Crisis and Emergency Risk Communications: Best Practices


Our Playbook for Digital Crisis and Issue Management 3.0

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Our Playbook for Digital Crisis and Issue Management 3.0


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World Health Organisation - Outbreak and comms planning guide

NATO’s assessment of a crisis and development of response strategies

10 May. 2011

How NATO takes decisions: consensus rule and political control

Crisis management is a core NATO task. NATO is organized to be able to take decisions in a crisis situation, and to act under significant threat and time pressure.

All decisions are taken by the North Atlantic Council, the highest authority in the Alliance, based on political and military advice by its subordinate – political and military – bodies. Decisions are the expressions of national sovereignty and are reached by consensus among all Allies (currently 28). This consultation process often involves non-NATO nations, notably those who expressed their wish to contribute forces to a NATO-led operation, as well as other international organisations, on a case by case basis and as approved by the Council.

At every major step of the process, political control of the military is key, and no decision regarding planning for deployment or actual employment of NATO military forces can be taken without the explicit political authorization of the Council.

The Military Committee (MC), representing the Member States’ Chiefs of Defence, is responsible to the Council for the overall conduct of military affairs of the Alliance and is the primary source of military advice to the Council, including, on plans prepared by NATO’s integrated chain of command, i.e. the NATO command structure (NCS)1.

Assessments and development of responses

NATO has always had a capability to conduct assessments of potential or actual crisis situations, as a means to inform decisions by the NAC to contribute to international efforts to prevent or defuse an emerging crisis.

As a crisis unfolds, NATO currently assesses the situation and develops responses along a six-Phase Crisis Management Process.

This process is primarily designed to allow the relevant staffs and committees to co‑ordinate their work and to submit advice to the North Atlantic Council in a timely and compelling way. It also allows Supreme Allied Commander Operations (SACEUR), to undertake preparatory military planning measures in a reasonable timeframe and subsequently, it facilitates and allows capitals to make strategic political decisions.

The illustrative phases are not rigid, may be of different length and may overlap as required by the crisis situation.

Initial Guide - NAC guidance on which to conduct a Pol/Mil Estimate process
NID - NAC Initiating Directive (to start formal operations planning)
NED - NAC Execution Directive (to start the approved operation)
PMR - Periodic Mission Review (of an ongoing operation)
Phase 1: Indications and warnings are given either by NATO’s intelligence and warning system or by an Ally or a partner. With these, there are in theory four options the Council can choose from: (i) decide that there is no need for further consideration; (ii) direct focused NATO vigilance and more information for the Council; (iii) consider diplomatic, political and precautionary responses, including civil emergency response, and take into account military implications as appropriate; or (iv) decide to initiate a full assessment of the crisis situation and move to Phases 2 and 3.

Phase 2 and 3: The Council tasks the relevant political and military committees to launch an assessment of the crisis and provide advice on the developing crisis situation, and its implications for Alliance security. This is the so called Political-Military Estimate (PME) process. At this stage, the Council also tasks SACEUR to develop a response strategy.

Based on the results of the PME process, the Council may select one of the response options by providing formal political guidance2 to the NATO Military Authorities (NMA)3 to conduct operations planning for the chosen option. This decision moves the process to Phase 4 (See slide). However, at this point, the process does not yet imply a decision by NATO to undertake military action. But, all the possibilities are on the table and political, diplomatic as well as civil measures may have been initiated, primarily under NAC direction.

Phase 4 (Planning): SACEUR then develops a Concept of Operations (CONOPS) and subsequently an Operations Plan (OPLAN) and submits them to the Military Committee for endorsement and to the North Atlantic Council for consideration and approval. Then, in order to deploy forces, the NAC needs to give formal authorisation to execute the OPLAN4. A decision to execute moves the process to Phase 5.

Phase 5 (Execution): Throughout Phase 5 NATO executes the mission and conducts regular assessments of the ongoing operation normally in the form of Periodic Mission Reviews (PMR) in order to assess progress towards the desired end-state and evaluate the required military posture, its capabilities and force structure. (see Annex 2). For instance, at NATO HQ, PMRs normally take place on a biannual basis. These reviews provide recommendation for changes to be considered by the Military Committee and the Council. As an example, ISAF and KFOR are currently in Phase 5.

Phase 6 (Transition): As the situation evolves, NATO moves into Phase 6 transition and, if needed, plans and implements a handover to the appropriate authorities, completes the military mission and progressively withdraws NATO forces.

The description of how Non NATO nations may contribute to NATO-led operations, on the basis of approval by the North Atlantic Council, is contained in the Pol/Mil Framework Document5.

1. NATO HQ in Brussels is the forum for political-military consultations and decision making (NAC and different Committees). The NATO command structure (NCS) is fully integrated and has two strategic commands, one for Operations (SHAPE in Mons, Belgium; Commander: Supreme Allied Commander Europe - SACEUR), one for Transformation (ACT in Norfolk, USA; Commander: Supreme Allied Commander Transformation - SACT).
2. This document is called the NAC initiating Directive (NID) – see attached slide
3. NMA comprise the Military Committee, representing allied Chiefs of Defence and the two Strategic Commands, SHAPE and HQ SACT, supported by the International Military Staff(IMS) at NATO HQ
4. This document is called the NAC Execution Directive (NED) – see Attached slide
5. PO(2011)0141 (Released to: EAPC, MD, ICI, Afghanistan, Australia, Iraq, Japan, the Republic of Korea, New Zealand, and Pakistan, ISAF and KFOR)

Your Crisis Response Plan: The Ten Effective Elements - HBS Working Knowledge - Harvard Business School

Shooter on site. Epidemic. Major power outage. Is your organization prepared to deal with crisis? HBS professor Michael Watkins explains what you need to know, and offers a checklist to evaluate your preparedness.
by Michael Watkins
Organizations inevitably face crises, but few are well prepared to deal with them. The following elements summarize the findings of research and experience about what it takes to respond effectively in crisis situations. The accompanying table is a tool for evaluating the adequacy of your organization's crisis response plans.

Effective crisis response plans include the following ten elements:

1. A representative set of planning scenarios. It's essential to create a set of crisis scenarios that serve to guide planning. This need not be an exhaustive list of everything that could happen, but it should represent a broad range of potential emergency situations that the organization could plausibly face. Examples include: shooter on site, epidemic, bomb threat, major fire, major external terrorist attack, major economic dislocation, infrastructure failure (power grid outage coupled with extreme heat, loss of the Web or telephone lines, disruption in the water supply).

2. A flexible set of response modules. Leaders should be able to pull combinations of pre-set response "modules" off the shelf. Modularizing the elements of a crisis response plan provides the organization with flexibility to deal with unexpected scenarios or combinations of scenarios. This is important because real crises rarely directly match planning scenarios. If response options aren't flexible and modularized, novel events or combinations of events can yield ineffective or "brittle" responses. Response modules might include: facility lockdown, police or fire response, evacuation, isolation (preventing people from entering facilities), medical containment (response to significant epidemic), grief management, as well as external communication to media and other external constituencies.

3. A plan that matches response modules to scenarios. This is the core plan that links each of the planning scenarios to the response modules that will be immediately activated. For example, a "shooter on site" event triggers an immediate facility lockdown plus a police response plus preset communication protocols to convene the crisis-response team and warn staff.

Leaders should be able to pull combinations of pre-set response "modules" off the shelf.
— Michael Watkins
4. A designated chain of command. One finding of research on crisis response is that decentralized organizations, which are so good at helping promote innovation in normal times, prove to be woefully inadequate in times of crisis. Crisis demands a rapid centralized response and this, in turn, requires a very clear line of command and the ability to shift into what the military term "war fighting mode" rapidly. Otherwise the organization responds incoherently. This means creating a centralized parallel organization, in which the leader has a designated deputy and they, too, have a backup who would take command if the others were unavailable or disabled. It also means having a core crisis response team of perhaps five or six people who function as the leader's staff in the parallel crisis-management organization.

5. Preset activation protocols. Preset signals for activating and coordinating the various response modules in the event of a crisis situation. There have to be clear triggers to move the organization from "normal" to "war-fighting" mode as well as to activate specific response modules. There also have to be "all clear" signals that shift the organization back to its normal operating mode.

6. A command post and backup. This should be a location that can be rapidly converted to be used by the crisis response team. Requirements include the ability to rapidly connect many lines of communication, to have access to external media (TV coverage), to provide access to crisis management plans, etc. In addition, there should be a backup command post located off-site in the event that evacuation is necessary. This could be located at a home or other location, so long as the necessary bandwidth for communication and other resources is put in place so that set-up can be swift.

7. Clear communication channels. Easily activated channels for reaching people on site and outside. For example, use of internal speakers and TV monitors to make announcements. A shooter on site, for example, triggers facility lockdown and police response but also rapid announcement that everyone should stay where they are, lock doors, hide, etc. To the extent possible there should be redundancy in these channels including backups that are not linked to the telephone system or the Web. Messages should be composed in advance. There also should be mechanisms for rapidly locating key staff (e.g. "check in" Web pages, phone-in lines).

8. Backup resources. Critical resource stocks to be tapped if necessary. Examples include backup power generation/gas supplies, modest reserves of food and water, and medical supplies. Agreements should also be negotiated with external agencies to provide specific resources in time of crisis, for example augmented private security.

The best plans are worthless if they exist only on paper. There needs to be regular, at least biannual, exercises.
— Michael Watkins
9. Regular simulation exercises. The best plans are worthless if they exist only on paper. There needs to be regular, at least biannual, exercises conducted by the crisis response team, and regular testing of channels, inventorying of resources, and the like. These tests should be done regularly, but not scheduled in order to test speed of response.

10. Disciplined post-crisis review. Each crisis provides an opportunity for organizational learning to occur and plans to be revised. But this learning only occurs if the mechanisms are in place to make it happen. A post-crisis review should be conducted by the crisis response team after each significant event. The guiding questions should be: What went well and what went poorly? What are the key lessons learned? What changes do we need to make to our organization, procedures, and support resources?

Assessing Your Crisis Response Plans

  • Use the following table to assess your organization's plans to respond to a crisis and to create a plan of action to address deficiencies.

Corrective Actions
Crisis Planning

1. Do we have a representative set of planning scenarios?
poor adequate excellent
2. Do we have a flexible set of response modules?
poor adequate excellent
3. Do we have an established matching of response modules to scenarios?
poor adequate excellent
4. Do we have preset signals for activating the crisis response organization and for going back to normal operations?
poor adequate excellent
Crisis Organization
5. Do we have a clear chain of command?
poor adequate excellent
6. Do we have a command post and backup?
poor adequate excellent
7. Do we have the right communication channels?
poor adequate excellent
8. Have we put in place the right backup resources?
poor adequate excellent
Organizational Learning
9. Do we conduct regular rehearsals?
poor adequate excellent
10. Do we do disciplined post-crisis reviews?
poor adequate excellent