Crisis Management Exercising – group exercise like no other

With so many recent examples of high profile organisations such as British Airways, Boeing, National Grid and TSB suffering major incidents, how can your organisation transform its crisis management capability to prepare for the inevitable?

One day, a major incident will impact your organisation, whether it be directly or within the supply chain, and there is a group of people, from across the organisation, who will be held responsible for minimising the impact. This will all play out when public scrutiny continues to rise, and reputations are easily damaged.

Crisis Management exercises go a long way to prepare those who will be responsible for protecting your organisation during a major incident. For the UK’s public sector, the Civil Contingencies Act 2004 requires Category 1 responders (e.g. Ambulance, Police and Fire services) to include provision for crisis exercising, training staff on the response procedures and critical decision making. There is good reason for this; they must be prepared.

Like exercise in our daily lives, we know we should or could do more, but often fail to make the time. If you are preparing for an important event, you know you need to put in the effort to train, rehearse and build your support crew for the big day.

This should also be the case for Crisis Management, although the events on the big day are less predictable and the nature of them may come as a complete surprise. Effective crisis preparation will reduce the impact of the surprise and put you in the best possible position to respond. 

The benefits of crisis training and exercising are clear to see; but the first challenge may be admitting that your organisation’s response capability needs to ‘get fit’, ready for the next incident. 

The benefits include:

 

The key to sustained confidence and capability will be in how you equip your teams, ahead of time, with the tools, techniques, information and skills to respond collaboratively and consistently. We often see organisations spending the majority of time developing the tools they need, but often limit the number of rehearsals and training sessions due to time and resource constraints. 

At Moorhouse, we aim to deliver sustainable change and give leadership the confidence they need to say they are truly prepared. Multiple local, national or international teams should be targeted with smaller yet regular exercises to understand the priorities, interrelationships, decision making paths and boundaries of others. This will quickly highlight how your operating model, during a response, needs to change. 

Our top considerations when planning your crisis exercising strategy:

The objectives and format of exercises should reflect your responses to the below considerations. 

  • Existing skills do you have sufficient resources and skills to plan, respond and recover effectively?
  • Risks what are your top risks and how prepared are you to respond if they materialised?
  • Confidence are your teams confident they have the right structures in place to respond to your top risks or a wider range of scenarios? 
  • Trusted relationships could internal and external stakeholders respond collaboratively at an operational, tactical and strategic level?
  • Strategy and tools do your strategies and tools support short and long standing crises and how familiar are the teams with them?
  • Transformation and change what are the gaps now and where do you need to be?
  • Agility are your people empowered to change direction and make critical decisions under pressure?

When setting out, we advise starting off with response plan walkthroughs to build confidence and validate assumptions made during the planning process, progressing through to multi team simulation exercises where the focus is very much on “doing” rather than discussing. 

Different teams will need to focus on different aspects of the response however, at a minimum, you should be looking to improve the following areas:

  • Internal and external communications
  • Clarity of roles and responsibilities
  • Stakeholder management
  • Media and customer relations
  • Operational, tactical and strategic decision making
  • Response priorities
  • Teamwork under pressure
  • Information gathering and analysis
  • Understanding the impact of decisions
  • Situational awareness

Conclusion

To stick with the exercising in our daily lives analogy, exercising little and often will give you the best results. Teams need to be prepared to respond to major incidents, up and down the organisation, and be given the authority to make decisions as the situation changes. 

Crisis exercises of different styles provide this opportunity, in a safe environment and could be seen as the most valuable part of your crisis management transformation.

If you would like to talk to us about establishing a crisis exercising strategy that transforms your organisation and prepares it for the inevitable, please contact thomaswootton@moorhouseconsulting.com.

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