Lesson 9: How to Keep Your Crisis Communications Drill Realistic?

By Gerard Braud

Entergy Drill Gerard braudWhat a nice complement I received today after a crisis communications drill with a nuclear power plant and four government agencies. The Governor’s Office of Homeland Security and Emergency Preparedness thanked our mock media team for the intense questioning and realism of our news mock conferences.

“I participated in a crisis drill last week and the news conferences were kind of a joke,” he said. “They had a bunch of students asking questions and it just got silly. Today felt like the real thing.”

Wow #CrazyFlattered #KeepingItReal

The last thing you want in your crisis communication drill is for people to be silly and treat it as though it is a game. My drills are so serious that I’ve successfully made spokespeople emotionally break down and cry at the podium and on two occasions. People involved have been fired because the drill exposed their complete incompetence in their jobs.

The purpose of a crisis communications drill is to test your skills and abilities so that if necessary, they can be modified after the drill in order to improve performance during a real crisis.

DSC_0011Here are five tips to keep it real:

1) Build your crisis scenario around something that is highly likely, especially if people within your organization are in denial about how likely the scenario is to happen. Such a scenario will immediately send a feeling of dread over many drill participants. It is helpful if the facilitator can immediately and repeatedly bring the roll players to the point at which they mutter, “Oh sh*t.” This emotional trigger is just one of many emotional triggers that you want to employ. In a real crisis, emotions of dread, fear, panic and anxiety are all brought to the surface. It is the job of your facilitator to bring those emotions to the forefront of a drill.

2) Make the drill scenario big enough that a real crisis of this nature would bring out the media, which in the case of the drill, forces you to have several mock news conferences to test your spokespeople. The folks who role play as mock media need to be smart and mature, and capable of asking realistic questions that realistically challenge your spokespeople.

3) Judge your crisis communications team on how well they followed their crisis communications plans. The plans I write are usually about 50 pages long and are designed to be read and executed in sequential order so that nothing is forgotten in the way of communications. Too many flawed plans are just six to ten pages long, they only state standard operating procedures and for the most part, they are useless during your crisis. The 50 page plan I customize for my clients can get you flawlessly through the first two hours of your crisis, with directions for subsequent communications beyond two hours if needed.

4) Social media is a part of the real world and it needs to be a part of your drill. The facilitator and/or mock media role players should inject rumors, photos, videos and posts that might appear on social media if the event were real.

5) Realistically bother the heck out of as many people as possible with phone calls. In a real crisis the media and worried members of the community would be calling employees wanting information. I like to have a phone bank with at least five people who each play five personalities. I provide them with a list of phone numbers of people they should be calling periodically during the drill.

The bottom line is your crisis communications drill is designed to be your preparation for a real event. Make your drill every bit as realistic as an actual crisis event.