Preparing for crisis



Episode 4 of 5


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“Unfortunately, the first time a lot of companies find out that the plans don’t work or that people aren’t prepared is when they get into a real crisis”. / Extract of Episode 5 of 5: “Rehearsing”.


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00:00:10 [Dave Cope]: Most organizations, or large scale organizations, will have crisis plans, incident plans. The tendency here is to build big documents with a lot of words in them, and my personal view is that isn’t really a plan.
00:00:27 [Steve Hather]: We see dozens of crisis management plans every year , and some of them can vary from 40 or 50 pages right through to five volume sets that look really good on a bookshelf but unfortunately are not very useful.
00:00:45 [Dr Nicola Powers]: So one of the things that I’ve learned from my research with the Emergency Services is the sheer amount of planning and preparation that go into place for preparing them for emergencies.
00:00:55 [Dr Nicola Powers]: So obviously this is very sensible and it’s something that’s really needed so people actually know what to do when a crisis happens. But one of the potential negatives of this approach is that it doesn’t train individuals in ways to actually deal with decision making under pressure.
00:01:14 [Dave Cope]: The most important part: What’s the structure? What does your invocation look like? How would people be notified? What tools are we giving people in order that we want them to use? That’s a good practice for actually running the crisis and the governance and the structure that goes in place around that.
00:01:34 [Dave Cope]: So it’s less prescribed and again I reference that no crisis is the same, so your crisis plan has got to be flexible and the makeup of the crisis team has got to reflect that.
00:01:48 [Rosanna Voulters]: You’re not gonna be reading through reams of documentation and page after page of what your policy is for dealing with a crisis. But what you will need is. A checklist or a roll checklist or an agenda or something that’s going to take you through your crisis process because ultimately working in a crisis you are going to be dealing with highly pressured situations.
00:02:09 [Rosanna Voulters]: And you won’t be able to think straight so you just want something to prompt your thinking. And it needs to be flexible and it needs to be adaptable that you can deal with it in any type of situation.
00:02:25 [Steve Hather]: What’s missing in a lot of crisis management plans is guidance on how you conduct an assessment and guidance on how you develop a response strategy. And the third reason that they don’t work is they’re not integrated so you often have different functional areas responsible for different parts, but of course as things start to escalate then it tends to be a different team altogether that takes over.
00:02:47 [Steve Hather]: And they’re focused on communications. And if you just focused on communications without the assessment strategy, your communications lacks substance, so that’s where all the corporate PR fluff comes out, and that frankly is more likely to get you into a crisis than out of one.
00:03:13 [Tim Lambon]: It’s really important to get hold of of people in the first few hours, people who might have witnessed what has gone on, whether that is somebody who is sitting at a computer screen when it went blank and the ransom demand came up, or whether it was somebody who was standing at the roadside, saw the gunman jump out of a van grab a victim and drive off.
00:03:33 [Tim Lambon]: Because life moves these people on. They won’t necessarily move off and try and avoid you, it’s just that they might not be available. And the idea is to get as much information from them as quickly as possible before they disappear or they go off and do something else.
00:03:55 [Tim Lambon]: So the crisis management team is the crisis structure which works at the corporate level. And the incident management team is the team that works down at the frontline where the incident actually happened. These can be in different countries and certainly in different different geographic spaces. It’s really important that that communication is maintained because the crisis management team at the corporate level is making the decisions. They are in charge of the big strategy whereas the guys at the at the incident management team are actually dealing with the incident itself.
00:04:26 [Rosanna Voulters]: How do you activate your team? How do you get the right people around the table? What are the sorts of tools and checklists that you might need to have in place?
00:04:34 [Tim Lambon]: It looks like this huge mountain and you’re never going to be able to climb that. If you break down into flights of stairs, you can get up those flights of stairs and you can deal with each of the things that you need to deal with in the crisis until you get to a situation where actually you have what we call a battle rhythm.
00:04:50 [Tim Lambon]: Where the CMT is not sitting for 18 hours a day in the boardroom just going round and round and round talking about the same information that actually has not improved. They haven’t got anything new in but they were all speculating about everything.
00:05:03 [Dave Cope]: What we need to start looking at is the longer term disruption might be reflective of the lot of the sort of disruption type incidents that business could face. So, what does your plan look like when you’ve got to circulate team team members? When you’ve got to circulate team leaders?
00:05:19 [Dave Cope]: You’ve got to hand over what you’re doing because you’re now in week eight, or you’re in month six and the range of incidents that could create that are vast. You know, they’re very reflective of that long-term supplier disruption or financial issues that are coming into the company. Like I said, my biggest piece of advice for that is start to plan for the long term. I think it’s something that’s hugely overlooked.
00:05:47 [Dr David Ruben]: The larger the project and the more complex it is, that is to say the more stakeholders are involved, the higher the need for strategic planning. Strategic planning is not really about what do we need to do, because the situations we face are so random so wide that it’s impossible to plan for all of them. What we do need to look at is planning for capabilities.
00:06:12 [Dr David Ruben]: And that basically involves two things. The first is communication, which is always at the heart of any risk management operation. And the second thing is integration. How do we create an integrated overarching framework? Which allows all the partners, all the stakeholders, to both be aware of what is happening, and to be able to make their contribution to any situation that is ongoing, both on a normal operational status, and when something goes wrong and they need to stop creating emergent and innovative solutions to unexpected events.
00:06:47 [Rosanna Voulters]: If you’re dealing with a really highly pressured situation it’s really difficult to think straight. You can’t plan, you can’t rationalize. So having something there to just to guide your thinking is really how crisis plans should be written and how they should be developed.
00:07:01 [Dr Nicola Powers]: So it’s good to have your plans and procedures in place but you actually need to have more training on how people deal with these situations where there is no right or wrong answer. And importantly having a strong rationale is one of the most kind of useful things you can have when you’re dealing with a wicked problem.
00:07:17 [Dr Nicola Powers]: It’s very difficult to criticize someone’s judgment if they have a sound rationale, that they made this decision based on the information that was available at that time. So one of the good things with simulations is that you can train people not to abide by policy and procedure but how to deal with these wicked problems in a realistic and immersive scenario.
00:07:36 [Rosanna Voulters]: And one of the things that we do with our teams is to actually get them to carry out psychometric testing so they can understand the different sorts of drivers that might drive one team member as opposed to another team member, so that you can start understanding that if people are working under pressure some people might become more directive. Some people might go more introverted. You start being able to understand how your colleagues and how your team members might react so that you can get the best out of people during a crisis.
00:08:07 [Dr David Ruben]: In our planning we understand the organizational challenges that we need to face in order to allow all of the organizations to maintain a common operating picture. To have an understanding of what is going on and to show that amongst all the partners, whatever the situations they’ll be facing, they will be able to create solutions, understand situations, and bring the situation to a desired conclusion.
00:08:34 [David Cope]: You might start to see a bit of a change in crisis management teams where they become more practitioners and then referring up when you’ve done your assessments and you’ve got something to take to the decision making authority. And that’s the change I would like to see, and trying to start to make those core teams who are selected to a point for being very good at what they do and very good under pressure.
00:09:03 [David Cope]: And with a combined knowledge of the organisation and their particular expertise, I think we do need to get maybe a little bit more selective about who forms the crisis management teams, not just default into it.
00:09:18 [Rob Walley]: So exercising for us is not something that we try and encourage people to do just at the end of their planning process. And that can involve desktop classroom based sessions which are very low cost and very much focused on developing concepts and confirming understanding well ahead of more complex multi agency or supply chain engaging exercises with organization stakeholders.

Interviewees in alphabetical order


Robyn Berry
Project Manager
RW Consulting Solutions Limited
Alison Burrell
Associate Director – Communications
NYA International
Dave Cope
Crisis Manager
Group Corporate Security

Steve Hather
Tim Lambon
Director Crisis Response
NYA International
Dr Nicola Power
Lecturer in Psychology
Lancaster University
Dr David Rubens
Executive Director
Institute of Strategic Risk Management

Katie Ruff
Operations Manager
RW Consulting Solutions Limited
Rosanna Voulters
Senior Manager
Reputation, Crisis & Resilience
Deloitte LLP
Rob Walley
RW Consulting Solutions Limited