“This is a drill, this is a drill”. Navigate Response’s round-the-clock responders hear these words every week of the year.
Drills are the lifeblood of what we do as a media response company, helping our clients physically go through the simulation of a real incident in the belief that by doing it often and vigorously enough it will be easier during a time of real crisis.
The vast range of competency within the shipping industry in terms of how drills are approached and practised ranges from barely at all to top of the class.
Having just completed a round of client drills across Asia for a variety of different owners and managers, I can say the industry is waking up to the fact that taking these exercises will definitely improve performance.
Navigate Response is usually called in to assess preparedness for media-handling, but a full drill tests vital factors: ship-to-shore communication, on the spot risk assessment, crisis room communication and critically, ensuring crisis team members are contactable and able to attend at short notice.
In the past many clients simply made the necessary calls to our emergency phones announcing a drill and were satisfied when we picked up the phone and informed them we were on standby.
But things are changing fast because more owners and managers understand that failing on just one aspect of the emergency response in a live situation has increasingly catastrophic consequences.
It’s worth drilling a lot and taking the drills seriously.
We advise drill managers of two things from the start. The first is to ensure the exercise is unannounced. On too many occasions the drill timing is posted in advance, and so the drill is done in a perfunctory way without the necessary stress and adrenalin.
Secondly, plan at least one unannounced drill out of office hours. Some may not like being disturbed at 2am on a Saturday morning – but that is often what it takes to simulate a real live incident.
Most shipping people know incidents always occur at the most difficult time: the day of the school graduation or the evening you are taking your spouse out for a birthday dinner!
Navigate Response is working with P&I clubs to undertake outside third party drills for club members and these are performed to a very high level.
If a manager or owner aims to ensure staff and crew are prepared for a crisis, then it is essential to include a public affairs aspect in the drill.
Once the media and other outside stakeholders are following an incident, the information demands on the company involved become overwhelming: they can often threaten to derail the entire crisis response if allowed to get out of hand.
One factor which is increasingly important in our drill participation is helping clients understand the effect that a tsunami of social media coverage can have on a crisis. The Triton programme is our bespoke online drill software, allowing us to recreate that welter of social media comment which inevitably follows when a vessel is involved in a high-profile incident.
Triton tests clients with the immediacy of social media; understanding that far more wild, controversial and extreme statements are made on social media than in the mainstream media.
How do ship managers and owners react to that? Is it possible to react to every single negative comment on Facebook? Is it possible or right to respond to each video and photograph posted?
All these new aspects of drilling are coming to the forefront today as owners realise the extent to which public perception is moulded by what is seen on social media.
Our advice is simple: drill as much as you feel it necessary to be able to get it right when a real live situation occurs, and always include a media and public affairs component. It will pay off in the long run to have all aspects of crisis management and response covered.