How prepared is your business for the next crisis?
Senior security professional Ian Pugh asks: How prepared is your business, how prepared are your teams and are you doing enough to mitigate risk and prepare your teams for that next crisis?
We have probably all heard the saying “Fail to Prepare, Prepare to Fail”, and I want to say from the outset that I don’t profess to be an expert in Crisis Management. I also don’t claim to have been involved in or to have had to manage as many crisis situations as many readers – who so tragically may have – but I am passionate about the subject and, having worked on the front line in a security role, I know how important training is and can be when faced with a crisis situation.
My first experience: Manchester city centre 15th June 1996
My first experience of being involved in a crisis situation was working as a junior security manager responsible for a large national contract for a leading manned guarding company. Arriving in Manchester city centre to visit my officers, I suddenly saw and heard the chaos following the detonation of a 3,300lb IRA lorry bomb – the largest detonated in Great Britain since the Second World War.
My initial reaction was shock, followed by concern for my team, followed by “What can I do?”. In the immediate aftermath and subsequent hours, we worked as a team to ensure everyone was safe and accounted for. This involved evacuating a large number of my client’s buildings in the city centre and getting the team of officers to safety whilst keeping the senior management team and client updated.
We were lucky and, whilst my thoughts go out to all those people affected by this atrocity and the businesses who had to rebuild, it could have been so much worse.
Present day changes
We did a good job back in 1996, in managing the aftermath of the incident, but that was 25 years ago and things have moved on. The world is a different place, with different challenges and a more stringent regulatory, enforcement and public enquiry-focused society.
Here, I highlight four areas of change, pertinent to crisis management, which have an ongoing impact on security and management professionals.
There are more regulations and laws in place now, which impose upon senior management teams a clear duty of care for their staff’s health, safety and wellbeing.
Private Security Act 2001
The security industry is now regulated by the Security Industry Authority (SIA). Certain legal requirements are in place now, such as mandatory training for those who wish to operate a security company and deploy security officers under contract.
There are more public enquiries now, which examine the aftermath of major incidents and look at the measures organisations and senior managers have put in place to mitigate risk through training and procedural support, which could have prevented the incident taking place and supported the teams on the ground. An example is the Manchester Arena Enquiry, currently in the final stages of investigating the deaths of the victims of the 2017 Manchester Arena terrorist attack.
The Protect Duty
The planned introduction of the Protect Duty legislation, which seeks to impose a legal obligation on organisations to consider the safety and security of their staff and the public who use their facilities.
Why am I so passionate about the subject?
I began my security career as a security officer for a very large security company working on multiple client sites and dealing with incidents as part of the role. I understood then what support I needed and how training and procedural advice would help me.
My career has taken me through various operational roles, as per my role in 1996 to senior operational strategic roles as Group Head of Security for two large organisations. The latter was the largest shopping centre owner in the UK, intu, until its sad demise in 2020 due to company administration.
In my role at intu I was, for the first time, able to really set the security strategy for the organisation – and with great support from the senior directors and group board, we introduced crisis management and major incident management training into our shopping centre-based teams at all levels to support our teams on the ground.
This strategy delivered training which moved away from traditional table-top exercises and actually tested our teams against the procedures they were operating to, in realistic settings.
Live scenarios tested their reactions and their decision making and placed them under an element of pressure to manage the crisis and bring the incident to a conclusion.
The introduction of duty management assessments ensured that those responsible for managing an incident were prepared for that responsibility and trained against the procedures to support their teams in the decision-making process and to liaise and work with the emergency services.
Supporting those dealing with crises
Senior leaders may read this article and say “We have been dealing with a crisis since February 2020 with the pandemic, so what training do my teams now need? We have managed well, our business is fully open and things are finally looking positive for the coming months.”
In part, that would be correct. Businesses have managed an extremely difficult situation well in general, but that has come at a cost. Financially, there are more constraints on business in a lot of sectors.
Businesses have had to make difficult decisions and headcounts have been reduced, with people losing their livelihoods, budgets being slashed and cost cutting in place – with training more than likely being an area of cost reduction. However, the threats have not gone away. Teams will still need to be supported and prepared to manage crises.
The governance structure in place around accountability and evidencing what, as an organisation, you have done to mitigate risk is still very prevalent.
Post-pandemic – are you prepared?
So, the question that organisations should be asking themselves post-pandemic is “How prepared is your business, how prepared are your teams and are you doing enough to mitigate risk and prepare your teams for that next crisis?”.
- It will happen, unfortunately, and it will be instant – without government briefings or advice telling you what to do.
- It will lead to disruption to your business and, if significant enough, could lead to injury and death.
- It will have an effect on your brand and could affect your reputation.
- It could see senior directors in an enquiry answering questions about decisions they took or failed to take.
So, how important is that bigger Christmas tree in retail this year? How important is a management away day? How important is a glossy new brochure telling everybody what a great company you are?
I would say they all have a role to play and are important, but if it is at the cost of supporting your teams in being prepared to manage crises, and testing teams and first-line management response against your procedures, then I would say, in the big scheme of things, a big Christmas tree won’t help in an enquiry, a management away day won’t evidence support to your teams and a glossy company brochure may well not be read.
We see the support that organisations provide for their employees around a number of very important aspects of working in today’s society, across small and large businesses and in complex work environments. That support is weakened if employees don’t have the tools to do their jobs and are not prepared to face challenges that may well arise in their roles.
To all the front-line employees who face the risk of dealing with crisis situations every day, you have my total respect!