Incident Response Toolkit

What should I do first?

First, pause and take a breath. What you just saw happen or heard about can be traumatic and triggering. You may want to react quickly but that often is not what is most effective. It is important to first reflect on the incident or crisis and find a way to meaningfully engage and respond in a way that promotes safety and healing, particularly for the community or communities that are targeted and harmed by the incident.

Consider a brief mindfulness exercise, such as a selection from the Mindfulness Meditation Podcast Series from the Department of Family Medicine and Community Health.

What are SMPH and university leaders doing?

It is common to wonder what the school or university is doing in response to an incident or crisis. Several processes are in place to help the institution understand and respond as appropriate.

Keep in mind

  • School and university leaders were informed of the incident very shortly after it occurred (unless you are the one reporting the incident), even if it occurred in the middle of the night.
  • A flurry of work is happening behind the scenes to understand what took place and how to appropriately respond, even if no information or communications are being released.
  • The highest priority of the UW–Madison Police Department, the Madison Police Department, and campus and school leaders is to communicate with and support victims, as well as communicate with each other to better understand the situation.
    • When multiple individuals not directly involved in an incident or crisis contact them, they are unable to stay focused on supporting victims and carrying out an investigation. Resist the urge to contact them and focus your energy on how to be an ally to the affected community.

Institutional statements

Often, individuals want school or university leaders to release a “statement” following an incident. Below are some important details regarding statements made by UW–Madison.

  • Statements from UW–Madison are not intended to be “breaking news.” Leadership will not and should not respond in haste, regardless of media or online buzz. They will continue to investigate to ensure they are responding accurately.
  • It is possible, appropriate, and expected that you may hear about a crisis or incident from somewhere other than an institutional message or statement. Instead, campus statements focus on sharing information about the university’s response, reaction, and stance to news and incidents. This can take time because it takes hours (sometimes days) and labor to work through a statement that reflects the facts known at a point in time.
  • UW–Madison is an extremely large and complex organization and many people need to be engaged before a statement is made, including, in some cases, the Chancellor. For example, a decision must be made about which entity will release the statement.
  • Only the Chancellor or direct designees can make institutional statements. Each school/college/department should not make a statement on all disturbing situations that affect our campus community, in particular on external channels like social media. SMPH will be more involved and potentially make a statement in cases where SMPH students, staff, or faculty are involved.
  • Multiple statements are not particularly helpful and can quickly become a “check the box” performative action where everybody makes a separate statement that in the end holds little meaning or support for impacted communities.

What can I do?

It is most valuable in a crisis or incident to devote your time and energy to thinking about your “sphere of influence,” meaning the scope of your professional and personal role. Below are some ideas for how to respond.

Your “sphere of influence”

  • Focus on what you can influence; if you understand this, you can have a real impact.
  • Reach out to individuals (students, staff, and faculty) in your own personal and professional circles who may feel impacted to ask what they need. If someone is struggling after the incident, hearing from someone they know personally with a meaningful message, rather than from a leader they do not know and rarely see, will have much more of a real and positive impact. Ask them about any specific support needs and provide resources. It is really through our one-on-one conversations and support that we can continue to build community.
  • Maintain awareness of local news and keep your ear to the ground so that students, staff, and faculty know that any incident can and should be reported. This sets a positive culture that shows instances of racism, stereotyping, bias, or hate are not acceptable.

Ideas for leaders

  • Reach out to members of your team who may feel impacted to offer support and resources.
  • Think of ways to create space for conversation about traumatic national and local events, perhaps utilizing internal or external facilitators. It can also be meaningful to bring students and trainees together for discussion about the impact of an event and provide information on mental health resources available on campus. Students can utilize University Health Services and employees can access numerous Emotional Wellbeing Resources for UW–Madison Faculty and Staff.
  • Offer for people to take some of the day/afternoon/morning off for self-care.
  • XXX-more resources/ideas possible here

Other resources

  • Suggested script for talking with a colleague who is part of impacted community:
    • “Hello, [insert name]. After [insert issue] incident, I wanted to check in to see how you were doing. Is there anything I can do to better support you? I am here for you and whatever support you may need.”
  • XXX-more resources/ideas possible here