The benefits of crisis simulations: putting theory into practice
Whatever form they may take, crisis situations throw organisations into a state of uncertainty. There’s no way of predicting the date or scale of a crisis in advance, and the only effective tools at your disposal are forward planning and preparation.
Crisis prevention is all about identifying the risks and threats liable to affect the operations of your organisation, a crucial priority for your long term survival. Crisis prevention allows you to anticipate problematic situations and, often enough, to resolve the issues before they have the chance to become serious.
Nevertheless, no matter how well you plan and prepare, there is no such thing as a fool-proof system. The defining characteristic of crisis is its capacity to strike when least expected. And when a crisis arises, thorough preparation – by organisations, but above all by the women and men who make up those organisations – is the only way to minimise its scale and duration, and contain the unwanted consequences.
There are many ways to prepare for such situations. The implementation of solid procedures, the deployment of dedicated infrastructure resources and the formation of specialist teams are all key priorities in preparing for crisis management. Nonetheless, the only way to truly assess the effectiveness of your crisis response system is to test it in near-real conditions. In this respect, simulation is the most efficient tool available for assessing an organisation’s level of preparedness to deal with a crisis.
Crisis simulation as a “stress test” for crisis response systems
Crisis simulation exercises cover a number of objectives. First and foremost, the simulation exposes the weaknesses of the theoretical response system in place which, although generally designed to cope with a range of pre-defined scenarios, is likely to be insufficient in extreme situations. This is comparable to the stress tests conducted in a number of industries to ensure the viability and durability of equipment and systems. The operational, material or human shortcomings detected by these tests can then be corrected to improve the efficiency of the response system.
This requires crisis simulation exercises which are generally based upon deliberately extreme scenarios – although still possible, even if the combination of events and coincidences involved makes them improbable – designed to push response systems to their furthest limits. The idea is to highlight the fact that effective crisis management is first and foremost a matter of how capable the response system is of adapting to a rapidly-changing situation which risks spinning out of control.
As well as testing the robustness of the systems in place, crisis simulations give those involved the opportunity to make mistakes, a luxury they will not have when faced with a real crisis situation. Crisis simulation exercises provide a chance to experiment, to take risks, to be creative – within the confines of the framework in place – and, in doing so, to come up with innovative solutions to the problems encountered.
Learning from experience
Stress tests are sometimes known as “endurance tests,” a name which fits well because crisis management can often turn into a marathon for those involved. The aim of crisis simulations is to ensure that the members of crisis response teams are aware of the total physical and mental commitment required; the intense demands of crisis management are often overlooked.
While most organisations have predefined crisis teams, simulation exercises provide an opportunity for members of crisis response cells to try out new, unfamiliar roles. Crisis simulations can thus help to reveal the strengths and weaknesses of each individual team member, the majority of whom will demonstrate their ability to move outside their comfort zone and gain confidence in the process.
And these benefits will also be felt by the group as a whole; crisis simulation exercises are valuable team building opportunities, helping to create a real sense of cohesion between the members of the response cell.
In short, crisis simulation is an essential component of any good crisis management strategy, but its benefits are felt much more widely. By tackling adverse situations in a controlled environment, organisations ensure that they are well-prepared to weather real storms, while also becoming more efficient and more confident in their day-to-day operations.
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