Critical Incident Management – Roles and Responsibilities

Critical Incident Management Roles and Responsibilities

Critical Incident Management is designed to handle disruptive and unexpected events that threaten to harm an organization or its stakeholders. These incidents range from cyber attacks and system failures to natural disasters and global pandemics.

The importance of critical incident management cannot be overstated, as it is a pivotal process that maintains business continuity and ensures smooth operations despite adversities. Organizations risk severe disruptions without a robust incident management process that can lead to financial loss, reputational damage, and even legal consequences.

But it’s not just about responding to incidents—it’s about minimizing their impact. 

By quickly identifying, assessing, and addressing incidents, organizations can reduce potential damages and expedite incident resolution.

Understanding Incidents

In business operations, an ‘incident’ is an event that disrupts normal operations or poses a risk to the organization’s objectives. These incidents can range from minor software glitches to significant data breaches. They can be internal (originating within the organization) or external (events outside the organization’s control). They can affect both the privacy and security of your data (for more information, check out this AuditBoard privacy vs security guide).

Considering the wide range of possible incidents, they are typically classified by severity. Minor incidents have limited impact and can be quickly resolved; medium incidents are more disruptive but manageable, while major incidents pose a severe threat and require an immediate and comprehensive response.

Understanding and accurately classifying incidents is crucial for effective incident management, as it allows organizations to respond appropriately, allocate resources effectively, and minimize the impact on operations.

Key Roles in Incident Management

Effective incident management requires a dedicated team of individuals, each with specific roles and responsibilities:

Incident Managers

Incident managers are responsible for coordinating all incident response activities. Their responsibilities include triaging incidents and determining the severity, deciding the best course of action after an incident strikes and delegating crucial tasks to the appropriate team members.

Ultimately, they ensure that all team members are working effectively towards resolving the incident and drive coordination among them, with the goal of resolving the incident at hand.

Communications Leads

In some organizations, the role of Communication Leads is an offshoot of the Incident Manager, with the Incident Manager also assuming the responsibilities of managing communication. However, depending on the organization, some companies may have a dedicated Communication Lead to handle these specific responsibilities.

Typically, the Communications Lead manages all internal and external communications during an incident. They are responsible for keeping the incident management team, leadership, and other stakeholders apprised of the incident status and any actions taken. 

This includes crafting and delivering clear and concise messages to various audiences, managing communication channels, and addressing questions or concerns.

On-Call Engineers

On-Call Engineers are the technical, subject matter experts working to resolve the incident. They are responsible for investigating the incident, identifying its root cause, and implementing the necessary solutions. 

This often involves troubleshooting technical issues, working with other team members to develop and test solutions, and monitoring the situation to ensure effective solutions.

In the case of a physical security incident, such as a breach of a fob door entry system, On-Call Engineers would also assess and rectify any security vulnerabilities to restore the integrity of the system.

Customer Escalation Managers

Customer Escalation Managers handle any customer-facing issues that may arise from an incident. They are responsible for resolving customer complaints, answering questions, and ensuring customers are informed about the incident and its resolution. 

This includes communicating with customers promptly and empathetically, managing customer expectations, and working closely with other team members to address customer issues.


Executives provide strategic direction and make high-level decisions during an incident. They are responsible for communicating with external stakeholders, such as investors and media, to manage the organization’s reputation during and after the incident. 

This includes making decisions about public statements and press releases, overseeing the overall incident response strategy, and ensuring that the organization’s actions align with its values and objectives.

Critical Incident Management Roles Scenario

Let’s consider a hypothetical scenario in which a major e-commerce company experiences a significant system failure during the holiday season. This failure causes the website to crash, leaving customers unable to make purchases. Naturally, this event can be categorized as a critical incident due to its ramifications on the site traffic, sales revenue and brand equity. 

Now, let’s explore what a typical incident management process would look like in a crisis like this.

Coordinating the Response: Incident Managers

The Incident Manager springs into action as soon as the system failure is detected by monitoring systems or through a customer-facing helpdesk staff. They coordinate the incident response activities, gather the response team and set up a virtual command center for communication and collaboration. They make the critical decision to classify the incident as ‘critical’ due to its potential impact on sales and customer satisfaction.

Alert and Investigate: On-Call Engineers 

The On-Call Engineers are immediately alerted, and a root cause investigation of the system failure begins. They work tirelessly, troubleshooting various aspects of the system and eventually identify a problem with a recent software update. They roll back the update and work on a fix to ensure the issue doesn’t recur.

Information Flow: Communications Lead

While engineers are hard at work, the Communications Lead manages the distribution of critical information. They keep the incident management team updated on the situation and coordinate with Customer Escalation Managers to ensure a consistent message is delivered to customers. They also prepare internal updates for the company’s leadership and staff, informing everyone about the incident and the steps to resolve it.

The Reassuring Voice: Customer Escalation Managers

The Customer Escalation Managers are on the front lines, handling inquiries and complaints from frustrated customers. They provide updates on the situation, reassure customers that the issue is being addressed, and work to resolve any immediate concerns. They also coordinate with the Communications Lead to ensure that the information being shared with customers is consistent and accurate.

Monitoring and Directing: Executives

Meanwhile, the company’s executives closely monitor the situation. They provide strategic direction, approve the decision to roll back the software update, and communicate with key external stakeholders, such as investors and media, to maintain the company’s reputation. 

They ensure that the incident response aligns with the company’s values and objectives, prioritizing customer satisfaction and transparency.

After several hours, the system is back up and running. The Incident Manager coordinates a post-incident review to identify lessons learned and improvements for the future. The company’s operational risk management software proves invaluable in this process, providing a clear record of the incident response, and facilitating the review process.

This scenario illustrates how each role in the incident management team plays a crucial part in effectively managing a critical incident. Together, they minimized the impact of the incident, restored normal operations, and maintained customer trust.

Minimize Risks With Critical Incident Management

Critical Incident Management is vital for organizations to navigate disruptive events, maintain business continuity and protect its stakeholders. It minimizes the impact of incidents, reducing financial losses, reputational damage, and legal consequences.

The process involves a dedicated team with specific roles:

  • Incident Managers coordinate response efforts.
  • Communications Leads manage communication.
  • On-Call Engineers resolve incidents.
  • Customer Escalation Managers address customer concerns.
  • Executives provide strategic direction.

Recognizing the importance and investing in an effective response strategy will safeguard the organization’s operations, reputation, and future.

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