What makes a crisis ‘a crisis’?

By Dominic Cockram

The origins, causes and kinds of crises are many and varied, but all true crises share certain key features. The mix may change from incident to incident, but in any proportion they combine to create a complex, extremely sensitive and high-risk situation that demands extraordinary management.

An incident becomes a crisis to the organisation if it imposes:

  • An environment of unpredictability and surprise
  • A threat that is both dynamic and volatile
  • Disruption to normal ‘boundaries’
  • Stresses to established lines of accountability
  • Extreme complexity
  • Abnormal urgency and intense pressure on people and systems
  • Media scrutiny

Managing such a hornet’s nest of variables requires intensive planning and preparation. The level of rigour brought to bear for our client, the Food Standards Agency (FSA), provides a good example.

A key element of the programme included a series of immersive simulation exercises, created to rehearse the agency’s incident response protocol in its entirety. These escalated in complexity, involving ever greater numbers of stakeholders, in order to test external communication channels, EU linkages, and communications with the wider public and industry. You can read the case study here.

One final thought on what defines a true crisis: when the event is finally over, things will often have changed to the degree that the organisation cannot return to where it was before. This is what distinguishes a crisis from a really bad day at the office.Cornerstones of Crisis Management Thought Leadership Paper

For more on what constitutes a crisis – and how to be resilient in the face of an incident – read our white paperCornerstones of Crisis Management’.

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.

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