5 Incident Response Plan Templates to Help Get You Started

These five incident response plan templates give you a solid foundation for building a plan that aligns with your organization and its threat environment.
Ray Lambert

by Ray Lambert

December 16, 2022
Incident Response Plan Templates

Malware infections, data breaches, and other cyber incidents are inevitable. When prevention fails, preparation lets you resolve incidents quickly and minimize their impacts. Incident response planning is essential to modern cybersecurity, but where do you start? 

Incident response plan templates provide a framework you can customize to your organization’s unique situation. In this article, we look at five incident response plan templates you can use to start building a plan that meets your organization’s needs.

What is an Incident Response Plan? 

Cybersecurity threats are constant. No matter how sophisticated your defenses may be, all it takes is one click on an attachment to expose your organization to malware and other attacks. Security events are inevitable. The only question is how well your organization handles incidents when they occur.

An incident response plan is a formal document that describes who is responsible for what during a cybersecurity incident.

The plan will also describe what people should do to detect, respond, and recover from the incident.

Without an incident response plan, there is no guarantee that your organization will handle events in the right way. Valuable time will tick away as people try to figure out what is happening, who should be in charge, and what actions to take. Necessary actions may never happen, making the event’s impact more severe.

Planning for common cybersecurity incidents lets your organization respond faster and more effectively while minimizing the impacts of each incident.

Main Elements

Whichever template you base your plans on, they share the same main elements. 

First is the planning stage in which you identify addressable risks and build appropriate response plans. These plans will document the execution stage in which you detect, investigate, contain, and mitigate the event as quickly as possible. After recovering from the event comes the learning phase in which you continuously improve your incident response plan.

These often-cited incident response frameworks consist of the same main elements grouped in different ways.


The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) consolidates all incident planning into four main elements:

  1. Preparation

  2. Detection and Analysis

  3. Containment, Eradication, and Recovery

  4. Post-Incident Activity

SANS Institute

The SANS Institute expands NIST’s response activities into three separate sections.

  1. Preparation

  2. Identification

  3. Containment

  4. Eradication

  5. Recovery

  6. Lessons Learned

5 Incident Response Templates

No two response plans are alike because no two enterprises have identical structures, processes, and risk tolerances. Incident response templates, such as the five examples below, supply convenient starting points from which to begin your planning.

1. National Institute of Standards and Technology

NIST’s Special Publication 800-61, Computer Security Incident Handling Guide, is the foundation upon which many other incident response methodologies are based. NIST developed the guide to help federal agencies prepare for and respond to common security events. However, its usefulness is not limited to the government. 

Private businesses, especially government contractors, may find SP 800-61’s detailed instructions useful as they develop their own incident response plans.

Created by: NIST

Pages: 79

Main sections:

  • Introduction

  • Organizing a Computer Security Incident Response Capability

  • Handling an Incident

  • Coordination and Information Sharing


2. Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency

America’s critical infrastructure, from railroads to power companies, is frequently targeted by cyber attacks. Given a major incident’s economic and societal impact, the U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity & Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) provides guidance to these organizations. Cyber Resilience Review Supplemental Resource Guide, Volume 5: Incident Management describes the process for developing and evaluating an organization’s incident response plan.

Created by: CISA

Pages: 54

Main sections:

  • Introduction

  • Incident Management

  • Create an Incident Management Plan

  • Test the Incident Management Plan

  • Improve the Incident Management Plan


3. Department of Health and Human Services

Cybercriminals increasingly target hospitals and other healthcare organizations. Ransomware attacks can cripple the hospital’s ability to care for patients. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers public and private healthcare institutions resources for improving their cybersecurity practices. Healthcare System Cybersecurity Readiness & Response Considerations adapts common frameworks such as CISA’s to the particular needs of hospitals and other patient care facilities.

Created by: HHS

Pages: 40

Main sections:

  • Introduction

  • Preparedness and Mitigation

  • Response

  • Recovery


4. UK National Cyber Security Centre

Organizations that collect data about British or European Union citizens must consider a security incident’s implications for data privacy. The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre’s Incident Response site enhances the NIST framework with respect to compliance with the EU’s GDPR and the UK’s DPA regulations.

Created by: NCSC

Pages: 7 with additional resources

Main sections:

  • Incident Management

  • Introduction: Incident Response Overview

  • Plan: Your Cyber Incident Response Processes

  • Build: A Cybersecurity Incident Response Team (CSIRT)

  • Develop: Technical Response Capabilities

  • Maintain: Build and Upkeep of Your Capability


5. Cloud Security Alliance

With governance and responsibilities divided across multiple cloud service providers (CSPs) and their clients, the lack of visibility can make incidents harder to detect and address. To meet these unique challenges, the Cloud Security Alliance adapted NIST, SANS Institute, and other frameworks to create the Cloud Incident Response Framework. Among other topics, this document advises cloud users on negotiating with CSPs to support incident responses.

Created by: CSA

Pages: 36

Main sections:

  • Introduction

  • CIR Overview

  • CIR Framework

  • Phase 1: Preparation and Follow-on Review

  • Phase 2: Detection and Analysis

  • Phase 3: Containment, Eradication, and Recovery

  • Phase 4: Post-Mortem

  • Coordination and Information Sharing



How Do We Plan for Every Possible Threat?

Developing plans for every potential incident is not practical. However, your risk management process should have identified the most likely high-impact threats. Prioritize the most severe risks and create specific plans for each.

Do We Need to Include Every Employee?

Every employee should understand their role in protecting the company’s information resources. Certain employees should also know what the incident response team may ask of them during an event. All incident response team members must understand what actions to take during an event, what decision-making authority they have, and who to communicate with.

How Specific Should We Make Our Plans?

Incident response plans should be as detailed as necessary for people to understand what they should do and the criteria for escalating the response.

Do We Discuss Incidents Outside the Company?

Many security incidents are not severe enough to require disclosure to outside parties. Significant events may require disclosure to regulators, law enforcement organizations, customers, or the media. Assign responsibility for these communications to specific employees and supply any relevant guidance for how and when these notifications should go out.

How Often Should We Revisit the Plan?

No plan is set in stone; incident response plans must evolve with the threat landscape. Use each incident as a learning opportunity and modify the plan accordingly. Review the plan annually or when significant business changes occur to keep your incident responses aligned with your organization.

If Every Event Triggers an Alert, How Do We Know What’s Important?

Alert fatigue can undermine security team productivity and slow responses to significant events. Automated systems can monitor security controls and flag significant incidents for immediate response.

Drata’s compliance monitoring platform keeps a constant watch over your security posture, giving incident response teams the visibility they need to investigate and mitigate new events. Schedule a demo today to see how Drata can streamline your incident responses.

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Ray Lambert
Ray Lambert
Ray is a Security Analyst at Drata. His role focuses on triaging and tuning alerts, conducting vendor security reviews, and assisting with updating and building security tools. Ray started his career in the IT space and moved to compliance before focusing on security to further engage with the technical aspects of the cybersecurity space. His is CompTIA Security+ certified and his area of expertise is security, compliance, and security awareness and training.
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