How to Organise your Crisis Management Process More Effectively

By John Davison, Managing Director at F-24 UK Ltd

Without any doubt, the crisis manager has the responsibility for managing a critical event when it occurs, throughout all the crisis phases, preparation, mobilisation, handling and the recovery. However, how do they manage information flows, enable competent decision-making and log the various actions that need to happen during a crisis to ensure the whole company acts promptly and effectively?

In this article, you will learn how to support an efficient crisis response through firm principles and transparent alignment of the necessary tasks. Yes, it is the crisis managers responsibility to take care of crisis management, but it is important to define and distribute roles throughout a command structure which is potentially across different locations and time zones.

The Core Principles of Crisis Management

Lengthy discussions and complex reporting channels are out of the question during a crisis. Quick decisions and decisive actions are imperative, but who is it who makes these decisions?

The four principles of crisis management are an important foundation for deciding how to allocate various responsibilities when looking at the organisational structure of your crisis team. The aim is to shorten communication paths so you can assess the situation and make decisions on its impact. In other words: a crisis involving the company’s reputation caused by a defamation in social media should be handled somewhere different to an incident involving water damage in the data centre.

  1. The principle of responsibility: The person who is responsible for an area during day-to-day operations is also responsible for crisis planning and crisis response in this area.
  2. The mirror principle: The organisation of the crisis team should reflect the organisational structure of the company as closely as possible.
  3. The proximity principle: The crisis should be handled by the level of the organisation that is closest to the crisis. A fire in a warehouse should not be managed by the strategic crisis management team at HQ.
  4. The principle of cooperation: All stakeholders bear responsibility for the best possible cooperation between everyone involved.

The Right Information in the Right Place

The most important basis for good decision-making is good information. Therefore, to be fully informed and up to date at all times, a constant flow of information is needed and ideally in real time. On the other hand, people are quickly overwhelmed by too much information. In crisis situations, “too much information” is not only annoying, but can even be potentially dangerous.  It is therefore particularly important to transmit the right information to the right place at the right time and create an overview of the situation.

What sounds simple can be a major challenge even for organisations with highly trained employees and the best equipped security authorities. The terrifying images broadcast from Washington on the 6th January 2021 demonstrated this impressively. When thousands stormed the Capitol, the security forces were overwhelmed.  To make things worse, the communications between city and national task forces was badly coordinated and decisions were either made too late or simply not at all.

Everyone has their Role and this Enables Efficient Coordination

It isn’t only in such extraordinary circumstances that chaotic situations in crisis management arise. Poorly networked structures and locations are often a cause of uncoordinated crisis responses. That is why, the Norwegian airport operator Avinor, for example, has converted its previously separate, paper-based crisis management system into a central electronic system with a central, easily accessible database. Avinor has effectively merged its four large and forty smaller airports into one organisation, which is subdivided into the three levels recommended for crisis management. What do these three levels of crisis management look like?

The Strategic Level:

This level is all about the long-term interests of the company. Those responsible at this level have the task of minimising business interruption. The strategic level is typically anchored in the headquarters. Here, a fairly small team of management, communication and division heads should sit at one table physically or virtually. It is also advisable to have representation from legal department as well as a nominated person to take the minutes.

The Tactical Level:

This is the central coordination point during a crisis. Experienced crisis managers are located here. At this level, alerts are activated, emergency forces mobilised, contingency plans enabled, and all activities monitored. The tactical level can be located, for example, at the country or regional level.

The Operational Level:

Those responsible in this area are right in the thick of the crisis. Here, the task is to save lives, assets and to eliminate the cause of a crisis, often in cooperation with emergency and rescue services or other external specialist resources. The operational level typically comprises of specialists and crisis experts with special know-how. This level can be located at a particular site or in a central area.

From Theory to Practice: Here’s What you Really Need to Think About

It might sound simple in theory, but it isn’t always that easy in practice. A central aspect of the model is that the crisis management levels must not mix and to implement this in practice means paying careful attention to the following potential stumbling blocks:   

Stimulus for acting: When a crisis occurs it immediately triggers a strong stimulus to act in most people, they want to intervene immediately. Managers are used to taking responsibility and leading teams, however, strict non-interference in the tasks of the other levels is a prerequisite for this model to work. That is why this is something you should communicate clearly and build into training and exercise programmes.

Information flow: It is often difficult to manage the flow of information in such a way that the relevant information is received at each level whilst detailed information is still accessible from other levels as needs be. Special crisis management software supports this by allowing each level to set up its own workspace that all the other levels can access as required. This allows certain crisis management staff to switch between “focus mode” and “overview mode” as necessary, keeping a firm balance between too much and too little information.

Crisis management structure and training: Each level of crisis management has specific tasks. The number of personnel and the training required should therefore be adapted to each respective crisis management level. Strategic teams, for example, are ideally relatively small.  As a rule, training takes place less frequently and tends to focus on simulations and role-play. Tactical and operational teams, on the other hand, require more frequent, intensive, and practice-oriented training. It is crucial that each level be able to demonstrate that it has the necessary skills and know-how so that the teams on other levels build up the necessary trust to resist the temptation to interfere in their work during an emergency.

By adhering to these principles, setting up your crisis management structure carefully and transparently, everyone involved will know exactly where they are needed or not needed during an emergency. While chaotic situations will always arise with every occurring incident, these predefined alignments and principles will enable the crisis manager to take on their responsibilities with a better focus. Even the chaotic phases of a crisis will be almost carefree by following this effective crisis management process.

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