Questions that regularly come up during my work in preparing and developing Crisis Management Teams include ‘how do we start the process?’ and ‘how will we know there is a crisis event?’ So here are some points to consider in answering these questions.

Organisations can be complex with lots of moving parts and of course they face a huge number of risks and threats from a wide range of sources, events and activities. As a consequence not every crisis event is identified in the same way or from a single source. The crisis management procedure needs to be ready for all kinds of situation however and wherever they arise.

Central to dealing with the challenge is that each organisation needs to define ‘crisis’ (or whichever equivalent term the organisation prefers). Then the Crisis Management Team, and indeed those around them, can distinguish between events they need to manage and events which can be taken care of through regular processes such as Incident Management. The definition needs to be good enough to inform decision makers by referencing factors such as impact, scope, cause, timing and duration.

But who is going to tell the team so they know to act?

At this point I want to refer to a Tweet I saw this week about a fire at an allotment – stick with me for a minute. The emergency services responded in good time and were able to contain the blaze quickly. Of course it wasn’t the emergency services that spotted the fire, rather 27 regular people who all phoned to report it. These people recognised the situation as an emergency, knew how and to whom to report the event and took action.

Meanwhile, back at work. The logic is therefore that the organisation’s people need to have an understanding of what constitutes a crisis event and how they should report it. The nearest conventional organisations have to an emergency control room may be the IT and Facilities Management Helpdesks. Staff in these teams need to be fully familiar with assigning severity and priority levels – including recognising potential crisis events. Every severity rating should have an appropriate and agreed protocol aligned to it so that the team members know who needs to be informed and how they can be reached.

Crisis Management Teams typically include representatives from a range of different areas of the organisation. Most, if not all, staff should be able to align to a Crisis Management Team member in an operational sense i.e. to whom they know they can escalate matters. Equally they should have sufficient understanding of the Crisis Management Team member roles so they can escalate to the most appropriate team member based on the nature of an event. Education and awareness to staff is clearly key.

So, already we have a couple of approaches to invoking the Crisis Management Team by reporting or escalating potential or actual events to individual members who should then be armed with the necessary means to communicate with and engage other Crisis Management Team members.

The key observation here is that all people involved in the process – from identification to action – need to know the process and the organisation’s culture needs to be such that people feel comfortable highlighting, reporting or escalating an event if they feel it satisfies the definition.

Personally I would prefer staff to adopt an approach of, if in doubt, escalate, because any crisis manager would rather be informed and have the opportunity to ‘stand by’ rather than be presented with a situation that would have been better contained through earlier intervention.

So far I have focussed on crisis events that develop or have been spotted by regular staff – the organisation’s eyes and ears, the 999 (911) callers, the allotment owners.

Some crisis events are easier to recognise due to their nature or magnitude i.e. a ‘clear and present danger’, the ‘b******g obvious’, the ‘big bang’. Under such circumstances the Crisis Management Team members would typically be aware of the event and should therefore know they need to respond. Again it is not necessarily the responsibility of one single member to convene the team so the protocol needs to be along the lines of first member to be in a position to trigger the team should do so – better many than none.

Tools and procedures are available to assist in convening Crisis Management Teams so these need to be practised, tested and refined on a regular basis. It goes without saying that reliance on one or two people is never enough so make sure there’s a good population of people well versed in using the capabilities and that team members know what to expect and actions required.