Top Tips for Running Crisis Management Simulations

November 11, 2020

Crisis simulations are a sure fire way to build “muscle memory” of response and action that can be deployed during an actual crisis impacting you or your organization. We believe simulations are one of the most effective tools in a communication team’s toolbox. 

During a simulation, teams are required to respond with the speed and accuracy that they would if things truly were on fire, but they’re able to do so in a “safe” environment without the potential for negative reputational consequences.

Crafting a Strategic Crisis Simulation

Creating the perfect culinary recipe can take years. Ingredient measurements are carefully calibrated, spices are meticulously added and subtracted, and numerous taste tests occur before the perfect combination is uncovered. A similar process occurs when developing a crisis simulation.

Kith has spent years developing the perfect recipe for crisis simulations for our clients. When we put together a crisis simulation, we often follow a step-by-step process–much like a recipe– for building a credible and beneficial crisis simulation. By following this process and mixing in a few extra spices, we’ve been able to create countless exercises that embolden teams to be at their best during a real crisis.

Like many recipes, the recipe for a crisis simulation has a few required ingredients where no substitutions are allowed. Without these required ingredients, your crisis simulation won’t give you the desired result. 

I’ve got four quick tips for how to get the most out of a crisis simulation.

  • First off, be smart about the scenario. Understand who you are trying to test – system-wide responses, a particular department, a cross-disciplinary team – and develop a scenario that actually puts them to the test. Keep it real and plausible.
  • Second, get the right tools. It could be as simple as a whiteboard and a piece of paper, or as complicated as a fully immersive digital platform, such as the one we use in our live-fire scenarios. Give careful thought to the assets – simulated tweets, Instagram photos, media coverage, etc. – that you’ll want to inject into the scenario.
  • Third, before you begin, let everybody understand exactly what you’re trying to accomplish and what they’re supposed to get out of it. Level setting expectations – explaining the why – will enable the participants to focus on what they’re supposed to do if the simulation were a real event. Encourage your team to be stretched a little bit outside of their comfort zone.
  • Finally, debrief, debrief, debrief. Really take the time to talk and learn. It’s not just about getting through the scenario. A successful simulation leads to self-discovery, introspection, and the desire to get better.

Then do it all again. Conducting a crisis simulation once isn’t enough. You’ve got to do this at least annually, and the more you do them, the better. 

Read More about “Crafting the Perfect Crisis Simulation”

Using Table-top Exercises to Improve Plans

Tabletop exercises test the things that you’ve already identified as potential problems with your plans. By working through these scenarios and what-if situations, you identify any unforeseen issues. Tabletop exercises give you the opportunity to truly improve your plan and improve your thinking at the outset.

During our COVID-19 webinar series, we discussed a Coming Back Checklist: questions every organization looking at coming back should be asking themselves. They revolved around tactical, operational, and transformational considerations. Each of these questions can be the basis of a tabletop exercise, but the one I particularly think is important is, “Why not?” Now is a time for innovation, creativity, and trying new things.

Using a tabletop exercise to test your plans will focus mostly on tactical and operational aspects, but it also provides the opportunity to be truly transformational. Table-top exercises let you play with possibilities that you might not have ever considered.

Read more about “Using Table-top Exercises to Improve Plans”

Crisis Simulations as Long-term Planning Tools

Time and time again, we have seen the tangible benefits of crisis simulations when a crisis strikes and there is a marked difference between teams who have practiced and those who have not. There’s no doubt in my mind that a well-crafted simulation is the most valuable preparation tool that an organization can employ.

However, there’s one new benefit we are starting to explore and that’s the use of simulations as a long-term planning tool.

This was prompted by a recent request from a financial services client who wanted to expand the scope of a typical crisis simulation. They want to use lessons from the simulation to plan ahead in case of an economic downturn. 

Unlike typical crisis simulations, which usually deal with an acute issue requiring a quick response, a planning simulation needs to address a longer timescale. So, you need to build a simulation that covers a timescale of weeks or months rather than just focusing on the reaction in the hours or days after the event.

Allow the participants to consider a set of issues, plan how they will respond, and initiate the response as normal but then, instead of playing things out in real-time, jump ahead a day, a month, or more. Provide realistic updates on how their actions were received and deliver an updated set of challenges. This also allows the participants to consider the longer-term, second, and third-level effects of how they might respond which will be vital for effective planning.

Read more about “Crisis Simulations as Long-term Planning Tools”

Crisis Simulations: Everything You Need to Know

When your crisis skillsets are revealed, are you confident you will like what you see?

At Kith, we are firm believers that crisis simulations should be a routine part of every company’s training regimen. A well-crafted simulation is the most valuable preparation tool that an organization can employ. 

In the past, we developed a 30-minute, on-demand webinar where we cover how to:

  • Help you get clarity on the level of development of individuals and teams in order to improve skill sets and overcome fear and shellshock with crisis preparedness
  • Develop corporate ‘muscle memory’ allowing you to react more quickly and decisively in a critical moment
  • Identify gaps in your crisis planning process and organizational preparedness; and
  • Help you understand relationships and develop alignment between teams, e.g. communications and legal

View the on-demand webinar “Crisis Simulations: Everything You Need to Know”

Later this year, we’ll be offering self-guided “do-it-yourself” crisis simulations as a way to test your communications, leadership, and operational teams. We’re really excited about this because we believe that going through periodic simulations not only help teams maintain their crisis “muscle memory” but also identifies issues and gaps that can be corrected before an actual crisis hits.

Filed under: Blog | Crisis Planning


Bill is a reputation management, crisis communications and professional development expert, keynote speaker, Wall Street Journal Risk & Compliance panelist, and best-selling author of Critical Moments: The New Mindset of Reputation Management. He has more than 25 years of global experience managing high-stakes crises, issues management, and media relations challenges for both Fortune 500 companies and winning global political campaigns.