “Nothing is more important than the safety and security of our students and staff” would be appropriate. Finally, clearly explain what you will be doing moving forward. Describe your commitment to being as transparent as possible about explaining what happened, why it happened, and what you will be doing to ensure that it does not happen again.

At SEC, we always emphasize trying to solve problems before they arise. You may not know when a crisis will occur, the exact nature of the crisis, or its impact, but there is a great deal you can do to be as well prepared as possible to mitigate its impact. As always, please feel free to reach out to us if we can be of assistance in fleshing out your crisis communication plan and please look for our additional posts on this topic as we will be providing additional guidance on crisis communication strategies.

The American actor, journalist, and humorist, Will Rogers, once famously said, “You never get a second chance to make a good first impression.” Rogers understood that how individuals view others in the long term can be significantly impacted by how they initially perceive them. This truism can also be applied to crisis communications. During the initial stages of a crisis, what, how, and to whom you communicate can be incredibly consequential in determining how well or poorly you and your organization navigate a crisis. In order to attempt to achieve the best outcome, it is important to have a framework of a crisis communication strategy in place before a crisis arises.

When consulting with our clients about crisis communication, we often use the analogy of starting on a car trip, where you are not sure how long it will take or what your final destination will ultimately be. You may not immediately know how long the crisis is going to last or what its impact will ultimately be, but if you make smart choices early on and follow these rules of the road, you can increase your likelihood of safely reaching your destination:

  1. Plan for the worst – Just like for the car trip, it is wiser to have something in place, like a spare tire or jumper cables, and not need it than to need it and not have it. By preparing for worst case scenarios immediately, such as identifying all the external resources that could potentially be of assistance with your communications, such as law enforcement or legal representation, you will increase the likelihood of having those resources available to you when needed.
  2. Watch your speed – At the start of a crisis, information that is circulated is often incomplete or inaccurate. In certain circumstances, you and your organization may find yourself under pressure to communicate quickly due to the specific nature of the crisis. It is very important, though, not to let speed overtake accuracy. Disseminating incomplete or inaccurate information during the initial stages can make it much more challenging to restore the trust and confidence your audience previously had in you.
  3. Look for guard rails- When driving, guard rails are installed to protect you from going off road and hurting yourself and potentially others. When thinking about crisis communication, guard rails can help you avoid providing information that can cause further damage. During a crisis, it is important to have an understanding, prior to communicating, of what those guard rails are. Common guard rails include organizational policies, legal requirements, privacy compliance issues, and the need to not impact ongoing investigations.
  4. Take advantage of rest stops- During a long journey, rest stops can be an invaluable resource. They can be relied on to provide things, like food and fuel, that allow you to keep moving forward. In crisis communication, rest stops are the positive statements you can make to help mitigate the negative impact of the crisis early on. Strong statements about the things that are a priority to you, that you are committed to doing, that are an organizational core value, or that you have a strong history of doing successfully are all things that can help you buffer the negative elements of the crisis and allow you to continue to move forward. 

As we have mentioned in previous posts on this topic, crises can be especially difficult to plan for because many of the elements of each crisis can be unique and unanticipated. But that does not mean some effective planning cannot and should not occur. Developing some common-sense fundamental strategies and having a better sense of these “rules of the road” can greatly improve your initial crisis communication effectiveness.

When developing a crisis communication strategy, it is important to first understand the distinction between emergency and crisis. Although often used interchangeably in everyday discourse, they are not the same thing. A crisis is a time of intense difficulty or stress where tough and important decisions must be made. An emergency is a serious and often dangerous incident that typically threatens health, life, or property and requires immediate action. Although they can be cojoined, a crisis can occur without emanating from an emergency and vice versa. Because they are distinct, it is important to develop unique strategies for both emergencies and crises.

 

 

Emergencies are usually easier to plan for. Although we do not know when or even if they are going to occur, most individuals and organizations have identified a laundry list of potential emergencies they could be exposed to and developed comprehensive plans for response. Additionally, for many of these emergency scenarios, training and drills have been conducted to help ensure that these plans can be executed in an effective manner. Planning and drilling for a fire emergency is probably the most relatable example of this. In educational environments, everyone from the school principal or childcare director down to the youngest student has been trained on what to do. 

Crises are typically not as easy to plan for because each crisis can contain unique and unanticipated elements. Planning for the unknown, however, can still make a positive impact. You may not be able to anticipate the exact nature and details of a crisis before it arises, but you can put fundamental strategies in place to prepare your organization to be as well positioned as possible when it does. One way to test the health of your crisis communication strategies is to ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Do you know who in your organization will most likely be responsible for crisis communications?
  2. Has that individual(s) received any communication training?
  3. Are you aware of all the resources available to you to assist with your response strategy?
    • Legal
    • Human Resources
    • Law Enforcement
    • School District/Corporate Leadership
  4. Do you have a preferred method of communicating with stakeholders and media?
    • Written
    • Verbal
    • In Person
    • Televised
  5. Do you have access to a library of previously delivered communications that have effectively helped to mitigate the impact of like situations?

At SEC, we always emphasize to our clients that they try to solve problems before they actually arise.  Although you may not know the exact nature or impact of a crisis before you experience it, there is a great deal you can do to be as well prepared as possible to mitigate its impact. As always, please feel free to reach out to us if we can be of assistance in fleshing out your crisis communication plan and please look for our additional posts on this topic as we will be providing additional guidance on crisis communication strategies.

Handling a highly tense and stressful interaction can be tricky. That’s why, over the past few weeks, SEC prepared a series of emails and blog posts regarding de-escalation. De-escalation is a skill that needs to be trained and understood to be effective when confronted with a high-stress interaction or situation.

Need a refresher of what we covered? Read our de-escalation blogs:

SEC is happy to announce that we have added a couple of additional services regarding de-escalation, including a 90-minute training, available in-person or virtually. Be on the lookout for even more de-escalation services from SEC in the near future.

If you would like to learn more about de-escalation and the techniques to best achieve your desired outcome, beyond what is covered in the emails and blog posts, please reach out to us directly, HERE.


Conflict is inevitable, and there will be times when you have to deal with it, whether it’s an upset family member after an incident at school or a  distraught employee after a long day at the office. In many situations, it is critical to become less emotional and more logical. Many people find it easier to contain their emotions when others speak in a rational way, rather than with threats and anger. And that’s where de-escalation comes in.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. The actions that individuals take while in a tense situation play a vital role in success. These actions fall into three main categories, the first of which is setting the tone.

Setting the tone is important because the choices made during the initial stages of a tense or potentially confrontational interaction significantly impacts how that interaction evolves. This can include the words that are used as well as the gestures that are made. Those can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

At the beginning of an interaction, the words you use can dramatically influence the situation’s outcome, whether it’s the words themselves or how the words are being said.  If the situation allows for it, begin with a welcoming greeting. Polite gestures like offering a seat or something to drink can help lower the temperature.   If possible, inject an open-ended question about a topic that is not centered around the issue at hand.  Simple questions relating to things like the wellbeing of a family member, weekend or holiday plans, opinions on recent or upcoming sporting events, or even more mundane topics like the weather can also contribute to creating a welcoming environment.

Although it may be challenging at times, it is also essential to keep your voice’s tone appropriately modulated, even if those you’re interacting with do not.  Effective resolutions rarely are the result of screaming matches.

What is more important than the words you use and how you use them is demonstrating your willingness to listen.  Angry and frustrated individuals often want to be heard.  Start by eliminating distractions such as checking a text or email message, working on your computer, or allowing other staff members to interrupt the interaction.  Talking over people or interrupting them does not contribute to your efforts to demonstrate your willingness to listen.

It is also essential to maintain an awareness of your non-verbal gestures.   Striking a balance between being close to individuals while maintaining personal spaces contributes to your safety but still allows for the interaction to be conversational. Also, be mindful of things like facial and hand gestures, posture, or intense eye contact that can be perceived as angry or threatening. 

All these actions can significantly contribute to maintaining a safe, calm, and constructive environment that will allow you to better demonstrate empathy to the individuals you interact with.

Conflict is inevitable, and there will be times when you have to deal with it, whether it’s an upset family member after an incident at school or a  distraught employee after a long day at the office. In many situations, it is critical to become less emotional and more logical. Many people find it easier to contain their emotions when others speak in a rational way, rather than with threats and anger. And that’s where de-escalation comes in.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. The actions that individuals take while in a tense situation play a vital role in success. These actions fall into three main categories, the first of which is setting the tone.

Setting the tone is important because the choices made during the initial stages of a tense or potentially confrontational interaction significantly impacts how that interaction evolves. This can include the words that are used as well as the gestures that are made. Those can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

At the beginning of an interaction, the words you use can dramatically influence the situation’s outcome, whether it’s the words themselves or how the words are being said.  If the situation allows for it, begin with a welcoming greeting. Polite gestures like offering a seat or something to drink can help lower the temperature.   If possible, inject an open-ended question about a topic that is not centered around the issue at hand.  Simple questions relating to things like the wellbeing of a family member, weekend or holiday plans, opinions on recent or upcoming sporting events, or even more mundane topics like the weather can also contribute to creating a welcoming environment.

Although it may be challenging at times, it is also essential to keep your voice’s tone appropriately modulated, even if those you’re interacting with do not.  Effective resolutions rarely are the result of screaming matches.

What is more important than the words you use and how you use them is demonstrating your willingness to listen.  Angry and frustrated individuals often want to be heard.  Start by eliminating distractions such as checking a text or email message, working on your computer, or allowing other staff members to interrupt the interaction.  Talking over people or interrupting them does not contribute to your efforts to demonstrate your willingness to listen.

It is also essential to maintain an awareness of your non-verbal gestures.   Striking a balance between being close to individuals while maintaining personal spaces contributes to your safety but still allows for the interaction to be conversational. Also, be mindful of things like facial and hand gestures, posture, or intense eye contact that can be perceived as angry or threatening. 

All these actions can significantly contribute to maintaining a safe, calm, and constructive environment that will allow you to better demonstrate empathy to the individuals you interact with.

 

Conflict is inevitable, and there will be times when you have to deal with it, whether it’s an upset family member after an incident at school or a  distraught employee after a long day at the office. In many situations, it is critical to become less emotional and more logical. Many people find it easier to contain their emotions when others speak in a rational way, rather than with threats and anger. And that’s where de-escalation comes in.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. The actions that individuals take while in a tense situation play a vital role in success. These actions fall into three main categories, the first of which is setting the tone.

Setting the tone is important because the choices made during the initial stages of a tense or potentially confrontational interaction significantly impacts how that interaction evolves. This can include the words that are used as well as the gestures that are made. Those can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

At the beginning of an interaction, the words you use can dramatically influence the situation’s outcome, whether it’s the words themselves or how the words are being said.  If the situation allows for it, begin with a welcoming greeting. Polite gestures like offering a seat or something to drink can help lower the temperature.   If possible, inject an open-ended question about a topic that is not centered around the issue at hand.  Simple questions relating to things like the wellbeing of a family member, weekend or holiday plans, opinions on recent or upcoming sporting events, or even more mundane topics like the weather can also contribute to creating a welcoming environment.

Although it may be challenging at times, it is also essential to keep your voice’s tone appropriately modulated, even if those you’re interacting with do not.  Effective resolutions rarely are the result of screaming matches.

What is more important than the words you use and how you use them is demonstrating your willingness to listen.  Angry and frustrated individuals often want to be heard.  Start by eliminating distractions such as checking a text or email message, working on your computer, or allowing other staff members to interrupt the interaction.  Talking over people or interrupting them does not contribute to your efforts to demonstrate your willingness to listen.

It is also essential to maintain an awareness of your non-verbal gestures.   Striking a balance between being close to individuals while maintaining personal spaces contributes to your safety but still allows for the interaction to be conversational. Also, be mindful of things like facial and hand gestures, posture, or intense eye contact that can be perceived as angry or threatening. 

All these actions can significantly contribute to maintaining a safe, calm, and constructive environment that will allow you to better demonstrate empathy to the individuals you interact with.

Tensions are high, people are stressed, and you aren’t quite sure how to respond to diffuse a tense situation at your organization. At SEC, we are hearing from a number of clients seeking guidance on how to de-escalate emotionally heated interactions. Many of these have arisen as a result of fatigue and frustration with the COVID-19 pandemic. Mask compliance, quarantines, access issues, and challenges with virtual learning are just some of the sources that have led to these negative and potentially dangerous exchanges. 

There’s no single response or technique that will work in every situation, but de-escalation is a skill that needs to be trained and understood to be effective when confronted with a high-stress interaction.

The success of de-escalation is based on a variety of factors coming together. There are several actions individuals can take to enhance the likelihood of achieving the goal of de-escalation. These actions fall into three main categories:

Setting the tone refers to the choices individuals make during the initial stages of any interaction. The words used, the gestures made, and the actions taken from the very beginning can play a pivotal role in determining whether these interactions have positive or negative outcomes.

Empathizing is important because, whether you feel the source of anger or frustration is valid or justified, you need to recognize those feelings are real. Demonstrating a sincere desire to understand more about those feelings’ root cause is key to resolving resolution.

Closing with options when attempting to resolve an interaction is always helpful; lead with solutions, positive alternatives, reasonable compromises, or access to individuals who may have a greater authority to resolve the issue. Regardless of whether the resolution attempts are received positively or negatively, closing also involves setting clear expectations about the next steps. If they are positively received, explain what and when actions will occur to solve or mitigate the issue. If negatively received, be clear and calmly explain the consequences of non-compliance or continued aggressive behavior.

It is essential to remember during high-stress interactions that safety is the top priority.