In the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, international organizations, governments, companies, and individuals are all adapting to these new conditions, some more successfully than others.
A major factor that can indicate the success of organizations in these conditions is the ability to establish the reality of the situation, carry out necessary planning, initiate relevant actions, and adopt tools and technologies to surmount challenges.
A well-managed risk and crisis response and subsequent recovery program can invigorate stakeholders, restore confidence in the organization, protect staff, and sustain and strengthen operations.
Effective incident and crisis management relies on accurate information and awareness, which needs to be continuously recognized, utilized, and reassessed by those managing the crisis event.
This article details why situational awareness is so important for effective risk and crisis management, how an organization can leverage a modeled approach to tackle a crisis quickly and effectively, and how the risk and crisis framework can help an organization adopt, assess, and scale technologies to combat a given crisis.
Please note that this article uses the term incident management and crisis management interchangeably.
Organizations with thoughtful and proactive risk management not only reduce the likelihood of incidents but also increase their ability to operate effectively during a crisis as they have likely laid out a framework for handling unexpected situations quickly, effectively, and with minimal disruption to business as usual.
Frameworks are effective as they allow an organization to respond to both identified risks and “unknown unknowns,” i.e. situations that were not foreseen. COVID-19, for example, spread quickly from its origin in Wuhan, China, leaving little time or organizations around the globe to gather data and respond to the challenges brought about by the pandemic.
Organizations can’t anticipate everything, so, when things go wrong, having trained and capable people operating with a simple process and framework is paramount.
Risk management and crisis management are two sides of the same coin. Risk reduces threats, crisis management handles them if they occur. This cycle indicates how these two practices interact and how recovery from a crisis can influence future mitigation and prevention efforts.
Situational awareness is the force that drives this cycle forward which is why it’s so important. Accurate situational awareness increases the speed at which an organization can move through each step of the cycle, reassess, and repeat until the crisis has subsided or been averted.
If prevention doesn’t work and crisis management becomes necessary, a useful phrase to remember is “Don’t wait, don’t run from the truth, and don’t hide.”
An organization’s focus should be to reduce risk, protect staff, corporate reputation, and/or live up to company values (this all depends on the nature of the crisis). It’s important to act quickly when sufficient information has been gathered. Incident teams will gather more information as time passes, but the available options to act will reduce as the clock ticks by.
The main responsibility of an incident management team, and its leader, is to establish the reality of the situation, set the framework for the response, and achieve alignment by supporting the development of solutions.
Use a model or approach. Here is an example of an incident and crisis management process cycle:
The main stages of the process involve:
Now that you understand how risk and crisis management tie together and how the incident and crisis management cycle works, it’s important to understand how and where the adoption of new technologies fits into this framework.
For this, let’s focus on the Cycle of Risk and Crisis Management. You’ll see that tech adoption fits into both sides of the cycle, however, it’s common for tech adoption to begin on the crisis management side as that is when stakes are elevated and rapid response to a situation is required. Scaling of these technologies typically occurs in the risk management side.
Note: “Pre-incident tech adoption,” is a proactive measure related to potential risk not in response to an incident. It occurs in the mitigation and prevention phase of the Risk Management side of the cycle and follows a normal project management lifecycle.
Situational awareness is again important for the adoption of technology for risk and crisis management as, without accurate data and understanding of the situation and the impacts the trialed technology has made on that situation, it will be impossible to know if the tech has helped your organization to overcome the challenges created by the incident.
Baking these technologies into your operations can’t always prevent a risk, however, they can make your organization more resilient, mitigating the impacts of potential future crises.
COVID-19 is an example of this. While tools like Microsoft Teams, Zoom (both video conferencing tools), and RemoteSpark (a mixed reality remote worker support tool) can help digitize in-person meetings or support, and prevent unnecessary travel while helping sustain operations, they can’t outright prevent a global pandemic from occurring.
In this context, these tools also contribute to the risk management cycle as, post-crisis, they are now socialized into your organization which:
1) Delivers your organization the core benefits of these tools, and 2) ensures that your operations are more resilient to incidents and crises that prohibit travel and human-to-human contact.
Note: travel and contact are the major challenges (to both safety of staff and function/health of an organization) brought about by COVID-19. Beyond pandemics and epidemics, these same barriers could arise in the event of an environmental, political, or legal incident that blocks travel to a specific geography, thus blocking in-person contact.
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