Part 1 of a 2 Part Series Discussing Critical Incident Response

Did you ever play the telephone game in elementary school? You know, it’s the game where you sit in a circle, whisper a short sentence in your neighbor’s ear, they whisper WHAT THEY HEARD to their neighbor and so on until you get to the last person in the circle? Lots of giggles and sometimes disbelief was had when the final sentence was revealed. Not at all what the initial message started to be.

In a critical incident, information is channeled from one person to another and so on down the line, in a similar fashion to the telephone game. Through no fault or blame of anyone, this is what happens when humans are involved with the relay of critical, specific information. This can be very dangerous if the incident is a life or death situation – details are crucial to response plans. You don’t get a second chance to get it right.

1. Traditional Notification System [Call to 911]

A traditional notification system is the normal emergency call to 911. This method usually requires more individuals to transfer details over a computer automated information system. This notification system takes a long time and may contain disinformation due to human error or incorrect initial information. This notification system can affect the safety of building occupants and first responders involved in a critical incident. The notification system causes longer response time by first responders, requires more phone calls to an emergency dispatch center, and increases challenging decision making by building occupants and first responders.

2. 911 Center Caller’s Inaccurate Information

When an individual calls an emergency dispatch center and provides inaccurate information, this delays the first responder’s response time and creates additional challenges for making appropriate decisions by building occupants and first responders.

Courthouse Example
(Actual event experienced by one of the authors of this article)

A citizen called an emergency dispatch center and provided the following information, “My sister and her husband just got done with a court hearing. They are now both in the bathroom, and he is pointing a gun at her.” The call taker asked the caller which floor the bathroom was on. (The courthouse is a ten-story building.) The caller stated the bathroom was on the 1st floor. The emergency dispatch center notified the courthouse law enforcement staff. Law enforcement made an entry and inspected the bathrooms with handguns drawn. A complete search of the courthouse found no suspects. Law enforcement updated dispatch about no suspect located in the courthouse. The dispatch center re-contacted the 911 caller. The caller apologized, stating, her sister and husband were at the court hearing yesterday. They are now at their house in the bathroom. The caller declared the address of the house is in a different state.

This example shows how inaccurate information creates additional challenges and a potentially dangerous situation for many people.

3. 911 Center/Calling Overload Shutdown

During a critical incident, the facility’s public and staff members experiencing the incident will likely try to obtain information about the current status using cell phones. The potential to overload the 911 dispatch system is a real possibility. A real-life example occurred during an active killer training at a county government building. The training instructor directed staff to contact the emergency dispatch center to report the ‘incident’ and go through the training experience of providing specific information during a critical emergency. The emergency dispatch center ended up collapsing the 911 system, and the system had to be rebooted. While this was unexpected, they were able to reboot the system quickly not leaving the area vulnerable.

What Can IMPROVE A First Responder’s Response to a Critical Incident?

Computer Automated System with Dual Notification

An ideal option for immediate and accurate information that reduces first responder response time is a computer-automated system with a dual notification (informs first responders AND building occupants). The message should include the following: Type of Event and Location of Event

  • Type of event (example: Active Shooter – Gun Shot Alarm)
  • Location of event (example: North Door, 123 Main Street Any City, State)

To describe location information, the building members have chosen labels (blue hallway, the commons area or room 32, etc.) Building occupants can enact critical incident plans and decide on their options providing they are familiar with the chosen labels’ location.

Commonly understood context by individuals who may not be familiar with a specific building labeling system is essential and often overlooked.

For example:

  • Cardinal location (North, South, East, West side of the building)
  • Street name and building address
  • Floor level (1st, 2nd, 3rd floor), and closest entrance location when possible

Location information sent via smartphone text, smartphone map, building (P.A.) system based on the building occupant’s location description, and cardinal location information (i.e., dual notification) can be critical in an efficient response.

These efforts can help to achieve a primary goal: REDUCE HUMAN ERROR

As many individuals learned in grade school (think the telephone game), the more individuals involved in passing information one by one, the more likely the last person receiving the narrative did not receive the same information as the first person.
As ironic as it may seem, the first responder is usually the last individual to receive the communication in a critical emergency. Think about that. The person on the scene who is the most qualified, trained and prepared individual to deal with the emergency is the last to receive the thread of communication. A computer-automated dual notification system can significantly improve information accuracy, the efficiency of delivery and ultimately help save more lives.


While there are many challenges that delay a first responder’s response to critical emergencies that are standard protocol right now, using a computer-automated dual notification system increases the essential accuracy of incident information and considerably reduces the time of notifying building occupants and first responders. The first goal is to lead law enforcement to the threat and stop it as rapidly as possible. The second is to increase building occupant’s notification time to have more options to choose from their critical incident training/planning. Consistent, accurate, and timely automated information makes a huge difference in critical incident response.

Watch for Part 2 of the series Discussing Critical Incident Responses as we offer solutions that include Computer Automated Information as a significant game changer in response time.