Crisis Management – what about the people?

Very rarely do I come across a plan that has taken account of this most significant variable of all – the people issues that will affect the firm’s ability to function in a disaster! Every firm will, at some time or in some context roll out the cliché that “its people are its most important asset”. Yet ask those responsible how the composition of these ‘most valuable assets’ has been factored into their business continuity arrangements and most will find it difficult to come up with a satisfactory answer. 

Sure they will say how important their people are in terms of the roles to be performed on activation of crisis response or recovery plans: 

– They have critical tasks to perform in an emergency; 

– They are regularly exercised in crisis management or the recovery of IT systems / business processes. 

Some will say how they have really thought the people issues through and, as a direct consequence, have appointed alternates to each key role. But almost all plans contain an assumption that the key people identified to populate their teams will be both available and will have the wherewithal to function to their normal capability following the disaster event. When questioned about this, few have really addressed the issue of the impact of a disaster event on the people upon whom the carefully planned response is dependent. Specific questions I ask are: 

– Will a designated team really be able to perform with the speed and efficiency foreseen within the plan when close colleagues have been fatally injured in the firm’s disaster? 

– What is the effect on individuals, on whom you depend in a disaster, when their personal space and memories (trinkets , photographs and so on that many maintain in their work-space) have been wantonly vandalised or destroyed in your disaster (it’s a little like the loss experienced in a burglary or fire in the home!) – will they continue to operate at 100 percent of their normal ability? 

One of the greatest challenges in exercising crisis management teams is in finding ways to determine how participants would perform and react when faced with the genuine tangible pressures of a real crisis.  Exercises by definition are to do with role play in a ’safe’ closed-doors environment in which the worst that can happen is that the credibility of an artificial scenario might be questioned by those taking part.  But how can exercise facilitators combine the pressure to react professionally and in accordance with a structured, planned approach with the stress and, perhaps, fear that might go hand-in-hand with an event that is beyond their worst fears?  How can we go beyond testing the plan to achieving a qualitative assessment of the crisis management team members themselves?  Perhaps this is the ‘holy grail’ of crisis management exercising but we should rise to this challenge and not wait until the day that our teams are exposed to a real crisis event.

Peter Barnes

This entry was posted on Sunday, May 29th, 2011 at 5:24 pm and is filed under Blog Category 1. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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