Crisis Management: The importance of information management and situational awareness

This article is the second in a four part series in which we are focussing upon four key areas of the British Standard for Crisis Management, explaining their importance to your business and setting out practical tips for their implementation. Our first article focused on the creation of a Crisis Management Plan

This article focusses specifically on the second crucial issue facing any organisation during a crisis: information management and situational awareness.

This article will explain:

  • Why information management and situational awareness is crucial;
  • The difficulties faced by organisations in this respect; and
  • How organisations can plan ahead.

Why is information management crucial?

Decision making – and often difficult decision making - is at the heart of a crisis. In day to day business an organisation’s information channels may flow smoothly. Unfortunately this often cannot be said in a crisis. Preparation, understanding and training are key to overcoming these difficulties.

What information management difficulties are typically faced by organisations?

A crisis by its nature is inherently uncertain, often features a high sense of urgency and can feature either delayed or inaccurate coverage on both traditional and social media. As a consequence, it is often exceptionally difficult to know exactly what is going on and the potential impact on events – this is known as situational awareness.

Even if one individual has situational awareness during a crisis, a common difficulty faced by organisations is ensuring that other decision makers share that situational awareness for a variety of reasons such as:

  • Ineffective information channels,
  • A lack of technical knowledge or training and
  • Human factors (such as deliberately withheld information).

During the ordinary course of business an organisation may excel at circulating information effectively, but it must ensure that its staff and crisis management team are prepared in order to increase their situational awareness during a future crisis. 

How can organisations plan ahead?

Decision makers must be capable of making key decisions when the usual information sources are incomplete or unavailable. Organisations should consider the possibility of training members of the crisis management team to cope with this responsibility.

Your crisis management team needs to be able to answer the following questions:

  1. What established channels will you rely on for relevant information?
    It is equally important to know who will be responsible for identifying and opening these channels to the Crisis Management Team?
  2. If the established channels are unavailable, how will you find relevant information?
    Misinformation can thrive in a crisis and your established channel above may not always provide timely updates.
  3. What structures do you have in place to assess and rank information in terms of quality and relevance?
    Given the possibility of misinformation during a crisis, decision makers need to be provided with a clear way to determine the reliability and the relevance of information. As importantly, these assessments need to be structured and recorded so that decisions can be reviewed and understood at a future time.
  4. Who in your organisation can understand and add value to raw information?
    Understanding where key technical skills or knowledge exists within your organisation is a key attribute to a rapid crisis response.
  5. How will this information be presented to decision makers?
    This decision will closely tie in with your organisations Crisis Management Plan.

At its simplest, a crisis response involves making decisions based on the best information available and using these to steer your organisation out of a crisis. 

By posing the above questions of your organisation in advance of a crisis and ensuring that they have been addressed and incorporated into your Crisis Management Plan, you can position yourself to best manage uncertainty and reduce the likelihood of decision errors attributable to poor information and situational awareness.

DWF have experience designing and advising upon bespoke Crisis Management strategies dependent upon the size of your organisation, industry and means available. If you would like more information about this service, please contact Tristan Meears-White.

Author: Nicholas Barker

This information is intended as a general discussion surrounding the topics covered and is for guidance purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be regarded as a substitute for taking legal advice. DWF is not responsible for any activity undertaken based on this information.

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Steffan Groch

Partner and Head of Regulatory - Head of Sectors

I head up DWF's national Regulatory team as well as leading the firm’s ‘go to market’ sector expertise. I am also Chair of the UK Health and Safety Lawyers Association.