Preparing for the worst

Is it possible to train for the unexpected? Elaine Essery looks at how
professionals can put the case for coaching in crisis management

A survey of businesses carried out by the Industrial Society just before the
events of 11 September 2001 found that few organisations invest in training in
the event of a crisis. Only 32 per cent had held training sessions within the
past year and more than 40 per cent of respondents said their organisations had
not run any training.

After 11 September, some attention is focusing on crisis management and
disaster recovery planning, but is it enough? IT services company, CMG,
conducted a survey of IT decision-makers and found that just 9 per cent had
reviewed their disaster recovery plans since the attacks on the World Trade
Center. Some 37 per cent had never had any training in risk management or
disaster recovery planning.

Training for a crisis is an area trainers can face difficulty in getting
budgets approved, yet many consider it a business essential. ‘Can you train for
a crisis?’ is the question we put to a selection of spokespeople.

Helen Vandevede
Conference presenter and writer on the future of work.  Vandevelde and Giles Trendle, former war
correspondent, deliver conference events on innovation and agile teams

Learning to deal with a crisis occurs at three levels – the individual, the
team and the organisation. All three need to be provided with insights into how
they react when they are in freefall. That is best achieved by the experiential
learning you gain through crisis simulation. This gives individuals, teams and
the organisation a rich seam of evidence to turn into knowledge about a range
of crisis management performance dimensions including leadership, agility,
versatility, judgement, communication, cohesion, tenacity and empathy.

The only organisation where trainers might find it difficult to secure the
resource they need is the Vatican. After all, if you believe that Providence
will always pull you through, why bother training for a crisis? When budget
holders understand that training is the only realistic alternative to blind
faith, they will open the financial sluice gates.

Tony Wright
Consultant, Impact Development Training Group

Yes you can train for disaster. There is potential to train individuals and
teams to manage a crisis on two levels. First, establishing a clear and common
understanding of the processes, systems and functions that will be put into
place when a crisis is occurring. Second, looking at the individual and
interpersonal behaviours that enable people and teams to work together more
effectively – or, perhaps more importantly, the behaviours to avoid.

Jo Sheehan
Disaster recovery co-ordinator, government sector, CMG

We formed a crisis management team whose role is to look after people and
rebuild the business. To give them an awareness of what actually goes on, we
put them through disaster counselling training then communications training.
Part of that was an exercise in how many people could be contacted within 45
minutes, using a pyramid list of staff telephone numbers. We then did media

Twice a year, we bring in all team members for up to three hours to work
together handling every aspect of a simulated crisis. What comes out of it is
that we found that our employees really do work as a team. It’s an excellent
learning exercise: we’ve found that even though our team is really good it
needs more people to cope effectively, so we’re building more into it.

We’ve discovered that people and communications are the key.

Patrick McGuinness
Consultant, the industrial society

Businesses not only can, but must, train for a crisis. A business moves on
and develops but when you start considering crisis management you take a cold
and critical look at what is vital to keep the business going. Things can drift
and importance can be placed on things that perhaps aren’t that important, but
getting back to the basics of your business is a valuable exercise. Disaster
planning is about training people to keep the vital parts of the business
going. There’s a possibility that by doing so you refocus them and they may get
better at essential skills. HR professionals may have difficulty getting
budgets approved for that kind of training, but managers should realise that it
can be beneficial as it allows you to critically assess key business processes.

Paul Fenton
Emergency and security manager, Southern Water

Yes, you can train for a crisis. What you can’t do is dot every ‘i’ and
cross every ‘t’ because you can’t envisage every eventuality. What you’ve got
to ask yourself within your company is: what are the threats to the business,
what are the risks, which ones don’t we accept – and those are the ones you
have to have a contingency for. The point of having procedures and plans and
training people in those procedures and plans is that they won’t freeze in an
emergency. The key is the formation of incident teams. You can’t train for
specifics, but you can train to produce teams that are confident they can work
together, know where the information they need is, and are therefore confident
they can react to whatever is in front of them.


What do you think? If you have a view on training to deal with disasters
then write to the editor. Or if you have a topic you’d like to be discussed on
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