Guidance for Campus Leaders and Managers During Critical Incidents

Guidance for Campus Leaders and Managers During Critical Incidents


What is a critical incident?

A critical incident is a traumatic event or disaster, such as a weather event, health care crisis, an act of violence, or an untimely and unexpected death that causes emotional distress

What is the role of leaders and managers during critical incidents?

The way organizations support people during and following traumatic incidents is uniquely powerful, and the implications are long-lasting. Employees look to their leaders for guidance, information, direction, and support.


How can the HealthPoint Employee Assistance Program (EAP) help?

EAP counselors collaborate with campus leaders and managers to guide them in assisting employees who are affected by an incident to restore a sense of stability and safety and offer emotional support and behavioral health expertise, setting the trajectory for resilience and recovery.  

The EAP’s trauma-informed counselors support leaders and managers of the impacted college, school or unit (CSU) navigate an incident by offering recommendations and resources, assessment an incident, and develop a plan for individualized and team support.

For assistance, contact EAP at 512-471-3366 or EAP services are free and confidential.


Guidance for navigating through a critical incident

Below, we’ve outlined some general guidance to help employees cope immediately after a critical incident as well as some more information about EAP support.

Stage 1

Immediately after an event – Safety and Stabilization

Clarify with those involved or managing the incident what happened and who was involved. Ask if safety has been restored. Find out the immediate impact on operations.

Contact the Employee Assistance program. A counselor will help connect you with other relevant resources and make a plan for the physical and emotional needs of your team members, e.g., medical and/or emotional care, a break from work tasks, or time to make connections with loved ones/support systems/coworkers.

Check on employees by asking how they are, noticing and acknowledging them.

If the critical incident involves an act of violence or crime, reach out to the Victim’s Advocate Network (VAN) to provide immediate psychological first aid by calling the University of Texas Police Department (UTPD) at 512-471-4441 x9 or

Stage 2

Within hours of an event – Communicate

Communicate with your team often to update facts and clarify misperceptions, validate all emotional reactions, reinforce healthy coping strategies, and identify needs for further follow-up. 

Stage 3

24-48 hours after an event (or upon return to campus) and ongoing – Be Present

Continue to be present and accessible. Check in with your team members, listen, and acknowledge the emotions and information they are sharing so they feel genuinely heard. Acknowledgment creates connection and understanding in a crisis and can be as simple as saying “Thank you for telling me”, or “I appreciate you sharing your feelings and concerns.” Being present and listening is a powerful way to convey understanding and initiate the early stages of healing and recovery. This work to continue to “be present” can be done in one-on-one or group meetings or through your other communication platforms as needed.

EAP staff can offer guidance and support to the CSU leader and may recommend interventions that require planning and preparation, such as on-site one-on-one meetings, resilience, or bereavement groups.

Stage 4

Going forward – Create a Feedback loop and Continue collaboration with HealthPoint’s Employee Assistance Program

The EAP is here for you. Our goal is to help leaders foster a stable and resilient environment within their team after a critical incident occurs. EAP services complement organizational processes and are designed to build upon the actions of leaders and set the stage for supportive interventions to come. 

EAP is not an emergency service. Before EAP coordinates a response, we collaborate with leaders and managers to determine the best response. EAP recommendations are based on research-based standard practices, current assessment of situational needs, and the current stage of recovery. Consulting allows the response to be based on the assessment and not just a reaction.  A thorough assessment helps to provide the appropriate assistance to those who need it. The assessment will also help leaders and managers be as prepared as possible for potential future incidents.  To contribute to the assessment, it is best practice for leaders and managers to get feedback from their employees to evaluate the institutional response to the crisis and create a feedback loop. Use the following questions as a guide for what to ask those involved and impacted 

  • What went well? 
  • Where are the gaps that can be improved upon?
  • Who can help make these improvements and integrate the changes in practices moving forward?


The EAP’s counselors have experience in crisis intervention, stress and trauma response, grief and loss, and resilience.

During a critical incident response consultation, the EAP counselor may ask: 

  • What happened? 
  • Who was involved? 
  • How much time has elapsed? 
  • How was safety restored? 
  • What was the impact on employees and on operations? 
  • What actions have leaders employed? 
  • What messaging has been shared? 
  • What resources have been brought in?

The EAP will provide guidance and recommendations. We will collaborate with you to create a preliminary plan. The following are some ways that we might be able to help your team:

Consultation with Leaders: EAP counselors connect with leaders to assess current needs, recommend a plan for organizational and individualized support, and provide leaders with information about services and ongoing resources.

Participation in Briefings: Briefings position management “out front” and in control, delivering facts, support, and resources. EAP is offered as a resource and may offer general guidance. Our role is to complement and further empower leadership, provide brief education, and outline the interventions available in coordination with leadership.

Individual Counseling: These are opportunities for individuals to meet with an EAP counselor. Meetings with the EAP are voluntary and are not mandated. These sessions are focused on crisis intervention, safety, resilience, and the impact of the crisis on work. Meetings are typically between five and 20 minutes and are provided in a confidential space.

Group Support Meetings: While group meetings facilitated by an EAP counselor may be useful, these require coordination and a cooperative effort to create the time, place, and necessary communication. The plan to offer a group meeting will take into consideration operational demands and routines and the risk of additional exposure to trauma. 


Other Related EAP Support

Death of an Employee Support: Any death in a department is a loss and has an impact on the colleagues of the person who has died.  EAP counselors recognize how important it is to acknowledge these losses, provide space for grief, and encourage mutual support. We support leaders and managers at these times, coordinating with the college, school or unit’s HR team, and can help them compose communication to their teams.

The EAP offers both individual support and a group grief debriefing. We recommend offering grief debriefings about a week after the team has learned of a death. During a debriefing, the counselor will offer support and provide a time to remember their colleague. The counselor will also share information about common grief reactions, coping mechanisms, and ways to support each other. Employees may participate as much or as little as feels comfortable. We can provide debriefings in person or virtually, when we provide them virtually, we ask everyone who can to turn on their camera. Participation in a grief debriefing is voluntary, some employees will choose not to participate but offering it is important, as it communicates support from leadership. 

Contact Information

To set up an appointment call 512-471-3366 or email Monday through Friday 8:00 am – 5:00 pm.

For a mental health crisis after hours, call 512-471-3399 to speak to a telephone counselor. EAP staff will follow up the following business day.


Thank you to our colleagues at the Faculty and Employee Assistance Program at the University of Virginia who provided a template and handouts for assisting leadership during a critical incident. Our UT Austin HealthPoint Employee Assistance Program resources are modeled after their work.