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What Is A Critical Incident?                              
A critical (or traumatic) incident is any event outside the usual realm human experience that is markedly distressing (e.g. evokes reactions of intense fear, helplessness, horror, etc.) Such critical incidents usually involve the perceived threat to one's physical integrity or the physical integrity of someone else. Most importantly, critical incidents are determined by how they undermine a person's sense of safety, security and competency in the world. This results in a form of psychiatric injury, also called traumatic impact or traumatic stress.

 Examples of Critical Incidents

  • Automobile accident, or any accident involving serious injury and/or property damage
  • Industrial accidents involving serious injuries or fatalities
  • Sudden or unexpected death of a relative, friend or colleague
  • Sexual assault/abuse
  • Robbery and violent crimes
  • Domestic violence
  • Child abuse and/or injury or death of a child
  • Psychological/emotional abuse
  • Suicide or attempted suicide
  • Homicide(s)
  • Line of duty death or injury among emergency/law enforcement personnel
  • Any life threatening experience
  • Adverse/negative publicity
  • Observing or being aware of unethical acts
  • Moral Injury
  • Observing any of the individual or community critical incidents


  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Earthquakes
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Multiple injury/fatality accidents
  • Large scale environmental pollution
  • Terrorism
  • Acts of war
  • Child related traumatic events
  • Homicides in the community
  • High publicity crimes of violence or sex
  • Community disasters
  • Being an emergency worker/first responder in critical incidents and disasters (Police, Fire, EMS etc)

As you can see, you need not be directly involved to be adversely affected by a critical incident.. Generally, the closer you are to the actual event and the people involved, the more severe the impact. However, television and news media coverage, especially excessive and/or graphic depictions, may serve to increase the likelihood of experiencing traumatic impact, especially anxiety and feelings of not being safe.

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CISM International

Supportive Online Solutions

SherryCardinal, LCSW, DAAETS
Phone: 713-594-0859