Preparing for crisis



Episode 5 of 5


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“The risk and threat we’re facing are mutating to such an extent that the frameworks and protocols and understand what we’ve developed in previous generations simply do not work.”.


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00:00:07 [Steve Hather]: Unfortunately for a lot of companies the first time they find out that the plans don’t work or that people aren’t prepared is when they get into a real crisis. That’s a multi-billion dollar mistake or can be a multi million dollar mistake.
00:00:28 [Rosanna Voulters]: So the thing about working in crises is that it makes a whole set of activities which are already really difficult, things like setting strategic objectives, holding structured meetings, setting a good solid strategy, that are already hard, even harder.
00:00:45 [Robyn Berry]: The fallacies and misunderstandings about live exercises are that they just aren’t important and people don’t really have the time for them at all. Whereas actually they really are important and they’re really useful because it gets you out and it gets you practicing and it gets people from different agencies working together in a really really key way that is very important in an actual live incident.
00:01:16 [Steve Hather]: If we’re all sitting around a coffee table casually drinking coffee and we start talking about how we would manage an incident when it happens, it could all sound quite intuitive, but of course when the phones start ringing and social media is going viral and people are demanding answers you don’t have yet, it’s a completely different set of circumstances.
00:01:39 [Alison Burrell]: We have some organizations that we work with that have a high turnover of staff, not necessarily that they’re leaving the company, but they may be changing responsibilities, geographies. So I think whenever a key person out of that team moves, that should be a trigger to start looking at that planning again and rehearsing desktop exercises.
00:01:59 [Alison Burrell]: Whereas you might have smaller organizations that may only need an exercise each year. So I think it really depends on the organization that we’re dealing with.
00:02:08 [Katie Ruff]: We did, we did an exercise recently didn’t we. And it makes the company realize that actually they need to empower their staff to be able to answer questions.
00:02:18 [Alison Burrell]: The crawl phase would really just be looking at people’s roles and responsibilities and spending time with them individually. Do they understand what they’re expected to do within a crisis? And then when you get to the sort of desktop exercises, that’s a very light touch, you’re kind of hand-holding them through the exercise, and that is a time for a question and answers and making sure everybody’s very comfortable of what’s expected of them.
00:02:45 [Rosanna Voulters]: Generally what we would advise is that if you have a team that hasn’t had much opportunity to either deal with incidents and crises in real life or if they haven’t had the chance to practice, then actually throwing them into a really highly pressured and immersive exercise can be quite challenging and actually could damage confidence.
00:03:07 [Rosanna Voulters]: So you may start off with something that’s a bit more discussion based maybe a desktop exercise where you can get people who are in the room, you can get them to talk around scenarios that could impact them. And then after time you can build up the pressure. So as the teams get more and more mature and they get more used to what it’s like working under pressure then you can really build up into what we would call full simulation exercises.
00:03:31 [Rosanna Voulters]: And that’s where we really create the pressure and where you ultimately take a crisis team through a crisis for a day. And that would be where you have simulated stakeholders who are calling into the team. You’ve got journalists, you’ve got media clips that are playing, and it really does feel like you’re in a crisis.
00:03:58 [Dave Cope]: Exercising should all be about learning development. I very hesitatingly ever use the word test as it just induces a different reaction from the participants. So if you’re going to exercise, have a really clear objective: what is it you’re trying to get out of it? What is it you’re trying to develop, and what behaviours are you trying to induce in the participants? And with that in mind what level of training have they already had?
00:04:25 [Dave Cope]: So we could create an exercise that is pretty sure to fail but nobody’s really learnt from that. They’re just going to feel really awkward. And when you buy-in over the next year or the next two years or when it comes to real emergencies and crises, then what you want to do is gain that trust.
00:04:44 [Alison Burrell]: And then as you say you go into a full scale simulated exercises to make sure that actually they’ve learned everything they should have done and that they’re confident. And if they’re not you go back to the desktop phase again and you keep building up their confidence.
00:04:58 [Rosanna Voulters]: One of the things about running crisis exercises is that you give the opportunity for teams and organizations to have a safe space where they can build that muscle memory so they can get used to what it’s like working under pressure.
00:05:12 [Rosanna Voulters]: What we tried to do when we’re building capability is to do a range of different types of training and a range of different types of exercises. And ultimately that’s because people learn in different ways.
00:05:28 [Dave Cope]: One of the objectives should be team building, teamwork, you know, we could pay and we can go off and do something else for a day or two days, but actually running an exercise that has an element of reality but allows a really safe learning environment. People will gel if it’s been done well together.
00:05:49 [Dave Cope]: Also, if they’ve been engaged. Another big part of preparing the exercise is making sure that you’ve not got six people in the room who have got nothing to do or they don’t have anything to contribute. So when you’re planning those scenarios, you know, think about the whole team. And it means you do have to spend a bit time get to know that team or working with a coordinator who knows that team. But you know one of the big objectives should should be to gel that team to create that positive team working environment.
00:06:28 [Dr Nicola Power]: Simulations offer a really interesting platform for allowing us to run research. But they also allow us to offer training for the participants as well. So often I’ll phrase or kind of frame my research around running it as having research needs. So, me manipulating some variables, for example, or the goals that we might ask them to use, and or maybe I’ll measure some things on individual differences, say personality for example.
00:06:50 [Dr Nicola Power]: But at the same time the people taking part in the simulation can use it for training. So I can provide them specific organizational feedback on things they’re interested in and if we run it multiple times we can actually get everybody back in a room together in a debrief and we can get them to trade off the decisions that they make.
00:07:06 [Rob Walley]: So during an exercise it can be a stressful environment for the participants involved and a time when people feel that they’re under pressure at the same time with all of their peers. So from our perspective we try and take some of the pressure out of that situation by making firstly the exercise feel as realistic as possible so they don’t have that time to think about it feeling like a simulation.
00:07:28 [Rob Walley]: And also we try to make sure that our observations and recommendations are handled in a sympathetic way. Often it’s people’s first time practicing their incident role and what we try and do is make sure that we have very detailed root cause analysis of what happened at what time during the exercise and what decisions and rationale were undertaken to try to make sure that we can debrief in as objective way as possible.
00:07:52 [Rosanna Voulters]: It really does feel like you’re in a crisis. And it starts to invoke that kind of emotive response of how you work under pressure and how you work under stress. And then you start to build that muscle memory of what that actually feels like.
00:08:07 [Rosanna Voulters]: So if that does happen you start to get used to how you can start regaining control over the rational side of your brain because when you’re working under pressure what happens is that those parts of your brain that hijacks the other bit of your brain that actually helps you to plan and to rationalize.
00:08:24 [Rob Walley]: The bar is really high for us in terms of creating credible and engaging exercises that are different to the kind of classroom based mandatory training and exercising they’ve had before.
00:08:37 [Robyn Berry]: Nowadays social media is so important and so instant when an incident happens that actually if you don’t put that in, people ignore it and they don’t realize how important it is, and that companies have gone under because of social media during an incident.
00:08:50 [Robyn Berry]: So the fact that we can actually replicate that in a tabletop is so key because it gives them that realism and that need to respond to things that if actually if they were in a real incident and they would suddenly be going “oh yeah I remember doing that, we really need to get on top of getting the media messages out and the twitter messages out” and making sure that happens and they’re on top of that.
00:09:10 [Rob Walley]: Why do you want an exercise? Is it to validate your plan? Is it to train your people? And often in picking that we really want to try and develop with an organization training and exercising program ,where the exercise that may be externally led and supported, is just one part of the rival readiness. So the exercise doesn’t sit as one item on their program but as part of a longer term schedule.
00:09:34 [Dr David Rubens]: A lot of organizations see table top exercises and rehearsing as more and more important. The issue is from my perspective that they see it as a one off event. It’s something that you do in one afternoon and then you carry on.
00:09:47 [Dr David Rubens]: From my perspective, training, exercising and validation, which are the three stages of an exercise program, should be ongoing and inbuilt into every aspect of an organization’s capability development program.
00:10:00 [Dr David Rubens]: And if an organization has as its base and its heart a culture of continuous improvement, then that affects not just the specific aspects of the training that it is doing but it impacts on every aspect of them as an organization.
00:10:14 [Dave Cope]: If you’ve got a crisis management team and leaders who want to see the exercise and the scenario before they do it, you’ve got a problem with trust and confidence. And that might be something you have to address before you do the exercise.
00:10:30 [Dave Cope]: How often are we aware of all of the facts and how it’s going to play out and what it’s going to look like before we get there? So I think if you’re a crisis manager, if if you’re in those coordinated positions, and resilience business continuity, just be brave enough to have those conversations.
00:10:45 [Dave Cope]: Say, “trust me I will give you a really good exercise and you will learn from it. I’m not going to show you it. We’re going to run through that with you before you do it.” Otherwise, you know, the development and the learning is diminished somewhat.
00:11:12 [Dave Cope]: Be innovative. And try something new and don’t be afraid to do it. So how does a crisis really… how would it go through your organization? Would it just wait for the crisis to happen? The reality is we would have situation updates.
00:11:31 [Dave Cope]: We might be watching something happen for a week, for 48 hours to 24 hours, before we stand up and respond to it. That’s how our escalation process works.
00:11:45 [Dave Cope]: So if you’re going to exercise a crisis team, start it two days before, 48 hours, 24 hours, give them a little feed that says “this is something happening, you know, these are the actions that are being taken. These are the comm lines that are being prepared, impacts so far are minimal.”
00:12:02 [Dave Cope]: Start to simulate the crisis before we just go in the room at 10:00 in the morning and then we finish it at 12 o’clock. It is not reflective of reality. And similarly to that, don’t be stuck and rigid to a two to three hour period. If you want to do three one hour periods over a day or over a period of days, that might be really reflective.
00:12:24 [Dave Cope]: Get teams to hand over. So start with one crisis team and then hand over to the deputized team or de-escalate. See how that works and how they carry on with your processes.
00:12:38 [Dr David Rubens]: In my mind there is no question about it, but there will be a differential between organizations that do have training and exercising at their heart, and those that don’t.

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