Delivering Remote Crisis Management Exercises

Robert Pratten 4 years ago 1 23

This article was first written for BCI World 2020 which was virtual because of pandemic restrictions.

The COVID19 pandemic has been devastating for many businesses and families and we’re now we’re all forced to be remote working, but we can use this as an opportunity to make our exercises & training much more realistic.

Remote working gives us an opportunity to reimagine what crisis management exercising and training looks like.

Remote crisis management exercising is obviously going to save money compared to the old days of travelling and staying around the world but more importantly you’re going to deliver better training, more capable incident and crisis teams. And let’s face it, in any crisis it was always unlikely that everyone is going to be available and they’re all sat in the same room. 

So now we get the opportunity to rehearse as we would in real life with communication and collaboration strained hence just the fact that we’re all distributed adds some realism straight off the bat. But the real opportunity is to do things differently.

How It Could Be

Maybe you’re running exercises using Powerpoint and or with everyone in the same room and when a tweet comes in, somebody runs up with a piece of paper and puts it on the desk in front of someone “Angry tweet from customer”. Let’s face it’s rubbish, it’s not realistic, no one’s impressed, everyone is disengaged. It took ages to mock up the assets, it took ages to change it again when the customer wanted it re-written.

So let’s look at where you could be…

You could have teams leaning into the exercise, solving problems, making decisions, collaborating in breakout groups, responding to real-time events at a pace that suits their level of readiness. So I’m not saying we’ll force the training audience to run before they can walk but we ought to be able to turn up the heat or turn it down again based on how well they’re dealing with the situation. And we need to show them the consequence of their actions and the consequences of their inaction. And that is going to give you engagement.

Hidden Benefits

Now that everyone is stuck at home, it’s an opportunity to get some very good subject matter experts as role-players who might play the Minister for Health, say, or the Ambassador and now you don’t have to drag them to a physical location, they can just drop in as needed.

Another advantage of running exercises remotely is it’s easier to work with information asymmetry. That’s when different people get different information. So maybe the finance department gets a loan report from the bank, communications gets feedback from the PR agency and so on. When everyone is in the same room and you’re running around with paper, it’s obvious to everyone that someone has been singled out with something special. That’s not going to be evident now.


Ahead of the remote crisis management exercise you’ll email everyone the date and schedule and what’s required of them.

You’ll need at least two communications channels:

  • video conferencing
  • instant messaging.

In Conducttr we integrate natively with Zoom but also work with Teams and WebEx. And we have TeamChat Plus which is like Slack or Teams chat.

Video conferencing

In the invitation email, send the video conference details and on the day have everyone assemble in that main conference. Refer to that conference as the “lobby” so it’s clear this isn’t the exercise yet, this is the safe space you can return to if you lose your way. You’re going to want to keep that conference room up for the duration of the exercise.

As the exercise unfolds, your training audience is going to need to leave the lobby conference and join breakout rooms so that they can talk about things that matter most to them, to collaborate on a solution or a decision. Explain the protocol and possibly the timing of those meetings.

Using Conducttr’s Zoom integration, team leaders can create their own video meetings and dynamically invite people to them.

You can also schedule each session which could be for teamwork or it could be to meet a stakeholder or a reporter etc, and the onus is on the player to join that meeting. Of course you can send them a reminder depending on the training objectives.

Instant Messaging

Use the main Welcome channel as an out-of-exercise channel for any questions and assistance.

Allow teams to create their own channels for collaboration

EXECUTION – Use a Simulated Environment

Car companies test their production cars on specialist test tracks, they don’t do it on the public freeway.

And that should be the same with your crisis management training – you want a realistic safe-to-fail  environment so that teams can rehearse as they would be in real life but without causing any unexpected damage either to the company, it’s systems or to colleagues.  Of course, I’ve just described Conducttr –  a secure, private, dedicated crisis simulation environment.

Practicing is acutely important. Knowing the procedures and what’s in the handbook isn’t going to develop people’s attitude, aptitude, internal relations with colleagues, building memory thorough  experience – all of that can only be achieved with realistic exercises.

If you work in an organisation where everyone is afraid to make mistakes you’ve got bigger issues than the exercise environment. Because when a real crisis hits, the institutional fear of putting a foot wrong is going to seriously impact your sense-making, your decision making and your time to action. The stress of not working in a supportive culture is going multiply the stress of the incident.

Another benefit of a proper simulation environment – which is even more important now that everyone is working remotely – is it’s going to give you eyes on everyone’s activity – so you know if players are responding and if they’re doing it well.

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