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Four questions to ask prior to running a crisis simulation exercise

1.   Why do you propose conducting a crisis simulation exercise and what do you expect to learn from it? 

Until you have defined the aims and objectives of an exercise there is little point in going further. This will require careful thought and ideally, endorsement at the highest level.

If the Aims and Objectives are ‘To validate the content of communication templates’ it won’t be necessary to involve the whole crisis management team, so a comms team workshop will probably suffice.

If the aims and objectives are ‘To test the crisis management team’s current capability to manage a major incident that impacts on the delivery of business as usual’, the entire crisis management structure would need to be involved. In this case, a full-blown crisis simulation is required.

2.   What is the experience level of those participating?

It’s important participants enjoy the exercise and learn from it. The last thing you want is to destroy their confidence.

So, are the proposed participants capable of handling the exercise objectives? An exercise is no place to train individuals in their roles. Highlighting an individual’s inexperience may be an exercise outcome, but it can be quite demoralising for the party concerned.

At the other end of the spectrum, it’s important that experienced individuals and teams are challenged sufficiently to ensure they remain engaged and learn from the exercise.

The content of the exercise must reflect the participants’ experience and capabilities. If participants feel patronised or are just repeating what has gone before, their concentration and involvement will quickly lapse.

3.   Who do you want to involve?

This will often depend on the type of exercise you chose. Usually the more complex the exercise the more people will be involved. The aims and objectives will also dictate who should participate.

But don’t over complicate an exercise by involving people who are not needed just to make the exercise seem bigger. You may be considering a crisis simulation, but if the objectives can be met by conducting a workshop with fewer participants then do so.

Another factor is participant availability. The day to day running of your business should not be adversely affected by exercises. You will not be thanked for planning a Finance Department exercise during the production of end of year accounts or an exercise to explore strategic decision-making processes the morning after the firm’s Christmas party.

4.   Who is going to plan your exercise?

Exercises don’t plan themselves. When choosing the type of exercise, it’s essential to ensure there are sufficient people available to conduct the thorough planning it will involve. Everyone has a ‘day job’ and so being part of an exercise planning team is likely to be above and beyond what they normally do. It’s essential that members of a planning team understand exactly what will be required of them and if they cannot guarantee to deliver, they should not be part of the team.

Desktop exercises might only involve one or two planners but as the complexity increases, so will the size of the planning team. If in-house resources are clearly not sufficient, consideration should be given to engaging the services of an external specialist provider.