Exercise: A Healthy Workout for Maximizing Crisis Readiness

by Cynthia Cavendish-Carey, Vice President, C4CS :

Recurring crisis exercises that are tailored to fit the company’s needs are imperative to maximizing crisis readiness, including the efficacy of Crisis Response Teams (CRTs), response procedures, and plans.

There are many crisis exercise formats, including tabletop crisis exercises that involve multiple participant groups and functional areas. All crisis exercise options present opportunities for role-playing activities that expose participants to realistic crisis scenarios they respond to in a safe environment. Developing effective crisis scenarios is a critical step within the crisis preparedness planning process.

The ultimate crisis exercise goals are to uncover vulnerabilities in existing plans and procedures in order to refine plans and protocols. Another objective is to help CRT members and others who are involved in the crisis response to understand their roles and responsibilities, enhance relevant knowledge and skills, and be fully prepared when a crisis happens.

Every crisis exercise is unique and tailored to the needs of the organization. The exercise participants and facilitating professionals will collectively identify gaps in existing response plans and procedures and develop guidance to devise and implement improvements following the exercise as part of an After Action Report protocol.

Cultivating a healthy learning environment through recurring training exercises keeps crisis response plans up-to-date and employees’ skills sharp. Recurring exercises should create skills building opportunities that allow participants to make mistakes, improve their knowledge and abilities, and fully contribute.

Developing effective crisis exercises typically begins with a discussion to clarify the following.

  • Crisis exercise goals and objectives
  • Scope of the exercise
  • Roles and responsibilities of crisis exercise participants
  • Specific situations, policies, procedures, equipment, or facilities that should be tested at least annually as well as during a refinement process as crisis situations are managed and resolved

Next, a crisis exercise participant playbook outlining critical information, including specific objectives to be achieved is crafted. At the start of the exercise, participants receive their playbooks along with a narrative that introduces the hypothetical crisis situation. Subsequently, a stringent timeline is shared with the exercise participants, providing a sense of urgency, and communicating the fast-moving nature of the crisis at hand.

A comprehensive crisis exercise also calls for traditional and social media involvement. As such, exercise injects that trigger media inquiries, news media interviews, and social media activity are introduced to help designated managers and spokespersons improve their skills.

Following the exercise, a debrief report complete with observations and a full set of prioritized recommendations is compiled. This is a retrospective analysis of actions taken during the exercise, assessment of whether or not stated objectives were met, and expert advice delineating steps that should be taken in order to remedy identified gaps and meet the company’s crisis management goals.

Research shows that organizations whose managerial, operational and communication readiness is gradually increased long before a crisis happens experience significantly fewer crises and respond much more effectively when a potentially crippling event occurs. With so much at stake, it is essential to the long-term success of companies across industries to invest in recurring crisis exercises and related skills building.

In partnership with Catalyst Connection, Pittsburgh-based C4CS® (https://c4cs.com) provides virtual and in-person tabletop and other crisis exercises that are built around realistic scenarios including industrial accidents, cybersecurity incidents, employee and product crises, and more. Email: info@c4cs.com