Travel Risk Management 101: What You Should Know About Crisis Response Exercises

Is your organization prepared to effectively handle an incident abroad? Crisis response exercises (CREs) help organizations evaluate emergency response procedures, identify areas for improvement, and foster a collaborative attitude amongst those responsible for supporting their travelers abroad.  Regularly engaging in these exercises is invaluable in helping to create a safe and supportive environment for your travelers. Read on to learn more about this critical travel risk management tool.

Know Your “Why:” When you know your organization’s main goal for conducting these exercises, it becomes easier to make decisions that are aligned with this goal during the heat of a crisis. Create an open dialogue with your incident response team to get everyone on the same page and thinking about your collective ‘why.’ Brainstorm ideas, document your findings, and agree on a primary goal as a team. This goal can always be adjusted later on, but the key is putting pen to paper  to serve as a point of reference for guiding everyone’s actions and decisions during a crisis.

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 that much more productive. First, you’ll want to conduct a thorough audit of all of your crisis management procedures–dysfunctional processes can trigger or worsen an emergency situation overseas, so you’ll want to identify and correct anything that could create delays or add unnecessary layers of complexity. Involve your incident 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.

Get the Right People Involved (From the Beginning): 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. The success of these exercises is largely determined by group participation and consensus, so everyone involved in international incident 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 in support of your travelers. These exercises should also serve to help your team understand how to work with your third-party providers and networks and how your organization can best leverage these critical emergency resources.

Create Realistic Scenarios: Emergency narratives, which are the foundation of crisis response exercises, should address multiple hazards and consider a broad set of unexpected occurrences. For example, On Call’s crisis response facilitators prefer to walk clients through a multi-victim scenario (such as a car crash), so participants can experience different layers and levels of complexity. Whichever scenario(s) you choose, participants could be faced with several “what ifs” such as death, critical hospitalizations, 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  the scenario so it’s relevant to your organization—so be sure to adjust names, lingo, and any other specifics accordingly.

Keep Logistics in Mind: 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…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 exercises are not just a one-hit-wonder, but rather, something you should revisit with your incident management team on a regular basis. But due to its time-consuming nature, many organizations let this critical aspect of their travel risk management strategies fall to the wayside. Luckily, our clients know we can create and facilitate these exercises for them to help keep their incident response procedures strong and protect the interests of their travelers and their organizations.

Want to Learn More?
For over 25 years, On Call International has provided fully-customized travel risk management and emergency assistance services protecting millions of travelers, their families, and their organizations. Contact us today 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.