Imagine a Premier League team stepping onto the pitch without any training or practice under their belt – survival would be brief and they would get little sympathy. Staying at the top of your game needs practice and the same applies in crisis management. In an environment that is uncertain, complex, pressured and risky, why would any team not want to rehearse doing something they have potentially never done — particularly when the stakes could be their very survival?
Rehearsals need to be credible and as realistic as possible, simulating the complexity of the crisis arena by speed, pressure, uncertainty and clarity of response to survival-challenging decisions. Simulations not only test the efficacy of plans and procedures, but also compel members of the strategic team to work with people they would otherwise not come across until a crisis hit. Talking about the 7/7 terrorist attacks on London in 2005, the head of the Anti-Terrorist Branch of the Met Police, Peter Clarke, said:
“I have no doubt that the quality of the response was in no small part due to the investment in time and personal relationships at countless multi-agency training and planning exercises.
“It is one thing knowing what is expected of you at the scene of a disaster; it is quite another to arrive and find that you are working alongside colleagues from other agencies who you have trained and socialised with. Familiar faces are always welcome, and never more so than at times of extreme pressure.”
Analysis by think tanks such as Oxford Metrica has shown that in the face of a crisis, companies that were well prepared bounced back stronger, faster and often made gains in terms of reputation and the bottom line. Those who were ill-prepared frequently saw their value diminish rapidly and even go out of business altogether.
As the mantra goes, “Train hard, fight easy”, so rehearse, rehearse and rehearse again.
You can read more about crisis simulation exercises for strategic teams in the award-winning paper “High Fidelity Simulation Exercises for Training Strategic Crisis Management”, by Dr Claudia van den Heuvel of Steelhenge Consulting.