PlanB Consulting

Crisis Support Teams – What are they & do I need one?

Creating an effective crisis management team can be complex as you have to take many factors into consideration. In this bulletin, Charlie outlines his thoughts on creating a crisis support team, and what their functions and roles could be.

Four years ago I started working on my PhD with the University of Glasgow. After a few false starts on deciding what my question should be, I settled on researching the subject of senior managers and crisis management. My thoughts revolved around the idea if a senior manager will dedicate anything between a half, and full day a year for business continuity training and exercising, what is the best use of this time. Secondly, those organisations who are seen to successfully manage incidents, is it down to the level of training their senior managers have undertaken, perhaps more than the half day or day, or have they had very little training and exercising and was it just that they were innately good at crisis management, they had a background in it or were they just plain lucky? I had to postpone the PhD due to work pressure so I have never answered these questions, but I hope in the not too distant future I can get back to finishing it off.

Creeping Militarisation of Tools & Techniques for Incident Management

I have been reminded of my PhD thoughts over the last week by a couple of occurrences. Firstly, a client has asked us to develop a training package for their newly developed Gold Support Team. Their concept is that their Gold Team is working on the ‘here and now’ of the incident, and they would like a team of people to think ahead, start working and prepare for the recovery phase. Hopefully, this will allow the organisation to recover quicker from an incident. The second event was when a colleague with whom I have had a number of debates and written joint articles with, asked for my thoughts for an article he was writing on commenting on the BCI’s Crisis Management Report and the future of crisis management and business continuity. He asked me what the key changes were in the profession over the last few years. I told him that one of the things I had noticed was the creeping professionalism of the tools and techniques for the management of incidents. I think this has come from the way FEMA has adopted close to military doctrine, standardised procedures, complex command and control structures. This militarisation I feel is creeping into the UK emergency services as a way of managing incidents and onward to the private industry. JESIP who came up with many of their concepts (well worth a look, read here) now talk about doctrine, situation awareness and joint decision-making models.

6 Months Training Delivered in a Half-Day, Doesn’t Work

The military has a complex methodology for operations, core to which is the appreciation and estimate process, which helps commanders develop their plans in line with what their higher command is trying to achieve. These processes are very effective, but the issue is training your staff in the military takes around six months. A senior manager with a half to a day’s training is not going to achieve the same level of training given this time.

If senior managers will not give employees the time they need to prepare for an incident, and agree that a support team is needed, what are the options for this support team to carry out? I think there are three main roles which they can be given; staff support to the team, next phase planners, or a critical thinking team as envisaged by academic Patrick Lagadec in his concept of a Rapid Reflection Force.

They Are Not Administration Support

I see administration support to the team as different to the concept of a crisis support team. The role admin support have could be setting up the incident room or video call, calling out of the team, assisting the incident team in logging, logging meetings and decisions, managing actions, helping in information display and management, and carrying out general secretarial support. They also have the vital role of ordering the pizzas and keeping the incident team sustained. Their role is extremely important, so they should be trained in it and should be able to support the team without much supervision, but their role is purely administrative and they should not get involved in the actual management of the incident.

Staff Support to the Team

In this concept of the crisis support team, the team provides assistance to the members of the team carrying out tasks the team doesn’t have time to do, or that requires a number of people to carry out in the time available.

These tasks could include:

  1. Helping develop situational awareness, sense-making and actively seeking information.
  2. Collation of information into a CRIP (Common Recognised Information Picture).
  3. Identification of stakeholders and development of a stakeholder influence matrix.
  4. Development of incident objectives that can be brought to the crisis team to sign off.
  5. Procuring specialist help, facilities and equipment.
  6. Conducting dynamic risk assessment and reviewing ‘what ifs’ situations.
  7. Tracking issues and identifying when decisions need to be made.

In this concept, it has to be noted that the people in this role are generalists and that roles such as communications will require their own specialist staff who have the necessary specialist communications skills to support them.

Next Phase Planners

This role for the crisis support team can be combined with the staff support to the team, or this could be a separate team and task. In this role, the team are looking forward and planning for the next phase of the response. Whilst the crisis team could be dealing with the response phase, this team is looking forward to the recovery phase. They can carry out the recovery planning which will speed up the recovery from the incident.

Their tasks could include:

  1. Start working on decisions and options such as; should the organisation rebuild what is lost, or is this an opportunity to put in place a different solution?
  2. Plan the recovery by identifying what contractors, materials and permissions are required.
  3. Start working and liaising with the relevant external organisations who will assist in the recovery.
  4. Early identification of issues that may delay the recovery.
  5. Production of project plans, roles and responsibilities. Also, identifying the internal staff who will manage this phase.
  6. Indemnification and mitigation of the risks which could impede the recovery and restoration.

Rapid Reflection Force

I first came across this concept in a paper by academic Patrick Lagadec, entitled “A New Cosmology of Risks and Crises: Time for a Radical Shift in Paradigm and Practice” written in 2009. In this paper, he develops the concept of a Rapid Reflection Force (RRF) that would support the crisis management team. His idea is due to the complexity of contemporary incidents that required new thinking and radical solutions. The RRF is given the time to step back and look at the big picture, so can consider the situation objectively. Their role is to come up with new solutions to problems that may differ from the way you have managed them in the past and to avoid old solutions which failed. They also may challenge existing solutions and help teams avoid the issue of groupthink. In his paper, Lagadec outlines four main areas that challenge and inform the crisis team.

  1. What is the essence of the problem?
  2. What are the major pitfalls?
  3. What is the map of actors: what networks are needed?
  4. What constructive initiatives can the RRF propose?

Lagadec’s idea was taken up by EDF Energy and adopted as part of their incident response. An article on its success and adoption can be found here. I like this concept and I think the use of a team to reflect, look at the wider picture, identify ideas and solutions is important; whilst at the same time leaving the responsibility for adopting the ideas or not with the crisis team.

Conclusion

I think there are many different ways to use a crisis support team that should be tailored to the way your organisation likes to manage an incident. This concept will only work if the right people are chosen, they are given appropriate training, they have the time to dedicate to the role and the crisis team sees their value. Their involvement solves the problem of training senior managers to manage incidents. If they won’t dedicate time to incident management training, at least train up a team who do have the time to support senior management.

About Charlie Maclean-Bristol

Charlie Maclean-Bristol is one of the Founders and Directors of PlanB Consulting. He is also the Training Director of Business Continuity Training Ltd., a UK-based training provider accredited by the Business Continuity Institute. Charlie is a former Business Continuity Institute board member and one of the very few Fellows of both the Emergency Planning Society and the Business Continuity Institute.

A former Infantry Captain in the British Army, Charlie held several emergency planning, business continuity and crisis management positions within the energy and utility industry before founding PlanB Consulting in 2007. Over the past twelve years, Charlie has delivered business continuity consultancy in 6 of the worlds 7 continents, frequently providing full business continuity roll-outs to organisations of all sizes and in all sectors.

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