TRM 101: How to Test Your Emergency Response Protocols

Is your organization prepared to deal with a crisis abroad? Managing an incident without adequate preparation could lead to serious repercussions for not just your travelers, but also your organization. The good news? Proactive crisis management can help you meet your duty of care objectives and prevent issues from becoming even more serious. One way organizations can test their emergency procedures is by incorporating crisis response exercises into their Travel Risk Management (TRM) strategies. Here is some advice for how you can do the same:

Know what’s at stake: When the pressure is on and consequences are high, it’s not always easy to keep your cool. Understanding what’s at stake and why it’s important to fulfill your duty of care responsibilities during a crisis situation can help improve your reasoning in the heat of the moment. Start an open dialogue with your team sooner than later to get everyone thinking about how sound decision-making during a crisis can help shield your organization from damaging legal, financial, reputational and people-related risks.

Focus on strengths AND weaknesses: Knowing where you come in strong and where you need improvements can help you focus your attention and priorities accordingly—this will help make your crisis response exercises more productive. First, you’ll want to conduct a thorough audit of all of your TRM procedures—dysfunctional processes can trigger or worsen an emergency situation, so you’ll want to identify and correct anything that could create delays or add unnecessary layers of complexity. Involve your crisis response team members in this review, as they’ll be able to fill you in on task-related difficulties and provide you with additional context.

Set sound objectives: Crisis response exercises are designed to elicit constructive and in-depth problem-solving discussions as well as resolve challenges in an informal, stress-free environment—before an emergency strikes. The success of these exercises is largely determined by group participation and consensus, so everyone involved in international crisis response should be present. Your participants—preferably people with decision-making authority—should discuss general problems, issues, and procedures in the context of a travel emergency scenario. That said, objectives should be centered on the training and familiarization of roles, procedures and communication chains to ensure the best emergency response from a duty of care standpoint. These exercises should also serve to help your team understand how to work with your TRM provider and how your organization can best leverage these emergency resources.

Create a scenario: Emergency narratives, which are the foundation of crisis response exercises, should address multiple hazards and consider a broad set of unexpected occurrences. For example, our crisis response facilitators prefer to walk clients through a multi-victim scenario (such as a car crash), so they can experience different layers of complexity. Whichever scenario(s) you choose, participants could be faced with several “what ifs” such as death, critical hospitalizations, evacuations, financial authorizations and even legal/reputational issues. Try to include special circumstances such as disabilities, medical needs, emotional concerns, etc. to make it as realistic (and unpredictable!) as possible. And speaking of realistic, it’s important to customize the scenario so it’s relevant to your organization—so be sure to adjust names, lingo, and any other specifics accordingly.

Figure out logistics: Before the exercise begins, pick someone who is willing to function as an observer and chief note-taker. You should also choose a facilitator to act as a neutral third party who can help the group increase its effectiveness by improving its emergency processes. Remember, the usual rules of a successful meeting also apply to crisis response exercises: start on time, stick to an agenda, try to finish early…and don’t forget the food! If not managed properly, the crisis response exercise can quickly veer off schedule, so the facilitator should be in charge of setting time limits and strictly enforcing them.

Establish next steps: Follow-through is just as important as the exercise itself. Use the information gathered during the exercise to make changes in your organization’s emergency response plans and establish actions and communication plans.  What did you feel your team did well? Which areas still need improvement? What do you think is the most important lesson learned? The last thing you want is a list of dilemmas and no one to fix them—so get buy-in from key stakeholders who can actually resolve the issues before it’s too late.

Crisis response planning and testing is not just a one-hit-wonder, but rather, something you should revisit with your key stakeholders on a regular basis. But due to its time-consuming nature, many organizations let this critical aspect of their TRM strategies fall to the wayside. Luckily, our clients know we can create and facilitate these exercises for them—as well as develop resulting action plans that are aligned with their duty of care responsibilities.

For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and global assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today and watch our video to learn more. You can also stay in touch with On Call’s in-house risk management, travel health and security experts by signing up for our quarterly Travel Risk Management (TRM) newsletter.