29.05.2020 / Article

Crisis drills: rehearsing the emergency

Crisis drills are part of the routine in just a few companies and sectors. More often than not they are a one-off event or an irregular burden. Why is that? After all, there is no better way to rehearse an emergency.

Admittedly, crisis drills are costly – in terms of time, money and nerves. In addition, they are rarely popular among colleagues. “Do we have to do this?” is probably the friendliest feedback the organisers get.

What am I in for?

The tension before a crisis drill is often high. It is not uncommon for those taking part to try to get ahold of information about the planned scenario in advance. But once the rehearsal for the real thing is over and the simulated case has been dealt with, all the concerns and angst usually dissolve into nothing. In the end, all of those who took part are happy to have practised under realistic conditions and to have completed an important preparation.

Types of drills and their focus

During practice, there are three types of crisis drills that can be distinguished:

1.    Simulation: Crisis simulations allow for a “dry run”. In a protected space, the processes and cooperation of the crisis team are acted out through a practical scenario. Interactions and other measures that go beyond the coordination of the crisis team are deliberately avoided. All actions remain within the crisis team. This makes simulations particularly suitable as an introduction to work within the crisis team, for example when new structures and processes have been developed or new roles have been filled. This also offers an excellent opportunity to practise sub-processes, necessary preparations or, for example, cooperation within the communication roles. The stress level is lower, but the effect of the training – particularly when considering the objectives – is no less valuable.

2.    Crisis team drill: This format is much more demanding. Although timeouts can be used here – such as when the crisis event is paused for a few minutes – the focus of a crisis team drills is on experiencing a crisis as realistically as possible. To this end, the drill leader continuously takes part in scenes with the help of a prompt book. In a dynamic situation, the crisis team members have to work through the crisis scenario, make telephone calls, answer e-mails, deal with social media criticism, make statements in front of a running TV camera, etc. – all within a secure framework and according to clear rules of the game. The experiences of the participants and observations of the drill leader are discussed afterwards and documented in the form of recommendations for action.

3.    Full-scale exercise: The most demanding format for companies is the so-called full-scale exercise, which is a regular practice for public authorities. They function like crisis team drills, but external participants from the police, fire brigade, local council or neighbouring companies are added. So, yes, there are real flashing blue lights, heavy equipment and – if desired – extras who play injured people, residents or activists. Full-scale exercises with several hundred participants are not uncommon. The police and fire brigade are usually open and like to use the opportunity themselves for training.

Regardless of the format, crisis team drills are a fundamental feature of crisis prevention. Designed in detail, professionally implemented and supported digitally, the effort involved is well worth it. Our credo here is: “Be prepared”.


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