Many organizations which are struck by a crisis are surprised to discover that even when the incident is over, it’s not really over. It’s not unusual for a crisis to have a long afterlife.

Sometimes an event is just a blip. Sometimes it is the beginning of a long road back to normal operations.

The days and weeks after the smoke clears are often the beginning of a long phase in which crisis management (CM) is blended with business recovery.

In this article, we’re going to look at working through the last stage of the crisis management process, including transitioning back to normal operations, coming to grips with your losses, and turning the crisis into a learning opportunity.

Is It Really Over?

The first thing you should do before moving on from the crisis is making sure the crisis is really over. If it is not, you need to continue with implementing your crisis management plan.

The urgent part of the crisis is over once the following are true:

  • Everyone is safe.
  • The event is stabilized.
  • The organization’s property is safe.
  • The current status of the organization’s people and property allows the execution of the business continuity and IT/disaster recovery plans.

When these things are true, you are ready to move ahead with transitioning toward resuming normal operations.

Many people are surprised to find the process of grappling with an incident is often more circular than linear. The crisis management team should expect to have to go back and repeat the steps of the CM plan as it works to bring things under control.

Resuming Normal Operations

Sometimes an incident ends right away with a small impact and no long-term consequences. Other times it can be the beginning of a very challenging period as the company struggles to get back to normal operations.

Some events have little to no impact on the company’s ability to carry out day-to-day operations. In such cases, getting back to business as usual is straightforward.

Other incidents can cause significant disruptions.

The Business Continuity Team Steps Up

So far, we have not talked about the business continuity (BC) team—the unit of the organization responsible for getting the business operations and IT functions back on track after a disruption.

As a crisis tapers off, the CM team typically winds down its activities as the BC team steps up.

It’s important for the BC team to be proactive.

If, during the acute phase of the crisis, it begins to look as though the incident will cause a disruption sufficient to warrant invoking the BC plan, the BC team should start pulling out its business continuity and IT/disaster recovery plans, and making any other necessary preparations, just to be ready.

Eventually, the organization’s leadership must decide whether or not circumstances warrant activating the BC plan. If they do not, the BC members can put their plans away. If they do, the BC team’s proactive stance allows it to swing into action as soon as the situation allows. The BC team begins working through its recovery plan, which becomes the new playbook for working through the situation.

Both the crisis management and business continuity plans should include a business resumption plan which has milestones for returning to regular operations (for example, “when 75 percent of the facility is available”).

As those milestones are passed, the organization should begin returning to normal operations.

Coming to Grips with Your Losses

Some crises come and go having caused little lasting damage. Others can be very impactful in terms of the losses they bring.

The following are examples of the losses organizations sometimes face after a serious crisis:

  • The destruction of important or irreplaceable assets.
  • The need to lay off employees as a result of the loss of facilities.
  • Damage to the company’s reputation.
  • The deaths of employees or customers.

Emotions throughout an organization can be intense after a crisis is over, especially if the losses have been substantial.

For the CM team, handling the aftermath of a crisis sometimes includes managing around its emotional impact on the organization.

The following are some things to remember about dealing with loss and emotion after a crisis:

  • Don’t expect everyone at the company to be a superman or superwoman.
  • People respond differently to stress and loss.
  • Be prepared to adjust to everyone’s differing emotional capabilities.
  • In the aftermath of a crisis, people can have a hard time regaining their focus and getting back to work.
  • People might benefit from having time to debrief or destress.
  • Emotional wounds, like physical ones, take time to heal.
  • Even crisis management team members are human and can feel emotionally impacted by what they go through.
  • It can help to make counselors available and make it easy for people to talk to them, if they wish.

Learning from the Experience

Many organizations successfully weather a crisis and then drop the ball by not looking back and drawing lessons from it for the future.

In many fields, it’s routine to look back at significant past events to learn lessons which can be applied in the future. The Army conducts after-action reports, secret agents get debriefed, and football teams review game film.

However, post-crisis reviews are surprisingly rare at other kinds of organizations.

We recommend that companies which experience a crisis conduct a formal review of the incident after the dust settles, looking at such issues as what the CMT did well, where it stumbled, and whether the event uncovered any gaps in the crisis management plan. 

Crisis events, while sometimes traumatic to the organization, also present a golden learning opportunity.

Conducting a Post-Incident Analysis

We specifically recommend organizations conduct what is known as a post-incident analysis, or PIA.

A PIA is the reconstruction of an incident to assess the chain of events which took place, the methods used to control the incident, and how the actions of your organization as well as those of outside entities such as emergency services and third-party vendors contributed to the eventual outcome.

A PIA is not a forum for criticizing anyone’s performance during the incident or second-guessing any actions which were taken.

Benefits of a PIA

Conducting a PIA can bring many benefits to an organization just emerging from a crisis. These include the following:

  • Creating a comprehensive record of the crisis from which the crisis management plan and response can be evaluated.
  • Providing an assessment of the communications carried out during the crisis with internal and external stakeholders.
  • Supplying an assessment of the organization’s safety practices and related procedures.
  • Giving an assessment of the training needs for CMT personnel.
  • Providing an assessment of the team’s working relationships with outside agencies.
  • Allowing an assessment of the team’s plan, command center strategy, and other arrangements.

The PIA Meeting and Report

What should the PIA meeting and report cover? The following areas should be addressed, at a minimum:

  • Date and time of the incident.
  • Location of incident.
  • Type of incident. Include a brief description of the type of event (fire, flood, workplace violence, power failure, etc.) that required the activation of the crisis management plan.
  • Situation upon activation of the plan.
  • The final outcome of the incident. List the extent of damage and impact to business operations. Include personal injuries or casualties if applicable.
  • List the strategies chosen to respond and recover from the crisis. For each strategy, list what the strategy entailed (e.g., close off the building and relocate affected staff) as well as the results of implementing each strategy.
  • List any recommendations for improvement of the CM plan.
  • Operational successes.
  • Stakeholder communication.

Getting the PIA Reviewed and Approved

The final PIA report should be formally reviewed and approved by the appropriate parties to ensure accuracy and comprehensiveness.

Ideally, the PIA should be completed within 14 days of the crisis, while memories are fresh, and the needed records and source materials are readily available.

All participants in the analysis process must be truthful and candid in an effort to determine operational or management areas that must be improved.

It is important to remember that the purpose of the PIA report is not to criticize or discipline any person or to second-guess any action taken during the emergency.

The Silver Lining

By conducting a PIA meeting and writing a PIA report as described above, you can identify what you are doing right and also where your crisis response gaps and vulnerabilities lie.

This information can help you improve your crisis management plan and strengthen your team, increasing the resilience of your organization and better-protecting everyone who depends on it.

Takeaways

  • You will know the crisis is over when everyone is safe, the event is stabilized, the organization’s property is safe, and you’re in a position to execute your business continuity and IT/disaster recovery plans.
  • As the business continuity team swings into action, the people affected by the crisis will each begin to grapple with what happened in their different ways.
  • It’s important to conduct a post-incident analysis (PIA) to identify gaps in your crisis response and make improvements (but not to point fingers).