How to Do a Crisis Simulation Exercise?

By Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC 

A crisis communications drill is the best way to test your crisis communications plan, your crisis communications news releases, your designated crisis spokespeople, and your crisis management team.

Click here to watch the Braudcast YouTube Video

You’ve been challenged this week to renew your focus in September on crisis communications. The challenge specifically dares you to complete all 5 steps to effective crisis communications before the end of 2019.

(Get more details when you download our free video course on the 5 Steps to Effective Crisis Communications)

After you have completed steps 1-4 of effective crisis communications, it is now time for you to test all of the elements and all of the people.

As you prepare your team for your drill, state clearly that:

Your goal is to mess up in private so that you never mess up in public.

-Gerard Braud

It is okay for you to let everyone know the day and date of the drill. However, you don’t want to announce the time of the drill if it can be avoided. An element of surprise is always useful.

In picking a start time, remember that most crises strike at the most inconvenient time. So give some thought to sending out a notification that the drill has begun about the time that your staff members are getting the kids off to school. That is a really bad time for a crisis and a really realistic time to begin a crisis drill.

While your drill can focus on an emergency situation such as a fire or explosion, keep in mind that a crisis communications drill can also focus on a cyber breech, a weather event, or accusations of executive misbehavior.

The drill scenario should be written like a murder mystery, complete with misdirection designed to trick your team members into possible false assumptions. Likewise, pepper your crisis drill injects with a variety of fake social media posts, fake videos, and fake eyewitness accounts. This will force your crisis management team and your crisis communications team to sort out the facts from fiction.

Test your crisis plan and your crisis management team for speed:

  • How long did it take to initially notify everyone of the possible crisis?
  • How long did it take for team members to gather once the drill notification was sent out?
  • How long did it take before the first news release was prepared, approved and released?
  • Was a pre-written news release used and did it undergo an excessive amount of scrutiny?
  • How quickly was a spokesperson able to appear before the mock media to conduct a news conference?
  • How well did the spokesperson perform?

Generally, when it comes to news releases and news conferences, your drill should contain at least two.

When and where possible, create decision-making conflicts so that members of your crisis team have to address moral, ethical, and procedural issues that could easily arise in the real world.

Take notes throughout your drill. Note key accomplishments. Note bottlenecks. Note conflict. Note times.

Those notes will become an important part of your post-drill evaluation.

On average, your drill should take three to four hours. Your post-drill evaluation usually takes one hour to 90 minutes.

Your drill becomes your roadmap for your future tasks:

  • Did your plan have flaws? If yes, correct the flaws.
  • Did members of your team get in each other’s way? Coach them to stay in their lane and let others do what they do best.
  • Did edits to pre-written news releases take too long?  Ask your leadership team to pre-approve the language in the pre-written news releases.
  • Did spokespeople fail or simply fail to be good enough? Quickly schedule a follow-up media training class.
  • Did people second-guess the directions outlined in the crisis communications plan? Schedule a full reading and edit of the crisis communications plan.

Finally, if your drill leaves room for improvement, then schedule another drill soon and practice until you get perfect.

Failing in a drill is acceptable. Failing in a real crisis is a real problem.

Crisis communications and media training expert Gerard Braud, CSP, Fellow IEC is based in New Orleans. Organizations on five continents have relied on him to write their crisis communications plans and to train their spokespeople. He is the author of “Don’t Talk to the Media Until…”

More crisis communications articles:

Please Pick Me to be Your Media Trainer

The Biggest Lie in Crisis Communications

4 Steps Every Company Needs to Take in Order to Avoid the Default Spokesperson

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