AIM & Pharos – Be Prepared

Seven habits for highly effective incident management

By Julian Penney and Chris Gallant of Pharos Response

You may have come across the management book, Seven Habits of Highly Effective People; we believe ‘seven’ rules can also apply to incident management. Like anything, the more planning you do, the more you’ll be prepared for an incident. More importantly, as a result of being prepared, the incident is likely to have a lesser impact on your organisation and the people involved.

How prepared are you?

How would you respond to the letter from a solicitor threatening legal action following an injury sustained by a customer in your care; a visit from the Police to break the news that a member of your staff has been arrested for suspected child abuse; or many other comparable situations?

Here’s our seven ‘habits’ for highly effective incident management:

1. Planning

In the outdoor and adventure sector, we tend to be very good at handling incidents ‘in the field’. Typically, we are less prepared for how to prevent these incidents from getting worse or how to handle a more serious incident. Being prepared means identifying potential crises and writing a short plan of considerations. This isn’t a lengthy prose but a punchy list of actions, guides and checklists: what to do, who to do what and who to notify. Of the AIM Members subscribed to Pharos’ service to date, 53% either didn’t have a plan or ‘weren’t sure’ if they did when they signed up.

2. Speed

There is limited time after incidents when you can take control, showing people involved you’re acting responsibly and working towards a solution. Your plan should outline who will be doing what and the faster they make a start, the better for organisational recovery, rather like administering first aid. Conversely, if you have to think through all the details at the time, you’re in danger of sinking. The press will already be calling before you’ve had chance. A plan helps improve your ability to respond, and your speed of response.

3. People

You’ll be making fast decisions as there is usually a lot to do. These decisions are vital in doing the right thing by those involved and also portraying your organisation as being reputable and responsible. Place ‘people’ at the heart of your incident response, which means making management decisions based on wanting the best possible care for the injured, the support of other group members and consideration of relatives. If there is the smallest sign that you’re putting profit before people, things swiftly turn sour. Relatives turn to the press, social media or lawyers in frustration, escalating your incident. Sometimes this could have been avoided by following the first three steps alone.

4. Take responsibility

Even if you believe the cause of an incident to be the fault of a sub-contractor or freelancer, it’s important to take organisational responsibility for getting to the bottom of what happened and providing the necessary support to those affected. Appearing to be passing the buck or seeking blame breeds negative feelings. Much of effective incident management is about ‘just doing the right thing’. After any incident, your organisation falls under the spotlight, perhaps by one family or by the world’s media depending on the scale. How you’re seen to perform under the spotlight affects how people will judge and treat you.

5. Remain visible

In the aftermath of an incident, you’ll be busier than you’d like but it is crucially important that you remain visible and available to those affected. It isn’t just the initial speed of response that is important but ongoing speed. If you suddenly disappear people will ask what’s happened, what’s to hide? Disappearing may be due to phone, email or web systems failing under the pressure, or of course you simply need a break. Either way, this can cost you dearly: a journalist printing “unavailable for comment” or an unanswered question can breed suspicion, concern and eventually claims.

6. Ethical and honest

You don’t need to release all information as soon as you have it but you do need to be responsible with the information you do hold. Stalling or worse, lying, will only bite you later. Make ethical and honest management decisions.

7. Remember the bigger picture

Business continuity should be a part of your plan with people nominated to care for the day-to-day running aside from the incident. Once the eye of the storm has passed, you’ll need to turn some attention to your organisation’s ongoing operations and performance. Review the previous six steps when considering your own organisation, and the impact the incident may have had on it and your staff.

Assistance for AIM Members

Whether you’re a large or small organisation, you will have your own challenges and your own reasons for not being as prepared as you’d like to be; usually a combination of time, money and expertise. Pharos can provide the expertise to help you plan, prepare and train for effective incident management while also being available to you 24/7 to help handle any incident. AIM members benefit from a discounted annual subscription of £125, when usually the fee would be from £995.

Often people assume Pharos is only there to help through the major incidents, but this is not true. We have recently assisted two AIM Members following climbing-related falls where, fortunately, the injuries were minor. However, both cases had the potential to become more serious than the injuries alone would suggest, but through careful stakeholder communications we were able to advise how to defuse the situation, helping to prevent these situations escalating into claims.

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From Sparks To Inferno

In the same way that some of the most serious fires and explosions begin life as a mere spark if left unchecked, the same can be true with major incidents and organisational crises, write Julian Penney and Chris Gallant of Pharos Response.

Seemingly minor incidents or complicated customer complaints can develop into serious situations if they are not dealt with swiftly by a senior member of staff. Such situations can be highly costly not just financially but in terms of personal welfare, reputation or brand damage, and management time involved in dealing with the response.

All this points to the fact that quick and decisive action is needed to deal with low-level incidents or complaints to defuse the situation and extinguish the flames. For activity providers, health and safety is a major part of what they do day-in, day-out. This is why they are good at handling incidents on the ground. However, some may be less strong at dealing with the aftermath and handling the sensitive communications with parents and schools who may go to the press, vent their frustrations on social media or pursue a legal claim if they feel their situation is not being well handled. So what tools are available to activity providers to help you respond quickly? Fortunately, there is a whole range of ‘fire extinguishers’ available and the good news is that most are straightforward and easy to implement internally.

1. Incident reporting systems.

It is important that those who are ‘in the field’ or ‘on the ground’ have a simple and effective way of informing management when a potentially complex incident has occurred or when a complaint is likely. Activity instructors may not always make a suitable assessment of the organisational impact of a situation so it is important that information is escalated quickly to someone who can do so. Instructors and leaders should be confident that they will have management support and, importantly, that they are available, including out of hours.

2. Complaints and incident handling procedures.

Most activity providers will have some form of emergency plan and it is important that this is communicated to all those involved in the process. Plans are best when they are kept simple and use checklists and flowcharts rather than prescriptive paragraphs of text and bullet points. These should be kept up-to-date and cover the full range of scenarios and incident severity – not just be reserved for a crisis event which is unlikely to happen.

3. Communication plans.

Whilst most activity providers have a reasonable incident plan, many are weaker when it comes to external communications. Such a plan should be written to identify the stakeholders specific to your own organisation and set out who will communicate with them and how. Clearly the media is a major concern to most, but social media, customers, families and staff are equally important.

4. Training.

Fire & Rescue Services frequently train their staff and so too should activity providers give incident handling training to their own staff. Such training can be very simple, involving scenario discussions and ‘tool box talks’, or it can involve realistic role play. Lessons learned from training exercises and simulations are invaluable when it comes to dealing with real situations and are usually more useful than any written procedure you will see! We often run scenario-based incident training for clients to test their response in a very realistic but safe environment, identifying areas for improvement.

5. Ethos and culture.

Your organisation no doubt values itself for being open and honest and doing the right thing by its customers, and this is likely to help prevent complaints and incidents from escalating into crises. Fear of litigation may prompt a defensive tone but this is more likely to make a situation worse. Similarly, delaying replies to customers or the failure by frontline staff to answer their phones will certainly add fuel to the fire.

6. Professional assistance.

Even with the best laid plans a little extra help can go a long way, as one AIM Member discovered after a customer’s tragic death from natural causes whilst at their premisies. AIM’s tailored arrangement with Pharos ensured that the Member had access to professional advice exactly when it was needed. A number of AIM Members have benefitted from Pharos’ services over the past year for “minor” situations which had the potential to conflagrate, such as minor climbing falls, a child accessing dangerous chemicals, or an allergic reaction to food provided on the premises.

So in summary our advice is simple: to help prevent the sparks of an incident from developing into an inferno, we advise activity providers to assess what tools they have at their disposal and prepare in advance for a speedy and effective response.


Reducing your Business Risks in a Crisis

AIM offers crisis management service

Following a successful workshop in October 2012, AIM has launched, in partnership with risk management specialists, Pharos Response, a service to help our Members better prepare and protect themselves for critical incidents that, although thankfully rare, can significantly affect an organisation’s ability to continue operating. Members who sign up to this service can now access 24/7 expert advice in the crucial hours immediately after a critical incident.

AIM is committed to helping to reduce the likelihood of, and better prepare for, major incidents in advance of the possible occurrence. Pharos can be used to help prepare for the situations we all dread through crisis planning, training and simulation exercises, as well as being on call should the worst happen.

AIM Members signing up to the service will receive the following benefits:

  • At the outset, members complete an online crisis management audit which Pharos will review and draft a report which will include recommendations for improvements where necessary.
  • Upon renewal in succeeding years, a similar tool will be provided in order to help ensure that the development of proactive preparation continues as part of Member’s overall management plan.

A number of Members have already taken advantage of the heavily discounted annual subscription, (an average of £100, prices vary slightly according to the scale of operation), particularly valuing:

1. Immediate access to advice and support should an incident happen, not having a nerve-wracking wait for usual office hours to speak to someone.

2. Team of experts specialising in the crisis aspects of subjects, such as HSE, the press, social media, stakeholder communications and trauma counselling.

An AIM Member who recently experienced a serious incident explains why…

“In June 2013 my company experienced its first accident after many years of trouble free delivery. Pharos were available from the outset of the incident and had the expertise on hand to support my company, myself and my freelance staff in dealing with the difficult aftermath.

They provided exceptional support and advice on dealing with the general incident, the media, the family of the injured person and staff involved with the incident and had a number of experts on hand. I was told to ‘think of Pharos Safety as an extension of my team’ and they certainly delivered on this statement. I would strongly recommend to any AIM member to have membership of this service as part of their strategy to manage such incidents.”

Julian Penney, MD of Pharos said “Our experts from across the outdoor industry, and beyond, are on call to help organisations deal with major incidents immediately after they happen, whenever that may be. These sorts of specialist skills may not be present in many organisations or are not often used due to the obvious infrequency of such situations”.

Members don’t have to wait until renewal to get access to this service. To find out more, please contact us.

Julian Penney leads the Pharos team and has a wide range of practical first-hand experience in managing emergency situations, first as an officer in the British Army and more recently as Operations Director of World Challenge.