by Jim Burdett
The following exercise details an actual event that was devised and delivered to a critical national infrastructure organisation in May 2022.
To exercise the Executive Group’s preparedness and readiness in the event of a significant industrial dispute.
- Increase the Executive Group’s understanding of the plans and contingency arrangements in place in the event of significant industrial action (IA) and dispute
- To validate the effectiveness of existing contingency plans for a significant IA
- Aid the development of command, control and co-ordination arrangements for activation in the event of IA
- Identify gaps in the strategic preparedness and planning for IA
The organisation is undergoing a process of restructuring in response to the increasingly competitive environment within its’ sector which is likely to result in IA. There will be significant media attention on this issue. The CEO of the organisation is involved in the exercise and is highly invested in the building of risk resilience within the group. Regulatory compliance is also subject to having appropriate contingency planning in place.
The exercise was planned closely with the client to identify the current key risks to business continuity within the organisation. It was identified that the process of restructuring, essential to the long-term future competitiveness of the organisation, would be likely to lead to IA and to lead to significant media interest.
The participants in the exercise would be the Executive Group with additional observers from the legal and communications departments to provide specialist advice to facilitate decision making. The exercise will be facilitated by a crisis management specialist from outside the organisation to provide both expertise in running exercises and neutrality as being unknown to the participants.
The exercise would take the form of a 4 hour scenario delivered to participants working in teams of 4 or 5. The CEO would open and close the exercise emphasizing the importance of such emergency planning to the organisation.
The exercise will be split into 3 separate sessions to reflect the development of the incident over an extended timeline to reflect the initial stages, mid and post event phases. At the end of each stage a plenary session will explore findings, explore issues and involve other expert observers. To improve the quality of the plenary sessions, additional experts such as legal and HR will be present to contribute specific technical advice.
The exercise will be introduced by the CEO of the organisation who will be present throughout the day to observe. This presence will highlight the importance of crisis planning as part of the corporate culture as well as giving the CEO a clear view of the performance of the team in a simulated scenario.
The scenario will be split into 3 sessions to simulate the start, mid and end points of a multi-day incident. Covering the full life-cycle of an incident in this way allows for the full range of policies and procedures to be tested from escalation of the crisis team to restoration of normal business.
Information will be injected to participants in the form of information updates as well as in the form of a variety of simulated mixed media such as emails, social media posts, news articles and broadcasts.
This will start by giving the participants some background information setting out the potential for possible industrial action within the organisation. This will prompt preliminary discussion about contingency plans for a possible incident of this nature.
- How will this situation be commanded, including what structures will be put in place to effectively coordinate the IA and its impacts? Who is in charge of the response to the situation?
- What is the role of the Executive Board in such industrial action?
- How will you expect the Executive Board to be updated on developments during the IA?
Injects will then be released indicating that plans for industrial action have now been finalized prompting the crisis management teams to escalate this into a live incident.
- What are the strategic risks associated with the current situation?
- How will the current situation, and associated risks, be managed?
- How will the organisation respond to the media and government communication requests?
The date has now moved on, the incident has been resolved and the focus is now on the recovery process and business continuity.
- What is your assessment of the situation? – Can the contingency plans achieve an acceptable level of service during the industrial action?
- How will the organisation manage the informal industrial action taking place during the recovery?
- What is the role of the Executive Board in such circumstances?
- How will you manage stakeholders including the media, customers, OfCom and Government?
Review of the whole exercise to ascertain:
- Are current policies and procedures fit for purpose?
- Is the Crisis Management Team (CMT) structure fit for purpose?
- Are CMT members aware of their roles and responsibilities?
- Which internal specialists or experts may need to be involved in a crisis?
- Which external specialists or experts may need to be involved in a crisis?
- Have stakeholders been effectively managed and involved?
- Is the communication strategy fit for purpose?
- Identification of future steps to be taken.
Gathering the wider executive team together for a desk-top exercise provided a rare opportunity for the participants to get together in the same room and work through a simulation of a crisis. It highlighted individual CMT roles as well as wider stakeholder involvement and the requirement for both internal and external specialist advice. The importance of communications methods and timing were underlined along with the legal considerations of any messaging. The involvement of the CEO at both the start and end of the exercise emphasised the importance of crisis resilience in the culture of the organisation. The final part of the exercise was to identify the next steps of actions that should then be taken with timescales and accountability assigned.
Evaluation from the participants showed that they found the exercise to be highly beneficial and the fact that highly-realistic injects were provided by the facilitator at set intervals immersed the teams into a lifelike scenario. Additional expertise provided in the plenary sessions provided greater clarity as to the reasons for taking certain actions and any possible limitations. Effective time management of each session in the exercise had allowed each group to stay focussed and on track. The final step of the participants identifying follow up actions allowed them to take ownership of the exercise as they were dictating the next steps to ensure full crisis preparedness of their organisation. As a result both the client and the participants felt like the exercise had been a success and value for money.