Crisis Management Exercises – Do They Work?
Whether it is being proactive about preparing for an active shooter incident, an industrial accident, or a pending trip for executives to a major international sports event like the World Cup in Brazil this year, there is no better way of getting your emergency policy plans off of the shelf and tested than a mock or tabletop exercise. These should be lead by a third party contingency planning specialist with experience in crisis management and specific knowledge of the countries and cultures involved in the crisis. They don’t necessarily have to have been through each of your anticipated scenarios but they do need to have sufficient field experience to know what curves to throw into the exercise that are based on real world events.
Ideally the mock crisis is one that is reasonable to anticipate for your environment, industry, and circumstances. Senior management should participate so that it conveys the true significance of the event. All internal organizational entities must participate for the event to be useful. This can include but should not be limited to:
- Human Resources
- Senior Management
- Operational Unit Management
- Risk Management/Insurance Managers
- Public Relations
- Union Representation (if appropriate)
- Local Law Enforcement/Emergency Responders (if appropriate for the scenario)
- Third party vendor partners/external experts
The objective is to see what everyone can and will do and what the realistic parameters for action are going to be. Making assumptions that certain actions would occur (as is often the case with mental walkthrough exercises) will not offer the same critical evidence of practicality. Outside emergency responder participation is always a plus but not essential, however they should at least be consulted with specific response capability questions. This might even spark their interest to participate and practice themselves. The more action oriented the exercise, the more effective and accurate the feedback is going to be. If conducting a “table top” only is all that your management will buy into then the exercise should be carried out with seriousness, full participation, and as much real circumstance simulation as possible.
Yes, these drills can come with some cost and be slightly disruptive. However, what is learned regarding the practicality and functionality of your policies and contingency/emergency plans can save the organization from exponential losses by comparison. There will be nothing more important if a real crisis hits and being prepared has proven to save lives in cases of a violent crisis. With proper planning, complete communication of the exercise, and full support from all levels of the organization, you can be more confident in your contingency/emergency plans knowing that they have been professionally tested. Furthermore, you will be able to gain evidence legally, if you ever have to, that you did everything you could reasonably do to be prepared.