WHAT IS A CRITICAL INCIDENT?

by Dr. Saxe-Clifford

A critical incident is a specific event that is outside the range of normal experience. Elements common in critical incidents include unusually threatening, dangerous, emotionally loaded and or highly unpleasant contact. Sometimes a critical incident lasts only seconds (a shooting) and sometimes an event can drag on for hours or days (a rescue operation) Typically incidents involving the death or injury of a child or of another public safety officer are described as traumatic. Exposure to direct and immediate danger (such as a physical attack) or less direct or long term danger (possible aids contact) can also be unusually traumatic. Even a news report of an incident can contribute to a stress reaction to an event.

CRITICAL INCIDENT STRESS

Stress in life is normal. In fact, most people who choose public safety professions perform well and even thrive on a fast pace and periods of more than average stress. However, there are incidents that are "above and beyond’ what is usually encountered in the work place. Psychologists refer to these events as critical incidents. An individual's reaction to any critical incident can range from almost no reaction at all to a major emotional upset with multiple and long lasting symptoms

After years working with public safety personnel involved in a wide range of critical incidents I can not predict a particular persons reaction to a particular event. A very strong stable person involved in what most people would consider to be a minor event may have a dramatic reaction while someone who is emotionally fragile may have no reaction at all to an incident most people would consider to be an unbelievably traumatic. The point is, do not assume a reaction will or will not occur because of what you or anyone else thinks is the "appropriate" reaction to a particular critical incident.

Signs & Symptoms of Acute Distress:

Behavioral:

Emotional:

Coping During the Incident:

When To Seek Additional Assistance:

Where To Seek Additional Assistance:

Cognitive:

Physical:

Coping After the Incident:

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[Susan Saxe-Clifford, Ph.D. APC]. All rights reserved.