December 5, 2016
Discover how real a crisis simulation can be
The very nature of a crisis is that it hits suddenly…without warning…and you will almost certainly not be prepared for it because, as psychologists’ research tells us, we are unable to ‘think the unthinkable’ or ‘know the unknowable’.
But, studies also demonstrate that, once we’ve faced a situation, we will be better prepared to face something similar in the future. Not so much that we become desensitised, but that our brains “reset” themselves to downplay our more extreme reactions (shock, sweating, nerves, etc) and allow us to handle the situation more effectively. Furthermore, the more often we face these situations, the better prepared we will be.
Practice makes, if not perfect, then at least better equipped.
However, because of the ‘unthinkable’ and ‘unknowable’, it’s easy to tell ourselves that we are prepared. We believe that the oft-mentioned ‘fight or flight’ response will kick in and the adrenaline rush will ensure we act quickly, decisively and appropriately.
In fact, although you may very well make quick decisions, they will be made as part of the ‘flight’ response – ie. to get you out of the situation as soon as possible. More likely, though, is that you’ll defer effective decision-making; flight by avoidance if you like.
More than either of those possible outcomes, is the fact that in a ‘fight or flight’ situation, cognition and working memory is reduced and the big picture will fade. Relatively insignificant details will take centre stage in our brains and situation stagnation will occur – where activity is high and progress low. In a team environment, conversation, discussion or argument can revolve around the unimportant details, while the big issues – that drive the crisis – remain untouched.
This very thing played out earlier this year, when, during a simulation, the crisis team spent half their time discussing how to reply to media enquiries, while, on the other side of the [virtual] world, clients were dying. Their collective fight response was to protect the company’s reputation against what seemed to them, the most immediate threat. Or perhaps it was a flight response – escaping the horrific detail we were delivering to them and dealing, instead, with something far easier, more recognisable and ‘knowable’.
But consider phobias for one moment. Those that suffer from these afflictions, can, and do, get over them – generally by repeated and growing exposure to whatever it is they are afraid of, until the brain is trained out of its fear.
The same can be done to ensure that you handle crisis situations better when they arise.
Undertaking crisis simulation exercises will tick many of the boxes that will ensure your company is as ready as possible when the ‘unthinkable’ happens.
Travel PR works closely with crisis specialist Tranquilico to provide a range of crisis-related services: crisis plan creation, training, desktop simulations and full-blown crisis simulations.
Clients have found that it’s the full crisis simulation that really uncovers points of weakness in their operational and communication planning, during moments of stress, no matter how well prepared they are – or believe they are.
It’s only when crisis teams are ushered well out of their comfort zone, and when – even if only temporarily – they are subjected to the pressure, stress and doubt generated by a near-real scenario, that real learnings will be gained.
We have noticed that by creating a realistic, complex and dynamic simulation, interesting psychological and physical (human) reactions are produced in participants.
Julie Anderton of Riviera Travel, who went through the process recently, was heard to say, “It felt so authentic” and one of her staff came out of the crisis room saying her legs were still shaking. Both people knew this was just a simulation. Another client reported one of their client-liaison staff collapsed in tears during an exercise, so real she felt the situation to be. An excellent lesson for that company, who then reconsidered the role this person would take in a real crisis.
Riviera’s Julie Anderton went on to say, “It was an extremely valuable session that has raised awareness of crisis handling through all levels of the company. The way you think you are going to react can be very different to how you actually respond when placed in a highly stressful situation – involving injuries and potential deaths – that feels very real. It’s clear that preparation is the key!” Riviera’s managing director, David Clemson said, “It was an incredibly realistic training scenario – I almost lost it with the ‘journalist’ from Sky. So many valuable lessons learned by everyone in the team”
If you think your crisis plans need testing, why not give us a call soon to discuss how a simulation could work for your organisation. However, if you think your plans are fine and you’re ready to face a potential crisis, then you should absolutely give us a call today!
A crisis simulation works best if very few people are aware it’s going to happen. So, if you’re in charge of operations or marketing/PR, or the boss of everything, make the decision to run a simulation and tell, at most, only two other people.
We will work with you to create a likely crisis scenario. This will be based on actual holiday product in actual destinations and, if possible, using the identities of real clients travelling at the time of the simulation. This will help it feel all the more authentic on the day.
Keep our arrival secret. If you need to tell anyone about us, keep the story general and don’t mention the word crisis. Perhaps say, we’re here to talk about standard operational procedures (SOPs) or communication strategies – something like that.
We’ll need a room from which to operate, with power and phones – and preferably away from prying eyes. We will also need up to four staff members to help with acting out the parts of concerned family phoning in.
The scenario lasts just over two hours (which, for most, is plenty) and, through a variety of inbound communications, social media posts, media bulletins and scenario updates, we will test all parts of your crisis plan, including:
Although the crisis will come as a surprise for nearly all participants, we do tell everyone involved that this is just a simulation. We find that, even armed with this piece of information, the adrenaline still pumps as if it were real.
Once the crisis simulation is complete, we will generally take a break for an hour or so, before regrouping as a team to discuss how things went and to highlight key issues while they are still fresh in people’s minds.
Within a week, we will send you a report, highlighting key issues and learnings from the day, with advice on how to correct or address each one.
We can also assist with crisis plans and media training to help smooth out any edges identified in the simulation exercise.
If you’d like to find out more about Travel PR and Tranquilico’s crisis training, please call Sue or Paul on 020 8891 4440