Escalation Policy Basics

Create an escalation policy to notify on-call users about incidents

Escalation policies connect services to individual users and/or schedules and they ensure the right people are notified at the right time. A service can only have one escalation policy, though an escalation policy can be associated with multiple services. Escalation policies are designed to notify a single target at a time until one individual acknowledges the incident. If you would like to notify more than one person at the same time, please visit our section on notifying multiple users at once.

Create an Escalation Policy

When you are first configuring your PagerDuty account, you will have a Default escalation policy. The Account Owner will be the only target on the default escalation policy, though this can be changed at any time.


Required User Permissions

The following roles can create/edit/delete escalation policies:

  • Admin roles
  • Manager base roles and team roles. Manager team roles can only manage escalation policies associated with their team.
  • Global Admin base roles
  • Account Owner base roles

If you're not sure what role you have, or if you need your permissions adjusted, visit our sections on Checking Your User Role or Changing User Roles.

Note: Free plans are limited to one escalation policy.

To create an escalation policy:

  1. Navigate to People and select Escalation Policies.
  2. Click New Escalation Policy.
  3. Name your escalation policy. Add a description (optional).
  4. Select the target(s) you want to notify when an incident is triggered:
  • Select a user(s) if you always want that person(s)to be notified when an incident is assigned and/or escalated to an escalation level.
  • Select an on-call schedule(s) if you want to notify the user who is on-call from that schedule when an incident is assigned and/or escalated to an escalation level. Note: If you have created any schedules and you want users on those schedules to receive incident notifications, you must add your schedule to an escalation policy and then add the escalation policy to a service.
    Note: If you select more than one user/schedule, each user and/or schedule will be notified at the same time per escalation level.
  1. You can then add a second level to the escalation policy, which will serve as a secondary line of responders who will be notified in the event that no one in the first level responds. To do this, enter the number of minutes that should pass before the incident escalates to the next level in the escalates after ___ min. field. This time period is called the escalation timeout. Incidents will not escalate if they are acknowledged or resolved before the timeout is reached.
  2. Then click Add a new Escalation Rule to create the second level.
  3. Select targets for the second escalation rule.
  4. Configure additional escalation rules as required.
  5. Click Save.
  6. Next, you will need to add your escalation policy to a service so that users can be notified of incidents. Follow our instructions on creating a service if you haven't created one yet, or edit an existing service to add your escalation policy.



We suggest configuring your policy to repeat. To do this, check the box next to If no one acknowledges, repeat this policy __. Then, select the number of times to repeat. An escalation policy can be repeated up to 9 times.

Escalation Policy Example

In the example below, if an on-call user in the Primary On-Call Schedule schedule does not acknowledge an incident in 30 minutes, it will escalate to Jason Collison. The escalation timeout at the second level is also 30 minutes. Jason will have 30 minutes to acknowledge the incident before it escalates and starts over from the beginning of the policy. This escalation policy is set to repeat 9 times.

Add an Escalation Policy to a Team

If your account has access to the Teams feature, escalation policies are designed to connect other core PagerDuty objects to your Teams. When you add an escalation policy to a Team, all of the escalation policy's associated users, schedules and services will be assigned to that Team. For more information, please check out our Teams article.

Edit an Escalation Policy

  1. Navigate to People Escalation Policies.
  2. Find the escalation policy that you would like to edit, click the and select Edit.
  3. On the edit page, make your desired changes and then click Save.

Delete an Escalation Policy


Deletion Warning

  • Please note that if you choose to delete an escalation policy, the users and schedules on that policy will no longer be associated with the service they were supporting. If the service that uses your escalation policy still needs on-call responders, we highly recommend editing the escalation policy instead to suit your needs.
  • Deleting an escalation policy is most appropriate when the service it was supporting is no longer in use.
  1. Navigate to People Escalation Policies.
  2. Find the escalation policy that you would like to delete, click the and select Delete.
  3. Click Ok on the confirmation modal to delete.

Escalation Targets and Limitations

You can select users or schedules as targets on an escalation policy:

  • User Targets: Select users as targets if you always want a specific person/persons to be notified when an incident is assigned and/or escalated to an escalation level.
  • Schedule Targets: Select on-call schedules as targets if you want to notify the user who is on-call from that schedule when an incident is assigned and/or escalated to an escalation level. For more information on common use cases, please visit our article on Escalation Policies and Schedules.

When an incident triggers, we'll attempt to notify responders at the first level of the escalation policy. If the incident is not acknowledged within the escalation timeout period, it will escalate to next escalation level, and so on down the line.

If nobody is on-call in the first level, we will assign the incident to the next escalation level with an on-call responder.


Important Note

An incident follows the escalation policy as it was at the time the incident triggered. Any changes to the escalation policy made after an incident triggers will not affect open incidents (triggered or acknowledged).

Limits on Escalation Policies

  • You can add up to 20 escalation rules to an escalation policy.
    • You have the option to repeat an escalation policy 9 times. Once an escalation policy reaches the amount of loops configured, the incident will stay assigned to the last user and will not continue to notify once it has cycled through all of the responder's contact methods.
    • Notifying too many users at once runs the risk of creating confusion about who owns an incident. With this is mind, multi-user notifications on each escalation rule are limited to 50 users on schedules on Digital Operations and Business plans and 5 on Professional and Free plans. This topic addresses best practices about when to notify one user vs. many users.
    • The minimum escalation timeout is 1 minute if there is a single target on an escalation rule. Alternatively, if there is more than one target in an escalation level the minimum escalation timeout is 5 minutes. These restrictions are displayed in the web UI.

Escalation Levels

Escalation policies are made up of levels that allow you to escalate incident notifications to different users and/or on-call schedules in the case that no one responds. An escalation policy should have at least two levels, with the option of adding more. Escalation levels can also be used to achieve more complex use cases involving schedules.

Escalation Policy Notifications

An escalation policy is designed to engage one person in incident response, and it will escalate until one person has responded. Once one person has responded, the escalation policy will stop escalating, and no further notifications will be sent.

Notify Multiple Users at Once

Multi-user notifications can notify multiple users at once when an incident is triggered or escalated, and can be configured within an escalation policy. There are three methods of configuring multi-user notifications based on your intended use-case:

  • Notifying multiple users at once regardless of their on-call status. This method is covered below.
  • Notifying multiple users and/or groups at once based on a specific span of time. For instance, if you want more than one person to be notified during the weekend or after business hours. This method is also covered in our article Escalation Policies and Schedules.
  • Notifying a Secondary on-call user when a Primary on-call user does not respond based on their schedule and escalation level. This method is covered in our article Escalation Policies and Schedules.



To create packages of incident actions that allow you to assemble a response team of multiple on-calls and/or escalation policies independently, you can also use a response play to mobilize a coordinated response.

Notifying Multiple Users at Once Regardless of Their On-Call Status

To notify two or more users at once regardless of their on-call status, you will want to set up an escalation policy with multiple users on the same escalation level:

  1. Go to People Escalation Policies.

  2. Click New Escalation Policy to create a new escalation policy, or click an existing escalation policy's gear icon and then Edit to edit an existing one.

  3. Click in the field below Notify the following users or schedules and select the on-call users you want to notify at the same time when an incident is triggered or escalated.

In the example below, Harriet Spy and Rocko Wallaby will be notified at the same time since they are both in escalation level 1. If neither of them respond within 30 minutes, it will then escalate to escalation level 2 and Donatello Turtle will then be notified.

  1. Click Save and you're done!


FAQ: Can I use a schedule on its own to achieve multi-user notifications?

No. Please visit Why Schedules Alone Are Ineffective For Multi-User Notifications for more information. This section covers essential concepts to understand, and how to properly configure multi-user notifications.



If you have Live Call Routing enabled to Connect Directly and there is more than one responder on an escalation level, PagerDuty will randomly cycle through all responders on at that level. If an incident triggers via Live Call Routing (if either no one answers, or you've selected "Leave a Message"), however, all users on an escalation level can expect to receive notifications via their configured notification methods.

On Call Handoff Notification Settings

On-call hand off notifications (OCHONs) can notify users on the escalation policy up to 48 hours before they go on-call, off-call, or both. These notifications can only be sent as an SMS, push notification, or email. You can configure settings for when your escalation policy will send on call handoff notifications.



To send OCHONs, the following three conditions must be met:

  1. The target user must have on call handoff notifications configured.
  2. The user must be a target on the escalation policy.
  3. The escalation policy must be set to send OCHONs. If the escalation policy is attached to a service, the OCHONs will automatically be sent. If it is not attached to a service, instructions to turn them on are below.

To send OCHONs for an escalation policy without a service:

  1. Navigate to People Escalation Policies click the name of your desired escalation policy click Edit Escalation Policy.
  2. In the Send On-Call Handoff Notifications dropdown, select Always.
  3. Click Save.

When viewing escalation policies in People Escalation Policies, you will be able to see if OCHONs will be sent on the right hand side. The following example is an escalation policy assigned to a service, which will always send OCHONs:

The following is an escalation policy that is not currently assigned to a service, and it will only send OCHONs if one is assigned, or if it is edited and set to always:

Updated 3 days ago

Escalation Policy Basics

Create an escalation policy to notify on-call users about incidents

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