Your organisation faced a security incident. Where to go from there? We're not just talking about identifying what went wrong. It also concerns pinpointing causes and gauging impact with precision. 

In this article, we cover all the steps involved in assessing an incident, from securing the scene to determining the severity, together with the tools and techniques that can be used in the incident assessment process.

In this blog post, we'll cover:


What is an incident?

An incident refers to an unexpected event or occurrence that disrupts normal operations in an organisation, requiring assessment to evaluate its impact and severity.

Efficient incident identification, detection, and handling processes are crucial in promptly addressing such events to minimise their consequences. By swiftly recognising and categorising incidents, organisations can swiftly implement appropriate response strategies to mitigate risks and prevent further damage. This underscores the significance of having robust incident management protocols in place, enabling teams to act decisively in the face of adversity.

Timely handling of incidents not only reduces operational downtime but also safeguards sensitive data and resources from potential threats, ensuring business continuity and resilience.

What are the different types of incidents?

Incidents can vary in nature and complexity, leading to their classification, categorisation, and prioritisation based on severity and impact.

By examining the diverse types of incidents that can occur, it becomes crucial to establish a clear framework for response. Incidents can range from minor disruptions with limited impact to major crises that pose a significant threat to operations. Understanding the criticality and urgency of each incident is essential in determining the appropriate course of action.


By categorising incidents based on their severity, organisations can allocate resources effectively and respond promptly to mitigate any potential damages.

Why is it important to assess an incident?

Assessing an incident is crucial to understanding its root causes, evaluating the response effectiveness, and improving communication throughout the incident management process.

By conducting a thorough assessment, responders can delve deep into the underlying reasons behind the incident, enabling them to implement targeted solutions that address the core issues. This process not only enhances the organisation's ability to prevent similar incidents in the future but also helps in refining response strategies for quicker and more effective resolutions.

Effective incident assessment acts as a foundation for clear and concise communication among team members, stakeholders, and relevant authorities, ensuring that everyone is on the same page and facilitating a smoother incident management process.

What are the steps in assessing an incident?

Assessing an incident involves several key steps, including securing the scene, gathering information, evaluating the situation, identifying the cause, analysing impact and severity, and working towards resolution.

Upon securing the scene, it is essential to establish control and safety measures to prevent further harm. Information gathering follows, where collecting data from various sources aids in understanding the context.

Situation evaluation demands a comprehensive examination of all factors involved to gain a clear perspective. Identification of the root cause involves digging deep to pinpoint the fundamental issue that led to the incident.

Analysing impact and severity helps determine the extent of damage and potential consequences. The resolution process involves formulating and implementing effective strategies to address the incident and prevent future occurrences.

Step 1: Secure the scene

Securing the scene of an incident is the initial critical step to prevent further harm, preserve evidence, and ensure the safety of individuals involved.

By securing the area, responders can create a controlled environment that allows for the proper collection and documentation of evidence. Protecting the scene from contamination or tampering is essential to maintain the integrity of the investigation.

Securing the incident scene helps in managing potential risks and hazards that may be present, ensuring the safety of both responders and any bystanders. This also plays a crucial role in facilitating a thorough incident assessment, enabling investigators to gather accurate information and establish a clear understanding of the situation.

Step 2: Gather information

Gathering relevant information about an incident is essential for understanding the context, scope, and impact of the event, aiding in the assessment process.

This process involves accessing a variety of data sources, including digital records, physical evidence, and eyewitness accounts. By carefully collecting and analysing this information, investigators can piece together a comprehensive picture of what transpired.

Conducting witness interviews is a crucial aspect, as firsthand testimonies provide valuable insights into the sequence of events. Alongside witness statements, thorough documentation of findings is necessary to support the evaluation and potentially serve as evidence in legal proceedings or post-incident analysis.

Step 3: Evaluate the situation

Evaluating the situation of an incident involves analysing the context, circumstances, and factors surrounding the event to determine the appropriate response and assessment approach.

This process of situation evaluation during incident assessment is crucial for understanding the full scope of the issue at hand. Contextual analysis involves delving into the background and environment in which the incident occurred, considering aspects like location, time, and any relevant history.

Risk assessment plays a key role in identifying potential dangers or threats associated with the situation, helping responders prioritise actions. Maintaining high situational awareness is essential to continuously monitor developments, assess changing conditions, and make well-informed decisions as the incident unfolds.


You might also be interested: How do you write an incident response report?


Step 4: Identify the cause

Identifying the root cause of an incident is key to understanding why it occurred and implementing targeted corrective actions to prevent recurrence.

By delving deep into the root cause of an incident through thorough analysis, organisations can pinpoint the fundamental factors that led to the event. Root cause analysis enables a comprehensive examination of the underlying issues and vulnerabilities that may have contributed to the incident.

This process goes beyond addressing just the surface-level symptoms and focuses on identifying the systemic and contributory elements that are often overlooked. Understanding the root cause provides valuable insights for developing effective prevention strategies and enhancing overall incident management practices.

Step 5: Analyse the impact

Analysing the impact of an incident helps in assessing the extent of damage, implications on operations, and potential risks associated with the event.

During impact analysis, one crucial aspect is evaluating the operational disruptions caused by the incident. This involves identifying how the incident has affected the day-to-day functioning of the business, including disruptions in production, supply chain interruptions, and delays in service delivery.

Financial losses are another key area of assessment, gauging the direct and indirect monetary impacts such as repair costs, revenue losses, and potential legal liabilities.

Safety hazards are also examined to understand any risks to personnel, assets, or the surrounding environment. Analysing the reputational impacts helps in understanding how the incident may influence public perception, stakeholder confidence, and brand image.

Step 6: Determine the severity

Determining the severity of an incident involves assigning a level of criticality based on the impact, consequences, and risks posed by the event.

This process is crucial in incident assessment as it helps organisations prioritise responses and allocate resources effectively. Severity levels are commonly classified as low, medium, high, and critical, each indicating the degree of impact and urgency. Low severity incidents may have minimal impact on operations, while critical incidents can halt business functions entirely.

Understanding these severity levels allows stakeholders to gauge the magnitude of an incident and enact appropriate response strategies. The implications of different severity classifications influence incident response timeframes, resource allocation, communication strategies, and decision-making processes.

Step 7: Consider contributing factors

Considering contributing factors in incident assessment entails examining underlying causes, systemic issues, and external influences that may have contributed to the event.

By delving into these various aspects, analysts can gain a deeper understanding of how multiple factors interplay to lead to a particular incident. This comprehensive approach ensures that not only the immediate triggers are addressed but also the root causes that set the stage for the event.

A thorough investigation allows for the identification of recurring patterns or trends that could indicate systemic weaknesses or vulnerabilities in the organisation. Understanding these dynamics is crucial in developing effective prevention strategies to mitigate the risk of similar incidents in the future.

What tools or techniques can be used in assessing an incident?

Various tools and techniques can aid in incident assessment, such as root cause analysis, fault tree analysis, and the fishbone diagram, offering structured approaches to uncover causes and develop solutions.

Root cause analysis delves deep into the core issue, focusing on identifying the primary reason that leads to incidents, allowing organisations to address underlying problems rather than just symptoms.

Fault tree analysis takes a systematic approach by analysing various potential causes and their interrelationships, helping to map out the chain of events that led to the incident.

Similarly, fishbone diagrams, also known as Ishikawa diagrams, visually display different categories of possible causes, offering a holistic view of contributing factors for a comprehensive understanding of the incident.

Root cause analysis

Root cause analysis is a methodical approach used in incident assessment to delve deep into the fundamental causes of an event rather than addressing symptoms alone.

By focusing on uncovering the root cause, this process aims to prevent future occurrences by targeting the underlying issues that led to the incident. It involves a systematic investigation that involves identifying contributing factors, examining systemic issues within the organisation, and applying analytical tools to understand the chain of events that led to the incident.

Through this comprehensive approach, organisations can implement effective corrective actions and make lasting improvements to their processes, ultimately enhancing overall safety and efficiency.


Fault tree analysis

Fault tree analysis is a systematic method that evaluates the various causes contributing to an incident by constructing a visual representation of fault pathways and failure scenarios.

This method is highly effective in incident assessment as it provides a structured approach to understanding the complex interactions within a system. By mapping out causal relationships, fault tree analysis helps in identifying critical points of failure, which in turn enables organisations to prioritise corrective actions more efficienty.

Breaking down the incident into logical fragments, this analytical tool enables organisations to delve deeper into the root causes of failures, facilitating the development of targeted solutions to prevent similar incidents in the future.

Fishbone diagram

The fishbone diagram, also known as the Ishikawa diagram, is a tool used in incident assessment to visually represent potential causes of an issue across different categories or factors.

These diagrams are particularly valuable in analyzing complex problems by breaking them down into specific categories such as people, process, environment, equipment, and materials. By organizing these factors around the main issue or problem statement represented by the head of the 'fishbone', teams can identify root causes, interconnections, and relationships that contribute to the incident.

The process of creating a fishbone diagram typically involves brainstorming with a multi-disciplinary team to ensure a comprehensive exploration of all potential causes, followed by structuring the causes into branches and further analyzing each to uncover underlying reasons for the problem.

What are the possible outcomes of an incident assessment?

An incident assessment can lead to various outcomes, including the identification of corrective actions, implementation of preventive measures, learning from the incident, and driving improvements in processes or procedures.

By carefully analysing the details of an incident, organisations can pinpoint areas that require corrective actions to prevent similar occurrences in the future. This process not only addresses the immediate issue but also helps in developing proactive strategies for risk mitigation.

Incident assessments enable teams to acquire valuable knowledge by understanding the root causes behind incidents, fostering a culture of continuous improvement. These findings can be utilised to enhance existing processes, refine procedures, and strengthen overall operational resilience.

Corrective actions

Corrective actions are specific measures taken in response to an incident assessment to address identified issues, prevent recurrence, and improve overall incident handling processes.

These actions play a crucial role in incident resolution by ensuring that not only are immediate issues remedied but also that processes are strengthened for the future. Targeted responses are essential in tailoring solutions directly to the root cause of the incident, thereby increasing the effectiveness of the resolution.

Process improvements help to streamline workflows and minimise the likelihood of similar incidents occurring in the future. By proactively implementing preventive measures, organizations can mitigate risks, enhance incident management, and cultivate a culture of continuous improvement in their response strategies.

Preventive actions

Preventative actions are proactive steps implemented following an incident assessment to mitigate risks, enhance preparedness, and prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

Such measures play a crucial role in incident management by focusing on risk mitigation, identifying potential vulnerabilities, and addressing them before they escalate into critical issues. By adopting a proactive approach, organisations can establish safeguards, protocols, and preventative strategies that not only reduce the likelihood of future incidents but also minimise their impact if they do occur.

This not only helps in protecting assets and resources but also enhances the overall resilience and operational efficiency of the organisation. Implementing preventative actions demonstrates a commitment to safety, continuous improvement, and a proactive mindset towards managing risks effectively.

Lessons learned

Lessons learnt from an incident assessment encompass valuable insights, knowledge, and experiences gained during the incident response and management process, aiding in future decision-making and improvements.

Reflecting on past incidents allows teams to pinpoint areas of strength and weakness, paving the way for more effective strategies in handling similar situations in the future. By carefully analysing the root causes behind issues encountered, organisations can prevent recurrences and streamline their response protocols.

Leveraging these lessons learnt can lead to a culture of continuous improvement, where each incident becomes an opportunity for growth and refinement. In essence, the process of capturing, identifying, and applying these lessons learnt is essential for ensuring that organisations evolve and adapt to changing threats and challenges.

Improvements in processes or procedures

Incident assessments often result in recommendations for improvements in existing processes or procedures to strengthen incident response capabilities, optimise workflows, and enhance overall organisational resilience.

These assessments serve as crucial checkpoints in the journey towards operational excellence. By systematically evaluating past incidents and identifying areas for development, organisations are able to initiate a cyclical process of enhancement.

Through the integration of industry best practices and the ongoing refinement of incident management procedures, teams can adapt and evolve to meet emerging challenges. This iterative approach allows for continuous learning and growth, enabling organisations to proactively address potential vulnerabilities and ensure a robust incident response framework.

Strengthen your information security to prevent incidents

An incident assessment strategy is a great tool for IT leaders, yet the ideal scenario is one where incidents never occur in the first place.

If you want to improve information security in your organisation, check out DataGuard's all-in-one information security platform or reach out to us for a free consultation. We've helped many companies like yours level up their InfoSec setup and minimise threats.


Frequently Asked Questions

What is the first step in assessing an incident?

The first step in assessing an incident is to gather as much information as possible. This can include talking to witnesses, collecting evidence, and reviewing any relevant documents or reports.

Why is it important to assess an incident?

Assessing an incident is crucial in order to understand the situation and determine the appropriate response. It allows for a more thorough investigation and helps to prevent similar incidents from occurring in the future.

What factors should be considered when assessing an incident?

Some factors to consider when assessing an incident include the severity of the incident, potential risks and dangers, the individuals involved, and any relevant policies or procedures.

How do you determine the appropriate action to take after assessing an incident?

After assessing an incident, it is important to carefully consider all the information gathered and evaluate the potential consequences of each possible action. It may also be helpful to consult with supervisors or other relevant parties before making a decision.

Can an incident assessment be done by one person?

In most cases, an incident assessment should involve multiple individuals in order to gather a comprehensive understanding of the situation. However, in some cases, a single person may be able to effectively assess the incident, depending on the complexity and severity of the situation.

About the author

DataGuard Insights DataGuard Insights
DataGuard Insights

DataGuard Insights provides expert analysis and practical advice on security and compliance issues facing IT, marketing and legal professionals across a range of industries and organisations. It acts as a central hub for understanding the intricacies of the regulatory landscape, providing insights that help executives make informed decisions. By focusing on the latest trends and developments, DataGuard Insights equips professionals with the information they need to navigate the complexities of their field, ensuring they stay informed and ahead of the curve.

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