Emergency/Crisis Management capability : A Moral, Financial, Social and Political Obligation

Emergency preparedness, crisis management and communication are not « trendy », it is an imperative for organizations that have stakes, whether in terms of image, reputation, production, or political, economic or social responsibility in the broad sense.

Any organization may, at some point in time, find itself « in crisis » as a result of an incident that has gone wrong, or even destabilized, or more directly impacted by a disaster of any kind.

Economic studies have shown that the organizations that lost the least value as a result of a crisis were the ones that had prepared, managed, and rebounded from an event they had potentially anticipated.

By Christian Sommade

Emergency Vs Crisis

But let’s return quickly to this word. The “crisis” – ultimately the crisis is only there when the ability to manage an event no longer exists, for whatever reason: the loss of steering ability, vision, or simply the technical impossibility of communication or action. It is then necessary to face, in a deteriorated context, a situation that we are trying to control, but which in one way or another, will partially or completely escape, and therefore more or less seriously damage the impacted organization and generate a loss of value.

This clearly means that, if we have prepared and organized the capacity to react to a destabilizing or potentially crispy situation, it is possible to cope. Moreover, our Canadian friends do not talk about “crisis management”, but rather “emergency management”… the crisis extends well from the real of mega-shock, unpredictable or out of the box events (black swan), emergency situations being it to be managed. For this, it is necessary to be prepared, and for others it is still and even more very useful.

But preparedness : what does that mean?

Above all, it is a state of mind, which means that destabilizing, accidental or even catastrophic situations are considered, analyzed and managed by the organization, to deal with that “a given scenario”. These questions can be addressed through tabletop exercises (TTX) that will take the most likely or possible scenarios, depending on the nature of the organization. These scenarios will highlight the strengths and weaknesses of the organization. At the end of this work, an audit can be carried out and “emergency/crisis plans” can be written to make it possible to consider, not only the management of conventional incidents, but above all, the management of serious exceptional situations, the consequences and therefore the stakes are higher.

Preparedness and training

Preparedness is therefore a state of mind, but it is also an overall competence of the organisation and therefore shared those competences within the staff, from the highest hierarchical level to the level most directly in contact with the organisation’s processes (company or administration). However, emergency/crisis management; is not a natural training, little disseminated in the academic world, with the exception of a few specialized Masters. Most managers do not have any training in this field, but the qualities required for this type of exercise are unique. Not everyone always realizes the psychological, even physical, pressure sometimes imposed by emergency or crisis situations. In addition, this kind of management requires unique mechanics and techniques that emphasize both the human factor and specific know-how. However, it is often found in the feedback that the people who were exposed did not have the training or skills to be able to cope under the best conditions. Training is therefore not an accessory to a system, but the basis of any crisis management organization.

In addition, the trained people must “train”. This means conducting, at least once a year, a simulation crisis exercise, i.e. testing the ability to manage a « simulated » situation in a realistic way, in which all crisis management processes will be tested, observed and feedback will be provided to improve the system. This type of simulation exercise requires a realistic duration, at least a full day, the best is to play over a day and night, because surprises, fatigue and stress management difficulties most often occur over long exercises. However, these are rare, but they are often more realistic than the « demonstration » exercises, which take place over two or three hours and for which everyone agrees that everything is fine…

To avoid this, leaders must inculcate a policy of realistic exercise (not demonstration). The objective of these training exercises is to train personnel to deal with difficult situations. Let us remember the old adage « difficult training not easy ».

Emergency/crisis tools

To support crisis units, it is also necessary to have « crisis management rooms » worthy of the name. For large organizations, this means specialized rooms with dedicated IT resources, on redundant and secure networks with tools for analysis, decision support, event management, redundant communication and anticipation.

In practice, this will most often mean several rooms for the different parts of the crisis unit. It should be noted that in France, crisis units are rather structured, like the one in the French state system through four cells : operation, decision, communication, anticipation.

In the more Anglo-Saxon systems, Emergency management structures will be more mission-oriented, most often based on the ICS (Incident Commad System) structures: Operations, medical support, communication, finance, etc… Depending on the event to be managed.

In any case, digital tools will be needed:

  • Digital mapping allowing to have a maximum of information through layers of geographical information
  • Digital crisis Logbooks, to insert all the information collected and the active measures taken. This is very important because it is necessary to have specialized tools to certify the date and time of information received and actions taken.
  • Digital Dashboards to monitor the operational and strategic situation.
  • Media Dashboards to monitor the entire media spectrum: from the written press, to the audiovisual media and all social networks.
  • Redundant means of communication: fixed and mobile lines, but also satellite connections.
  • Computer data communication means on independent networks of the organization, given the very significant cyber threat today.

Professional emergency/crisis management is certainly an investment for large organizations. But it remains an important insurance, because beyond the protection of the issues, it is the social and political responsibility of organizations.

Emergencies and crisis are around the corner

The multiplicity of threat risks, of all kinds, raises fears that over a generation (20 years), each major organization will have experienced several major crises.

To set ideas, we can now classify crises in relation to their economic costs, not to mention the obviously human and social costs that need to be recalled in the foreground.

A mega-shock to natural disasters, such as Katrina, Harvey, Sandy are around €100 billion – an exceptional situation such as a major industrial or health crisis is now estimated at between €1 and €10 billion. (Outside the nuclear segment) – Cyber crises can reach even higher potential amounts of tens to several hundred million euros, even billion also. – Local crises: from a few million to a few tens of millions of euros…

In view of those stakes, the costs of real and effective preparation are derisory, but all too often, security, safety and crisis management managers still have difficulty convincing executives. This is incomprehensible.

But we must also think about the value to protect shareholders… because the loss of value, in the event of a major crisis, is immediate and only good crisis management can restore a balance in the share price within 6 to 9 months. This requires optimal crisis and post-crisis management. Without this optimized management, the loss in value can be dramatic. Let us remember the Japanese case of Fukushima and Tepco, which lost $80 billion in market capitalization in a few weeks, forcing the Japanese government to nationalize the company, and leaving shareholders at their losses.