on 19th February 2018
As crisis communications specialists, one of our regular tasks is to observe emergency response exercises in order to ensure that in a real crisis, communications would be objective and effective. Every utility company, oil and gas supplier, financial institution and many others have to have emergency response plans, which in turn have to exercised and tested regularly. Governments together with industry and sector regulators around the world insist on this. We have been doing this type of work for over 25 years. Last month we observed an oil company’s emergency response exercise in London on behalf of a firm we work with regularly, which specialises in organising such exercises. The fictitious scenario which presented the oil company with a realistic emergency involved managers in the UK and abroad, and was held in ‘real time’. The oil company’s emergency management and communications teams knew their stuff and managed the “crisis” effectively.
When we started providing such services, less than half of our clients could have been described as competent crisis managers. Today the majority are very good. Their employees, customers and stakeholders which include all of us at various times, live in a safer world as a result of such preparedness. If this culture of emergency response planning, testing and exercising were the norm in our everyday lives, then more of our world including our loved ones would be considerably safer.
One very poignant series of comments in the wake of the Grenfell Tower tragedy last June, came recently from residents who suggested that a police helicopter orbiting the tower during the conflagration, had both fanned the flames and also given false hope of rescue to those trapped in their homes. It is easy to understand such criticism - on the surface it makes sense. If however, emergency plans for the tower and its residents had included information on likely responses from the emergency services, and if the landlord and residents had exercised and tested the plans with the same attention to detail that we are obliged to apply when working for oil companies and the like, things might have been better and we might not be having this discussion.