Publications and Research

Document Type


Publication Date

Fall 2011


At the end of its Fall 2010 conference, the Academy for Critical Incident Analysis (ACIA) called for the development of frameworks that would aid in the study and analysis of critical incidents. This paper responds to that call. The paper answers the question, “is it possible to construct a framework that is generic enough to encapsulate the essential components observed in all critical incidents?” The paper utilizes the open systems perspective to develop a conceptual framework to help us delineate and understand critical incidents and how they evolve. The paper presents examples to substantiate arguments made about the framework. The chief example relied on for this purpose is Hurricane Katrina in 2005. Open systems is a good candidate to help our understanding of critical incidents because like critical incidents an open system is one whose component parts are so interrelated and interdependent that any change in one component produces simultaneous changes in other components and so alter the thing as a whole. The open systems perspective helps us to focus on the dynamical nature of critical incidents. In addition, open systems perspective helps us to consider the fact that there is no simple cause and effect relationship in critical incidents, but that there are multiple relationships, and simultaneous consequences throughout the critical incident system. A notable insight gained from utilizing the proposed framework is that critical incidents are non-linear in that the components within the system interact everywhere within the system in a non-random and patterned way. Therefore utilizing a holistic approach to studying critical incidents is essential to understanding these incidents. The paper ends by proposing a series of steps to guide application of the proposed framework.


This article was published originally in the Journal of Critical Incident Analysis, Fall 2011



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