CS&A International’s Koen Peeters explores the crucial role of logging in the successful management of a crisis situation
Nearly three quarters have passed of what can already be labelled a turbulent year: political scenes have changed dramatically and tensions between some nations are surging, one city after another was shaken by terrorist attacks, draughts caused record-setting wildfires, two horrific fires will haunt London for years and have huge implications on building standards, two worldwide cyber attacks targeted big corporations, hurricane Harvey caused incredible damage, and more hurricanes and floods are wrecking havoc around the world as I write.
Whether or not industries and/or companies have been directly impacted in these events, following gut instinct and on the spot improvisation alone won’t cut it when lives, the environment, assets and carefully built reputations are at stake. Fortunately, most organisations increasingly recognise the need to be prepared particularly in today’s social sharing era. Readiness and resilience plans must include training of crisis teams so they can face the unexpected.
Crisis teams typically consist of a number of core roles, – from crisis leader, to communication lead, to security, to HR, etc. – each with his/her responsibilities. One critical crisis role that is too often overlooked is ‘the logger’, sometimes otherwise known as the scribe. If the crisis leader is the rudder of the team, the crisis logger is its spine, always there to ensure records are kept and that the team remains aligned throughout. Crisis logging is an indispensible crisis role and skill and it needs more than an ability to record fast without typos.
But before we examine the role of the Crisis Logger in more detail, let’s first consider what is a crisis log and why crisis teams need one.
First and foremost, the crisis log is the backbone of the crisis team. In a crisis it is vital to keep a detailed record of the situation, the actions and important decisions that are made by the crisis team. This will allow the team to stay up to date and aligned, especially if the crisis last days, weeks or months. The log is a tool that will also enable crisis team members to be more proactive. Crises will surprise each and every time, and whilst an issue and its potential implications might have been flagged early, it is difficult to know at which point in time the situation might escalate and what impact it might bring. Therefore, logging developments from the onset will give the team a useful overview, help anticipate worsening developments and thus empower them to make the necessary decisions proactively and preventatively.
Secondly, the crisis log is the essential tool for regular and effective team time-outs. To operate effectively during a crisis, team members must follow a ‘divide and conquer’ approach with each one addressing different aspects of the situation and dealing with different stakeholder groups simultaneously. Therefore, the log must be projected for all to see at all times. That way, team members can stay up-to-date on developments at any given time without having to disturb others, especially if they have left the room for a while.
To keep the team aligned and focused, it is necessary for the crisis leader to call regular time-outs, to regroup, solicit everyone’s input and ensure consistency before everyone returns to their tasks. Effective time-outs can only be done with a log.
Thirdly, a crisis log is necessary for team handovers. Not all crises are over in 24 hours, therefore teams need back-ups and an organised duty roster to allow team members to take regular breaks. When crises last, structured hand-overs from one crisis team to its back up are vital for each team member to sustain a continued overview on the situation and its developments. The log is the perfect tool for that and to prevent information from getting lost or misinterpreted.
Fourthly, a crisis log is needed for legal purposes. In the aftermath of today’s crises, litigation is far more the rule than the exception. More often than not, the organisation will be requested to submit all evidence demonstrating actions taken and decisions made throughout the crisis. So having kept a clear record of events and decisions is essential. That said, keeping a detailed and accurate log does not mean that every spoken word must be taken down as it is not a court recording. Rather it is a distilled yet complete chronology of events and corresponding decisions. So the crisis logger must be sensitive and use his/her discretion when logging actions and decisions.
Last but not least, a well-kept crisis log will be invaluable during After Action Reviews (AAR) to identify lessons learned and develop improvement plans.
So who should be the ‘Crisis Logger’?
Regrettably, when teams appoint someone to take notes during a crisis, it is often an untrained office assistant, simply because that person is around or happens to be the only one to master touch-typing. To be selected for the job, a crisis logger must demonstrate the following qualities:
First and foremost, the crisis logger needs to know and understand the business. Many organisations have their own lingua, usually including many abbreviations and acronyms. Depending on the industry and the particular situation at hand, some conversations may be highly technical in nature. Unless the logger is familiar with the business and trained, how can he/she make sense of multiple-level technical exchanges and digest them into a recordable and usable format real-time?
Secondly, the crisis logger must be familiar with the organisation’s crisis policies and procedures and have participated in crisis exercises as a minimum and real crises at best. Knowing what happens in a crisis, the stress, speed and stakes of it all, is critical to being able to capture all relevant information accurately for the benefit of his/her team members.
Thirdly, the crisis logger typically must have sharp attention and quick thinking skills. A logger must apply structure to maintain an overview of all developments and keep track of decisions, actions, their progress and status at a high tempo.
Just imagine being in a noisy meeting room where four different simultaneous discussions on a fairly simple subject are taking place. Extracting the crucial elements might prove difficult, if not impossible. Now imagine this taking place during a crisis with two team members on the phone, three small groups discussing stakeholder impact, an onslaught of commercial, technical and geographic details, actions, decisions etc., all at the same time and potentially in multiple languages. Totally overwhelming unless you have been trained to do it! The crisis logger’s job is an intense one. Therefore ideally, loggers should take regular breaks on average every four hours.
Finally, the crisis logger must have a well thought-through and adequately formatted logging template to work with. A well-designed logging template will facilitate the task. Whilst the crisis logger must retain the ability to log manually on boards and flip charts as a necessary contingency, technology can make this more effective. Crisiscom©, CS&A’s crisis management and communication platform, includes an electronic real-time log that is visible to crisis team members any time, from anywhere, and on any device.
But the best tools and template mean nothing without a skilled crisis logger. Whilst most crisis team members are typically in the front of the crisis and visible to the outside, the logger is the quiet one on the team, but the one that cannot be missed. So it’s high time to give credit and kudos to this critical and intensive crisis role.
Koen Peeters is a Senior Consultant with CS&A International and is particularly involved in crisis exercises, including designing scenarios and developing and controlling simulation drills.