Crisis Lesson #2 – Achieving Situational Awareness

By Dominic Cockram

Achieving awareness of the situation in the highly confused aftermath of an incident is one of the toughest challenges a board-level crisis response team will face; our second ‘Crisis Lesson’ gives you some tips on how to cope with the inevitable rush – or dearth – of information that follows a crisis.

Firstly, what is situational awareness?
It is a clear understanding of:

  • what happened,
  • what is happening and
  • what is likely to happen next.

To answer these questions, a crisis management team needs timely and reliable information from credible sources.

This information is never harder to access than when you need it most: when life or death and business critical decisions depend on it. Making important decisions in the face of incomplete, misleading or ambiguous information is standard in a crisis situation. While a crisis management team may never have a complete picture of the situation during a response, an effective information management process will deliver the best possible levels of situational awareness to crisis response teams.

The scale and complexity of information management during a crisis will vary, but some tools always prove invaluable, such as situation boards, issues & actions charts, stakeholder matrices and timelines. These regularly updated visual prompts help to keep the whole team updated, focus decision-making and act as ‘to-do lists’ to drive the response forward.

Once you have a good information management process in place, it will enable you to then efficiently gather, collate and analyse what is known as fact, what is assumption and thereby build awareness of the situation based on reliable data and sources.  This process can vary in scale and complexity – from one person with a phone and notebook to a full team producing highly refined intelligence – but it is always vital to successful decision-making and strategic thinking.

The aim of any crisis management team is to gain control of the situation, and this can be only be achieved by establishing situational awareness and getting ahead of the decision/action cycle. In this way decisions can become pro-active rather than reactive in nature, and the crisis management team can begin to drive activity to stop or control the crisis.

Top tips for achieving situational awareness:

  1. Maintain a situation board that is highly visible and regularly updated with what is happening now
  2. Be clear what key areas of information are needed on your board
  3. Clearly identify issues and actions arising from new information
  4. Allocate responsibility for each action and clearly mark when completed
  5. Identify what critical information is needed so that it can be actively sought
  6. Establish a ‘battle rhythm’ for team meetings and regular updates
  7. Allow staff time to do their planning
  8. Ensure there is a clearly identified board manager or information manager in your crisis management team
  9. Have a log keeper who captures all key decisions, what time and by whom they are made
  10. Provide information management training for administrative staff BEFORE a crisis hits

About Dominic Cockram

Founder and MD of Steelhenge. Pioneer of simulation exercises with over 20 years experience in business continuity and crisis management. Dominic is an experienced speaker determined to make the world a more resilient place.

3 thoughts on “Crisis Lesson #2 – Achieving Situational Awareness

  1. Pingback: Soft skills for hard realities: the personality traits of successful crisis managers | Crisis Management

  2. Pingback: Soft skills for hard realities: the personality traits of successful crisis managers | Crisis Management

  3. Pingback: Six Steps to Controlling a Crisis | Crisis Management

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