Preparation, Containment and Communication

by Scott Savage

In discussing police responses to critical incidents, it's often said that what happens in the first five minutes is what's most important. Indeed, in the case of an active killing incident, the initial responders' decisions, and the speed and efficiency with which they make those decisions, can dictate the script for the rest of the ensuing operation. Even in the case of less dramatic incidents, such as apprehending fleeing suspects, how you pre-plan, organize and execute your response can often dramatically change the nature of the operation. A checklist (actual or mental) and a pre-defined procedure can be beneficial when responding to significant incidents. What follows are just a few of the basic tenants of critical incident response that when followed tend to provide for an efficient and methodical operation. It is different from a "wait and see" or "we'll just figure it out when we get there" approach. It instead places an emphasis on assertive and hopefully effective action, at least in terms of preparing for, containing and controlling an incident. There are of course many different approaches to responding to significant incidents but perhaps these steps include something you can add to your repertoire.

Preparation prior to the incident

Rehearse a response to the most common in-progress crimes and critical incidents your team will face.

Spend time talking with your team or co-workers about what everyone's potential roles are for a given situation. If you can, perform rehearsals and dry-runs of different scenarios to practice your response. Consider spending most of your time training on what you will actually face in the field most of the time. For example, the most common incidents in your jurisdiction might be responding to street robberies and not so many bomb-throwing ninjas with hostages. Consider then devoting ample training time to those types of incidents you will most often face. Consider creating a basic standard operating procedure your team will use when responding to a significant incident. It doesn't have to be fancy, it just has to be sound and set clear expectations. Most plans are a framework to be overlaid on a particular incident because it would be largely impossible to plan for every variable.  Stick to the plan but recognize the need for flexibility because of the variables unique to each incident.



If an incident is not contained then the problem can get larger. Larger problems take larger amounts of resources to handle (See figure 1) Example: If you contain the bad guy to one house, it takes relatively few officers to deal with that one bad guy in one house. Conversely, if the bad guy flees into a neighborhood, district, city, county or state, the resources it would take to locate and capture the suspect are exponentially greater.


If you are not setting a perimeter en-route and the suspect is already fleeing, it may be too late by the time you arrive on scene. One of law enforcement's advantages over our adversaries is our ability to amass a larger force against his.  A suspect may be difficult to catch for one responding officer but the coordinated efforts of several officers responding to various locations can cut off the suspect's escape.

Small perimeters (one block or less) are useful when the suspect doesn't know we are coming, or the suspect is for whatever reason less likely to flee. Large perimeters (several blocks and larger) are more appropriate when he is already fleeing. The size of the perimeter area should match the speed of the get-away method as well. For example a suspect fleeing on foot would only require a small perimeter to contain vs. a suspect fleeing in a car.   



Law enforcement radio channels are prone to becoming clogged when several units are all trying to broadcast simultaneously. Again, a pre-defined protocol of which units should be broadcasting can help alleviate this issue. The primary assigned officer and some type of supervisor may be the most logical candidates to broadcast pertinent messages while en-route. Once an officer is on scene he/she should get the air in case he/she needs to give a critical update or call for immediate help.


Within the first few minutes of arrival, it can be critical that the first officer on scene broadcasts a "size-up" of the situation for incoming units.  In some situations the officer should locate the best witness and provide an update on the crime/want and any changes to the description or direction of travel of a fleeing suspect. In other situations the first arriving officer may tell us what he/she has and what they needs, ("I have a vehicle vs. pedestrian collision and need Main St. shut down for traffic control.") The quicker the responding officers are able to have situational awareness of what is occurring and where, the sooner they will be able to respond appropriately.



For more practical information on responding to these types of incidents consider attending one of our upcoming seminars entitled "Response Tactics for Critical Incidents and In-Progress Crimes."