Why Crisis Management Exercises?
In today’s world, crisis management and emergency preparedness are more important than ever. With the constant threat of natural phenomena, terrorism, and other crises, it’s crucial for businesses and organizations to be prepared to respond effectively.
It’s not just large corporations or government agencies that need to be prepared for crises – small and medium businesses are also at risk. In fact, according to FEMA, 40% of businesses that experience a disaster never reopen. And of those that do, another 25% fail within one year. According to the U.S. Small Business Administration, 90% of companies fail within two years of being struck by a disaster. This highlights the importance of crisis management and emergency preparedness for small and medium businesses.
Without proper planning, a crisis can easily cripple a business, causing financial losses and damage to its reputation. By taking the time to plan and prepare, small and medium businesses can not only increase their chances of survival but also minimize the negative impact of a crisis on their operations, employees, and customers.
In this article, we sit down with Rob Burton, a Principal at PreparedEx and a seasoned expert in crisis management with over 20 years of experience. From working with the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program to serving with the United Kingdom Special Forces, Rob has seen it all. He shares his insights on how organizations can use exercises to prepare for and respond to crises.
PreparedEx is a company that specializes in helping organizations manage risks and crises through the design and delivery of crisis simulation exercises. Their highly skilled team has built and managed real crisis management and preparedness programs across various industries. With over 15 years of experience, PreparedEx has become the trusted source for crisis management exercise services for businesses and governments. The company offers a wide range of services, from drills to tabletop exercises, to full-scale exercises, and corporate war games, that can help any team become better prepared for any potential crisis.
I highly encourage you to take the time to read this interview, as it is crucial for businesses and organizations of all sizes to be prepared for any potential crisis. The consequences of a crisis can be devastating. So, without further ado, I invite you to dive into the interview.
Kamil Andrusz: My first question is, what are the benefits of conducting crisis management exercises? But I’d like to focus on small and medium companies.
Rob Burton: It’s a challenge just based on resources, really. Of course, you don’t have all the resources that big corporation may have. Or even for smaller government agencies versus large government groups that have got all those resources.
But what I would say is the risk still remains. So even though you’re a small to medium-sized business, you may be exposed with very specific threats that could impact your operation, your ability to function.
In terms of what’s at risk, one issue for a large corporation maybe easily absorbed. One issue, for a small business or a medium-sized business, may consume them and may finish them off altogether. So, it’s still worth thinking about how we plan for that. And, of course, one of the ways we plan is through tabletop exercises.
You can certainly consider scenario planning, and just talking about the main issues that you’re concerned about. That’s how you would start out as a small business. Just bring those key role players together and then just start to talk about what some of the concerns might be.
But the benefits are, you’ll understand very quickly where you can put your resources.
With a big corporation, they can have resources in all four corners of the business. With a small business, what you find is, we can do some scenario planning and focus on one of those specific threats. Like cyber threats. Or it could be a physical threat, depending on where we are in the country or the world.
But it’s still worth going through the process of scenario planning, so you can really hone in and look at the resources that you need to focus on those specific risks and threats.
Kamil Andrusz: From your experience, what are the most common mistakes that businesses make during the exercises?
Rob Burton: Prior to the exercise taking place, one of the things that comes up is often you’ll have a leader who will jump in and say: we need to do a cyber exercise, or we need to do a ransomware exercise because they’ve read something in the newspaper or something’s come up on the news. It’s just a reactionary way of looking at it.
What you need to do is step back and say: what do we want to accomplish? What are our goals and our objectives in the exercise?
We have a plan, we have a small team, let’s validate the team and make sure they understand their roles and responsibilities. That might be one of your objectives. And we often see that as a common mistake with organizations. So, it’s really planning before you jump into the exercise.
And one of the other things that we see as well is not having the right people in the exercise. You might design a scenario that’s heavily focused on your IT infrastructure, on cyber, and you may fill the room with not many IT people but with more people from different areas of the business. It’s just thinking about those planning items before you get into the exercise.
Then during the exercise what we see is some organizations are afraid to open up and have those discussions. It’s about trust, if you can build that trust ahead of time. The team should be able to trust each other to have those candid conversations because that’s how we improve.
I think what organizations do, they don’t document well. So, they don’t document the real crises that they face with. They don’t document the exercises as well, certainly in our experience anyway. And what we’re looking to do really is to remediate our findings. At the end of the exercise, we find a number of issues. And again, the team needs to be honest about those issues throughout the exercise. We document them, then we put a remediation plan together because that’s how we improve.
Kamil Andrusz: What would be the most important thing to keep in mind while doing the exercise?
Rob Burton: When you’re in the middle of the exercise, as an exercise facilitator, you want to be respectful of people’s time. There are several things that you need to keep an eye on in terms of respecting that. I’m always referring back to the objectives in my mind.
Are we accomplishing those objectives? Is the conversation going in the right direction? If it’s not, then I need to be able to steer the conversation back to make sure we stay on track to accomplish our objectives. Because everyone wants to have a voice in the exercise. And if you’ve got a larger group, some conversations can go off in different directions.
So, it’s management of those conversations and those discussions. For some facilitators, that’s a challenge. If you don’t have the experience and the skills or the knowledge of the business and those leaders, they can get away from you very quickly.
If you know ahead of time that those individuals might be challenging, you can have a plan to say, okay, yeah, we hear you, but we need to move on because we’ve got our objectives to meet.
Kamil Andrusz: From experience, I’ve had a lot of participants that are treating the exercise, like kind of a way to avoid work, like a social gathering, and it’s always difficult to deal with those. Talking about the experiences, can you share a few experiences that stuck in your memory?
Rob Burton: Yeah, there are a couple of stories I’ve told in the past, and I think these are really important stories.
One is on the leadership side of exercises. It was the first period of the exercise. We were just getting started. And what happened is in this organization, the general manager was leaving because he was retiring. So, he took this as an opportunity to bring in the number two to be the leader for this exercise. The general manager wasn’t retiring for a few months, maybe in six months time. But anyway, it was a good opportunity.
This individual came in and was talking to the group, basically briefing the group, and asking them to talk about what was going on in the scenario. There’s a fairly large group. It was 20 maybe 22 people in the room. It was a team of about 12 with their backup members. What we found was a number of them were on their phones. Not all of them, but there were three or four, and I was noticing these individuals not paying attention to the leader.
He was initially sat down giving the briefing. During the break when they went away, I said: next time you give the briefing, stand up in front of them and give the briefing. So, he stood up in front of them and then all of a sudden, they look up, and it’s like okay now someone stood up talking to us. In the military, we call it command presence. It’s having that presence and keeping your eyes on each individual that you’re talking to.
Now, nobody picked their phones up from that point on when he gave them the briefing. And then we encouraged other people when they’re to speak to stand up as well. Just to get used to that.
After the exercise, this individual, who’d been in business for 20 or 30 years, he was a career corporate guy. And he came up to me and said that was one of the most valuable lessons that he had in leadership and management and crisis management.
In crisis management exercises, take the opportunity to provide feedback during the exercise. If you’re seeing things that could be improved, coaching moments as we call them, do those little tweaks to what’s being said, or what’s being done. That expands the experience.
The other one is a funny one, and it’s about the morale. Sometimes we do exercises which involve doing an emergency response from a team out in the field. We had one particular client in Florida. It was in September, so still really hot and muggy in Florida. This was a response to a scenario where they had to basically pull someone from a piece of machinery and evacuate them. And there was an explosion. Anyway, a bunch of things going on, obviously all simulated.
They are in the field for a good four hours. We had to make sure they have enough water, and we had to have a shaded area for them to make sure we did not get real casualties. We had to do planning around the scenario to make sure that happened. I remember that after the exercise everyone came back to the main plant area, and we did the debrief. As a surprise, the head of communications had an ice cream van come to the outside of the building while everyone was inside during the debrief. And that was a final thing that we ended the exercise on. The free ice cream for everyone outside in the car park always sticks out.
Kamil Andrusz: Thank you for sharing these stories. I’m a long-time fan of your podcast and all the content that you’re sharing. I was re-listening to the October episode of the PreparedEx podcast, where you discussed the real cost of doing crisis management exercises. You described the FirstLook service, which actually seems ideal for smaller and medium companies. Can you share a bit more about the FirstLook service?
Rob Burton: The reason we put that together was we understand that not every organization has the big budgets to run a big exercise. Even the tabletops can cost tens of thousands if they’re long tabletop exercises with complex objectives, multiples stakeholder groups, multimedia, the list goes on.
Of course, we understood that. We understood there was a market for organizations that wanted to still prepare well and still having a good product in terms of experience for an exercise. What we decided was to put together what we call FirstLook as you mentioned.
Essentially, this is a short, usually about a 90-minute experience for those customers that take the service. What we do is we still help to design the scenario so we work with them. And it’s just a shorter scenario, it’s about three periods of time. Again that’s a simulated timeline, so it might be over the period of a few days, but it’s typically 3 sets of injects or inject periods. So it gives them and their team enough time to walk through the different challenges that they would be faced with based on that scenario.
Basically, it’s a PowerPoint deck that talks to them, and it walks them through the stages. You’ve probably seen a copy of that, and folks can go and get a copy of that too if they go to the FirstLook at the PreparedEx website. We provide some documents as well to help them write their own report. It’s like a DIY kit. They can come and work with us to come up with a scenario or more scenarios if they want.
Some larger organizations want multiple scenarios they can run themselves. It’s a good product for those organizations that don’t need our team to come in and run them or evaluate them.
So, it’s being used by both small to midsize organizations that want to get their toes wet and just try scenario planning. And also larger organizations who want to send out multiple scenarios to their different teams to run themselves.
The whole purpose behind the FirstLook product is you can do it yourself and still would be a good experience. And you’ll still come out of it with several remediation plans based on the conversations that you would have had from the scenarios developed.
Kamil Andrusz: The last question I have is how can people get a hold of you if they would like to discover more?
Kamil Andrusz: Thank you very much for your time!
As you can see above, the importance of crisis management exercises cannot be overstated. And if you would like to know more about how to exercise, be sure to visit PreparedEx’s website. There’s a wealth of information, both in blog and podcast formats. The podcast episode I referred to in the interview can be found at https://preparedex.com/the-real-cost-of-creating-and-delivering-tabletop-exercises/ and if you prefer reading, go here: https://preparedex.com/the-real-cost-of-a-tabletop-exercise-what-goes-into-creating-a-successful-one/
If you’d like to talk to Rob Burton, you can visit his LinkedIn profile at https://www.linkedin.com/in/robburton9/
If you’re looking for someone that can help with exercising, PreparedEx is the company to go to. PreparedEx offers multiple exercise programs to help organizations improve their emergency preparedness. These services are designed to meet the specific needs of each organization and can include topics such as crisis management, incident response, and emergency communications. To learn more about PreparedEx and the services they offer, you can visit their website at https://www.preparedex.com/
If you have a smaller budget, then the “FirstLook” service is something you should definitely consider. It provides a comprehensive way of exercising an organization’s crisis preparedness and will not ruin your budget. This service is custom designed for your business. Be sure to check it out at https://www.preparedex.com/firstlook/