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7 Crisis Management lessons from conducting strategic level exercises

Author: Charlie Maclean-Bristol

This week Charlie discusses the main lessons learned from conducting strategic level exercises.

Last week I conducted three strategic level exercises and thought I would share some of the lessons learned. The exercises consisted of two public sector executive teams, who would form their strategic team, and then a manufacturer where we exercised their gold and silver team simultaneously.

The following are the main lessons learned.

1.  Don’t underestimate the experiences of those in senior manager roles. During the introductions, the Chief Executive who had had an incident management role in their last organisation, explained their incident experience. This then triggered the others to come out with their experiences involving incidents, which was substantial. This left me a little nervous that I would have nothing to add! They ended coming away from the exercise with a number of actions so we always have more to learn.

2. I have observed during a number of exercises that teams struggle to know where to start in managing an incident and tend initially to talk in circles trying to ‘get to grips’ with the incident and its impact. Use of an agenda or checklist I feel would greatly help them to make sure that they have looked at all aspects of the incident and would also give them some structure, especially at the start of the incident.

3. Senior managers need to understand the potential hazards their organisation can pose to the environment, staff and the public, so that if they are the chosen spokesperson for the organisation they can talk knowledgeably about the threat from any hazardous material they store on site.

4. Strategic teams have a tendency to try and analyse the cause of the incident and 'second guess' the tactical team's coordination of the operational teams managing the recovery. Strategic teams need to be reminded that their role is to look at the wider impact of the incident on their organisation. A fire in a manufacturing area and a death is not just about loss of production but also about the reputation of the company and how it handles the death will determine whether it is seen as a caring, compassionate company or not.

5. I was happy to see that most organisations had social media channels available for them to post information on the incident and that their communications staff were confident to use them. One issue I saw was the sign off of social media posts. Especially, out of hours, did the organisation have the ability to get the posts signed off at short notice?

6. One of the organisations used an external PR company to help them manage communications during the incident. It is very important that the PR Company is involved in exercises to make sure that both organisations are comfortable working together in a pressured environment responding to an incident.

7. Many of the teams I see go 3 years or longer between exercises. Exercising and training for all teams needs to be conducted more often. This could be short, sharp discussion exercises and training which can make sure that teams are regularly reminded of the issues and tasks associated with business recovery, as well as the regular conducting of desktop and command post exercises.

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