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Why you must run an annual crisis exercise

Anyone working at an organisation that has suffered a crisis will remember the moment they discovered the light at the end of the tunnel wasn’t a beacon guiding them to corporate success but rather an oncoming express train with lights flashing and brakes squealing.

These days that train takes many forms; it could be a terror attack, a cyber-assault or data breach, perhaps a product recall or a corporate scandal. All have the potential to destroy an organisation’s reputation and derail its strategic objectives.

A crisis has been called a brutal audit of a company and will typically reveal aspects of an organisation, both good and bad, that were little understood prior to the event. But how frequently do these, shape-shifting, corporate-altering crises occur? Fortunately, not that often; the problem being that when we do face a crisis we don’t respond effectively and efficiently. Some people believe crisis management is just business as usual taken a breakneck speed. It isn’t. Too often those who find themselves dealing with a crisis just use their daily routines to cope.

So how do you get yourself and your firm crisis ready? Crisis exercising that is challenging, realistic and rigorous will test decision-making processes, the ability to prioritise, communication protocols and the handling of complex and ever-changing information. Crisis simulations will also test crisis management and business continuity plans.

Crises need skillful planning and handling, but so do crisis exercises. Crisis exercises need to be carefully crafted. Before any planning or scenario choice is discussed, the aims and objectives of an exercise need to be clearly understood. Only then will the scenario that drives the crisis simulation come into focus.

A successful crisis exercise now deploys media that replicates the real world; TV news broadcasts, print news stories, social media, internal company messages, external statements and emails. It will also likely be run in part remotely with executives joining from various locations.

To test a company’s people, teams and plans a successful crisis exercise should feel like the real deal, but with the comfort of knowing that this oncoming express train for all its ferocity will leave you unscathed and in better shape to deal with a real crisis should one arrive at a platform near you.