Critical Incident Management: A Systematic Guide to Planning

Within the last four years, the Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA) Police Department has planned for and managed numerous major incidents, including two visits by the U.S. president; participation in the 2012 inauguration of the president; the sesquicentennial of the Battle of Bull Run at the Manassas National Battlefield, which was visited by the most senior U.S. and Virginia political and military leaders; and a number of visits by the governor of Virginia and various congressional leaders. The college police department has also responded to earthquakes and other severe weather incidents. With the exception of the Manassas Battlefield sesquicentennial and inaugural events, these events provided the police department with 48 hours or less for preparation.

Police agencies face both opportunities and problems when preparing for these critical events. On the positive side, the occurrence of a major event offers the opportunity to exercise the entire department in a high-visibility enterprise and to assess department training, communications, coordination, and equipment. Second, most major incidents will demand more assets than an individual department can muster and may include elements that affect adjacent areas and agencies (e.g., traffic congestion). As a result, major incidents provide an opportunity to exercise mutual aid agreements, familiarize agencies with each other’s personnel and procedures, and improve coordination for future events. Third, successful handling of a challenging event provides positive visibility of the department, with corresponding benefits to subsequent budget submissions and recruiting. Finally, a job well done provides an immediate boost to officer morale and departmental solidarity.