What is a Critical Incident

A critical (or traumatic) incident is any event outside of 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. More importantly, critical incident are determined by how they undermine a person's sense of safety, security and competency in the world. This result in the form of what is called traumatic stress, traumatic impact, or traumatic stress.

Examples of critical incidents might include the following:


  • Automobile accident, or any accident involvng 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
  • Obserance of any of the individual or community critical incidents


  • Accidents/Injuries/Deaths occuring while at work
  • Death of an employee off the job
  • Workplace Violence
  • Death of employee family member
  • Robberies/Crime
  • Mergers
  • Chronic Job Stress
  • Downsizings/layoffs
  • Inadequate stress management skills
  • Natural Disasters: fires, floods, hurricanes, tornadoes

The National Safe Workplace Institute projects the cost to business at greater than $4.3 billion annually as the result of los productivity, worker error, sick time and job related injury due to traumatic impact from these types of events.

  • Work Related
  • Fires
  • Floods
  • Hurricanes
  • Tornadoes
  • Multiple injury/fatality accidents
  • Terrorism
  • Acts of war
  • Homicides in the community
  • Natural Disasters

As you can see, you need not be be directly involved to be adversely affected by a critical incident. Usually, the closer you are to the actual event and the people involved, the more severe the impact. The 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.