IRISgroup has recently undertaken a number of high level investigations relating to critical incidents that have occurred in large government organisations.    Critical incidents happen rarely but can have a long term and potentially debilitating impact on persons exposed both to physical and psychological harm.  As former Police Officers, we were used to the ‘informal’ debrief at the local hotel; which might have seemed adequate; but given the high rates of PTSD amongst Police, was clearly ineffective in the long term.

Over the years, formal ‘de-briefing’ processes were introduced in many organisations – often referred to as an ’employee assistance program’ or similar.

As experienced investigators, we know that staff welfare is of vital importance when planning the investigative response.   Be careful involving lawyers, inexperienced investigators or direct line management in investigations for critical incidents.  A good investigator knows how to reassure staff, explain the process and provide ‘independent’ understanding to witnesses.   Interviews relating to critical incidents are not the time for legal ‘technobabble’,  bumbling / ill-thought out questions or management self interest.

Some key considerations from our experience includes:

  • Creating a quite, safe and private environment for the interview
  • Use support persons where requested or required
  • Be professional – be set up, and have your ‘technology’ ready to go
  • Promote calming behaviour – be empathetic – don’t jump in until a level of trust has been developed
  • Listen and support – take their account of what happened in their own words – identify key issues / key evidence and carefully explore
  • Promote support systems during and after the interview so they know you are concerned for their welfare
  • Be optimistic about the outcomes of the investigation to prevent re-occurrence – if that is not your intention why bother investigating?