Specialists have advised firms to prepare early for crisis situations

In today’s risky business environment, firms have been warned to prepare well in advance for a potentially devastating crisis situation.

‘Every organisation can expect to face at least one major crisis every 5 years,’ predicted Chris Larkin, business continuity consultant, CIC.

CIC has urged businesses to better plan for the unexpected, taking into account the more subtle consequences of a crisis including the psychological impact on an organisations management and workforce.

The advice came as the consultancy held its autumn seminar at the National Liberal Club in Whitehall, London.

The event organisers created a fictitious company, called Juneset plc, and the audience were invited to discuss operational solutions to a variety of circumstances arising from a bird flu pandemic.

The participants dealt with issues such as: absence management, communication challenges, building external relationships, leadership issues, providing remote working conditions, incentivising attendance, the wider community impact, relocating offices and deaths in custody.

The issue of increasing the vulnerability of an organisation while senior managers worked from home was raised as an area of concern, as was the problem of poor moral caused by senior management absence. Also highlighted was the problem of limited broadband capacity unravelling during a national crisis where many people could be forced to work from home.

“The national interest sometimes takes precedent over the reporting of information. We see it internationally so we would be naive to assume it doesn't happen here.

Rupert Reid, business continuity consultant with CIC

The conference hosts put forward some advice: ‘If you’ve looked at your organisation before a crisis hits and assigned roles and responsibilities it can be dealt with surprisingly easily,’ said Rupert Reid, business continuity consultant with CIC.

‘From our experience we have found those organisations who prepared for the unexpected responded more effectively than those who did not,’ added Larkin. He advised: ‘At the end of a crisis period it is a good idea to go back and review what has been learnt. In a crisis situation there tends to be a reluctance to look around and say what should we be doing differently and immediately respond.’

Reid also pointed to the uncertainty surrounding liabilities and duty of care when deploying people to potentially risky situations, such as overseas. He said this was an area of particular concern because of potentially long gestation periods and the looming threat of class actions in Europe.

A former police officer, Reid also cautioned the audience about assuming the accuracy of government information and advising people from it. ‘The national interest sometimes takes precedent over the reporting of information. We see it internationally so we would be naive to assume it doesn’t happen here,’ he said.

The application of people skills was also raised as a key concern: ‘Good management skills are the most fundamental thing in a crisis,’ said Larkin.

CIC is a business continuity and risk management consultancy specialising in trauma management and support.