By Dr Claudia van den Heuvel
The ability to respond effectively in a crisis requires strategic, decision-making, leadership and thinking skills very different from those applied in a normal working day. Crises impose a kind of management in extremis which demands non-technical aptitudes most readily learned and retained through frequent exposure.
Repeated, real-life exposure to crises is obviously neither possible nor desirable. So how do managers develop the ‘soft’ – yet absolutely critical – skills necessary to manage through a large scale incident?
The only way is to invest the time and resource to run high fidelity simulation exercises. Such simulations are rigorous events designed to be complex, opaque to participants and dynamic enough to replicate real-life pressures.
They ensure that the crisis management team experiences similar levels of stress, uncertainty and pressure on their ability to respond to and manage the simulated incident, while still maintaining a safe learning environment.
We recently took the Crisis Management Team (CMT) of a national food safety body through one of these highly immersive exercises. Starting with the organisation’s very complex stakeholder map, we designed and executed a country-wide outbreak scenario, replicating the myriad of information channels that would be coming into the CMT.
The exercise tested the agency’s information management systems, and ability to create “SITREPS” (Situation Reports). This latter component aided the development of the team’s overall situational awareness (see our previous blog on this topic).
Want to know more? Read the case study here.
High fidelity simulation exercises are the only sure way to build up experience in the management of threatening situations. They provide an opportunity to test the organisational systems in place for managing incident response, thereby ensuring that – when crisis does strike — the CMT are as mentally tuned and prepped as possible.
For more on the methodology of situational awareness and successful crisis response, read our white paper ‘The Cornerstones of Crisis Management’.