Decision making for leaders who are managing a crisis is very complex particularly when they may have never before faced an incident of true crisis. There is no time to “learn” how to be a crisis manager, while the crisis is occurring.
Some organizations regularly face emergencies and have leaders managing life and death situations on a daily basis. These organizations that utilize preparedness, training and decision making models to support the leadership to perform competently on the darkest day are known as High Reliability Organizations or HRO’s.
High Reliability Organizations or HROs offer refined models of preparedness, safety and internal learning mechanisms to ensure that incidents are managed to a minimal level of risk. Nuclear submarines, aircraft carriers, the Forest Fire Fighting Service all offer crisis management methodologies that may be applied within any organization to ensure success in a time of crisis.
Dr. Gary Klein cites Recognition Primed Decision Making as a way that the most effective Fire Command Officers manage what would be considered a crisis. Within this methodology crisis leaders do not perform time consuming analysis, they just “know” what the most successful course of action is. I would offer that in the context of emergency management at the corporate or community level, Recognition Primed Decision Making can be achieved through regular training and exercising of the crisis team. As people gain expertise in their field, their ability to recognize patterns and relationships is enhanced. Ultimately the timeliness and accuracy of decisions is increased.
Regularly, the Preparedex team works with “crisis teams” to practice models that will ultimately support their effort in a time of crisis. Organizational structures like the Incident Command System and decision making models like P.P.O.S.T. (Priorities, Problems, Objectives, Strategies and Tactics) assist leaders who must harness the energy that is created by an emerging or full blown crisis. After introducing, training and practicing these sorts of methodologies we regularly have corporate or community leaders who remark that they do not know how they would have coped with crisis without these tools in their toolboxes.
Some of the best crisis managers I have seen have come from the Fire Service (obviously I have a bias in this regard). I have noted that these great leaders have always been men and women who worry in advance, prepare and learn from past incidents. Part of this organizational learning is remembering those fire fighters (100+ every year in North America), who die during operations. These losses weigh heavily on the minds of crisis decision makers. For those we have lost, we adopt the philosophy “Through training we remember.”
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