Monday, August 17, 2015

Responding to Unpredictable Crises

Malaysia Airlines' two tragic incidents of an aircraft disappearing in flight and another crashing into a war zone are international worst case scenarios. The massive oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico was beyond a crisis of usual circumstances. A terrorist shooting in a coffee shop in Sydney is an unusual and rare event in that city.

A Crisis Management Plan has to outline courses of action to be taken in the event of a critical incident or catastrophe. Importantly, worst case scenario response to threats have to go as far as possible in providing orderly and efficient transition from normal to critical conditions. A plan must provide specific guidelines appropriate for complex and unpredictable circumstances.

The crisis you don’t expect or plan for will be the one that’s likely to cause the most damage.  And while a lot of pundits believe that a good manager is automatically a good crisis manager, it is important to understand that many managers cannot cope with the stress, pressure and abnormal behaviour that occurs during a crisis. 

Most normal management behaviour is reversed.  One minute you are managing a business, the next minute you have to manage a crisis.  Different skills under different pressures.

How many managers can move rapidly from the normal pace of a business meeting to the hectic, urgent demanding pace of life and death decisions, evacuation, emotional trauma and split-second timing?

Containment is the key.  Managers who are prepared, rehearsed, educated, trained and aware are those that can make the transition when crisis hits and contain the situation.

If there is a single, critical feature to being prepared for crisis, it is in treating crisis management and recovery as an ongoing process.  Seeing it as an integral part of an organisation's everyday business activities, not merely as a plan that is created, approved, then shelved until needed. 

It is a process that has the whole organisation - from site management to CEO and Board - trained, tested and involved in a crisis management plan that is integrated seamlessly across the whole organisation. And regularly monitored, reviewed and audited, just like any other quality control policy that is demanded by compliance factors in today’s business environment.

To achieve this, there are a number of critical features of a crisis plan that facilitates speedy business resumption. Whether the crisis is an aircraft incident, cyber crisis, oil and chemical spill or explosion, a tainted food product or charges of business corruption, or an act of terrorism a crisis management plan must:
  • Have tactical decisions made at the crisis location and quickly.  (This is where the public focus will be initially)
  • Localise the response while maximising corporate and strategic assistance.
  • Provide training and support to give executive management the skills and confidence so they can manage the early stages of a crisis.
  • Create a tailor-made plan around uniform standards, organisation-wide
  • Develop realistic simulations and training exercises.
  • Start planning for recovery before a crisis occurs.
What fundamentally distinguishes crisis-prepared, from crisis-prone organisations, is their overall cultural view of crisis management and recovery. 

Strategic actions, technical and structural response, communication initiatives and psychological support have to be part of an integrated management plan and checklist process that immediately puts the organisation in charge of its own destiny.

The worst case scenario requires more than critical risk analysis. It needs to go beyond the ordinary critical event and consider extreme escalation. This planning is essential for effective inter-organisational response.