Q&A with Robert Luttrell on crisis planning and training

1. What are the ingredients of a good crisis management plan?
It should set out the policies and procedures to be followed in the event of a crisis; the key people who will form the crisis team (including reserves), their roles and responsibilities; simple checklists for activities such as threat assessment, fact gathering, stakeholder and issues identification and communications; and lists of useful contacts. It should be flexible enough to deal with any situation and sufficiently concise to be easy to use.

2. Who do you recommend should be on the crisis team?
The team should comprise senior managers with the relevant expertise and authority to make decisions. Typically this will include the CEO or MD, heads of relevant business units, and function experts like risk management and corporate communications. As the CEO will usually also be the face of the company and the main spokesperson, someone else who should chair the meetings. There also needs to be a log-keeper or note taker, which can be a very demanding role as information can move quickly.

3. How often should the plan be reviewed and tested?
At least once a year, although many companies would do this more frequently. Ultimately it will depend upon the size and nature of the organization, the industry its in. and the level of staff turnover.

4. Why should organisations subject themselves to crisis simulations?
They help keep you on your toes. They stimulate a risk aware culture which may in fact head off potential crises. If a crisis does arise, the team is prepared and ready to swing into action. They should be regarded as exercises which keep you fit, rather than tests with pass/fail connotations.

5. Who should be trained?
Members of the crisis team, their reserves and other key personnel you may need to involve. Further down the line you may invite third parties to participate or take part in other people’s exercises.

6. What does a simulation involve?
We develop a plausible scenario based on risks that could affect the company. The initial information is usually contained to a single sheet of paper. While the crisis team deliberates the problem, new information comes to light and twists and turns are added in, including the odd red herring. We pose as stakeholders, eg customers, regulators, media. Simulations can be used to focus on specific risks, business units, products or locations. They can range from simple desk tops to more complex exercises. After the simulation we conduct a debrief to discuss what worked well and where there is cope for improvement. Sometimes we also film it and produce a DVD.

7. How do you go about preparing for a crisis simulation?
We research the company and the industry extensively. We also like to involve at least one person from the client in the design of the scenario, swearing them to secrecy!