Crisis Management Training: Elevate Your Team’s Response Skills

crisis management training

Many executives think practice is for grinds and star performers do things by the seat of their pants, but when it comes to crisis management, this approach is a good way to make a bad situation worse. In today’s post we’ll look at why crisis management training is essential for resiliency and explain how to obtain quality training that is relevant to your organization.  

Related on MHA Consulting: What to Include in Your Crisis Management Plan

The Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management Training for Effective Organizational Resilience

Before we dive in to our in-depth guide on why you need crisis management training, let’s preview what to expect with our list of answers to common CM training questions:

What is Crisis Management Training?

Crisis management training prepares individuals and teams to efficiently and confidently respond to emergency situations, minimizing impact and guiding an organization through a crisis.

Why is Crisis Management Training Essential?

Training is essential for building a resilient organization capable of responding to crises without escalating the situation, thereby protecting the organization’s reputation, reducing recovery time, and safeguarding revenues and assets.

How Often Should Crisis Management Training Occur?

To maintain a high level of preparedness, crisis management training should occur regularly, with frequent drills to ensure skills are fresh and response procedures are well understood.

Who Should Participate in Crisis Management Training?

While specific roles may vary by organization, training should generally include senior leadership, department heads, emergency response teams, and designated crisis response coordinators.

Making a Bad Situation Worse 

When unprepared organizations are hit with a crisis, the results can be chaotic. The people thrown together to manage the emergency can do things that make the situation worse while failing to do things that would contain the damage. At best, it will be less efficient with errors that could have been prevented.  

The fallout can include damage to the organization’s reputation, delays in recovery, lost revenue both immediate and future, heightened damage to property, and even the collapse of the organization and increased risk of injury or death. 

People Rise to the Level of Their Training 

“In a crisis, people don’t rise to the level of the crisis, they rise to the level of their training.”  

This insightful statement from a U.S. Navy SEAL challenges the idea that when people face emergencies in life they often have the ability to rise to the occasion. There are unique aspects to a crisis at an organization that makes rising to the occasion difficult to impossible for untrained people. 

The high potential costs of taking the wrong action, high stress, time pressure, strong emotion, and the possibility of casualties all make knowing what to do in such a situation very difficult. 

If a team hasn’t practiced dealing with a crisis, it probably won’t know what to do if one comes. When there’s a crisis, people’s behavior will generally go up to the level of their training and that’s it. Beyond that, they won’t know what to do. Their training establishes the ceiling of their response. 

How To Mismanage a Crisis 

Even companies that invest significant resources in business continuity and disaster recovery tend to skimp on crisis management training and drills, an omission that puts a limit on their whole program. 

Under stress, people go back to their customary ways of doing things even when those methods are counterproductive. It’s only by training that people can discipline themselves to respond with new and better actions. 

Here are some examples of how teams revert to their old ways during times of crisis: 

  • One person takes over 
  • People focus on tactics at the expense of strategy 
  • People forget the crisis plan priorities and spend time working on less important matters 
  • The team loses sight of the big picture 
  • The team loses situational awareness 
  • The team doesn’t document the information it receives and the actions it takes 

We see a lot of mismanagement when it comes to crisis management. People tend to respond unthinkingly and emotionally, even high-level executives.  

Crisis management is highly dependent on personality. In an emergency, strong leaders tend to take over, stifling other potential contributors and pulling the level of the response way down.  

The Solution Is Training 

There is a simple, reliable solution for the problems described above: thoughtful and frequent training.  

A well-trained team responds in a lean, systematic way, smoothly addressing priorities in the proper order.   

Some people are naturally more comfortable than others in dealing with emergency situations. But even professional first responders train to accustom themselves to operating under pressure, and training can help ordinary people get more comfortable in facing emergencies. 

Such training should be frequent, varied, and realistic to approximate the conditions employees are likely to face in a crisis. 

Obtaining Relevant Crisis Management Training 

Organizations are not obliged to go it alone in developing a crisis management training program. Many third-party vendors provide such training, which can be highly valuable provided the training is a good match for the organization’s needs, size, and industry. 

The following are some of the key points to keep in mind when shopping for crisis management training: 

  • Crisis management training is an area where one size does not fit all. 
  • Look for training that is suitable for the organization’s size and industry. 
  • Most crisis management training is based on the Incident Command System (ICS), a widely used approach for responding to emergencies.  
  • Different organizations should adopt different amounts of ICS structure, depending on their size and complexity. 
  • The training you get should go only as deeply into ICS as makes sense for your organization. 
  • There is a special version of ICS for healthcare organizations called the Hospital Incident Command System, or HICS. 
  • Big, complex corporations and larger municipalities have big crisis management challenges and their crisis leaders can benefit from extensive training (such as a weeklong course). 
  • Small and midsize companies (say those of 50 employees or fewer) can often get away with bringing in a consultant for a few hours of targeted training. 
  • Public sector organizations, service industries, manufacturing companies, healthcare organizations, and companies in highly regulated industries all have unique needs in terms of their crisis management programs. Make sure any training you obtain is relevant to your field. 
  • Make sure any training you choose addresses the core aspects of a crisis management program. These include: the crisis team, the CM plan and document, the command center, a plan for dealing with the loss of human resources (as in a pandemic), mock emergency exercises, training and awareness, and program maintenance. 
  • You can obtain lots of information about crisis management for free at agencies like FEMA, DHS, and OSHA (or their non-U.S. equivalents) and industry organizations such as DRJ and DRI.  

MHA Consulting offers crisis management training and consultation, and we would be glad to talk to anyone interested in obtaining support in this critical area. 

Raising Your Ceiling 

Being able to think on your feet can bring great rewards in business, but crisis management is not the place to rely on a seat-of-the-pants approach. Effective crisis management is not about acting like a hero in a movie but calmly following a rational, pre-considered procedure, even when the larger situation is anything but calm.  

The best way to raise the ceiling of your company’s crisis management performance is by having frequent and realistic training sessions. In obtaining third-party crisis management training, an essential requirement is that the training be a good fit for the company’s needs, size, and industry. 

Explore Additional Resources on Crisis Management Techniques 

For more information on crisis management training and other hot topics in business continuity and IT/disaster recovery, check out the following recent posts from MHA Consulting. These resources not only reinforce the fundamentals of crisis management training but also offer progressive strategies that prepare organizations to face and mitigate unexpected challenges with agility and confidence. Enhance your knowledge base by exploring these expert recommendations to further secure and empower your team. 

Richard Long is one of MHA’s practice team leaders for Technology and Disaster Recovery related engagements. He has been responsible for the successful execution of MHA business continuity and disaster recovery engagements in industries such as Energy & Utilities, Government Services, Healthcare, Insurance, Risk Management, Travel & Entertainment, Consumer Products, and Education. Prior to joining MHA, Richard held Senior IT Director positions at PetSmart (NASDAQ: PETM) and Avnet, Inc. (NYSE: AVT) and has been a senior leader across all disciplines of IT. He has successfully led international and domestic disaster recovery, technology assessment, crisis management and risk mitigation engagements.

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