At the 2020 Airmic fastTrack forum the event programme aimed to encourage young risk professionals to embrace the future of the profession, and the association highlighted its capacity to lead by example in its swift adaption of its programme to reflect the circumstances precipitated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. Airmic arranged for the entire conference to be made available online for those who were unable to attend in person, and also created a dedicated seminar on risk managing the coronavirus.
Speaking at this assembly were several experts well-versed in modelling, mitigating or managing such scenarios including Doug Fullam, senior manager of life and health modelling at AIR Worldwide who joined the proceeding via a conference call. Present in person at the event were MD of International SOS Anthony Renshaw, and James Lythe, associate director at Control Risks’ Crisis & Security Consulting Department (Europe and Africa).
In the thick of the coronavirus outbreak, Lythe said, there are two things that are in no short supply – ignorance and uncertainty. Ignorance can be fought using reliable sources of information upon which to base decision-making, he said, while uncertainty or anxiety can be more complex. For anxiety to exist requires two factors – something to be the source of the anxiety and a sense of helplessness in the face of this.
Renshaw noted that a lot of businesses are starting to do a bit more planning in the risk management space and are looking for guidance when it comes to creating and enacting these plans. The coronavirus requires a very traditional risk-based approach, he said, and there are many things that businesses should be considering as they start exploring their corporate response.
“The first [consideration] is information and advice,” he said, “because in any crisis there is a degree of uncertainty. We are advising our clients to look at credible, medically verified sources of information to make your decisions.”
The challenge, Renshaw said, is that despite the increasing amount and quality of information which is becoming available every day, most of this is not business focused and only recently has information which is dedicated specifically to business become available. This means that businesses need to do their own planning, he said.
As somebody whose role it is to train crisis management teams, Lythe said, he knows it is always better to apply team resources in such situations and to find expertise as quickly as possible. The characteristics of a crisis, are always the same, Lythe noted, regardless of the source of the crisis. This means that rather than looking at the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak as something unknowable and unpredictable, he said, businesses should realise that if the characteristics are predictable then the solutions should be as well.
The foundations of any good crisis management system come down to people, environment, asset, reputation and stakeholders, or ‘PEARS’, he said, but the most important thing about this acronym is that it starts with people.
“If you start with your people issues,” he said, “you’re going to be on the right track.”
When an incident strikes, Lythe said, the one thing that businesses do not have in excess is time - but the good news is that businesses can make time before such a crisis occurs. This is where the value of having the right plans and structure in place comes to the fore, he outlined.
“The best organisations, the most advanced organisations are not writing contingency plans,” he said, “they are implementing and reviewing them. They are implementing them so that 80 or 90% of what you need to do during the coronavirus, and not just this virus but maybe the next one that comes along, is done. [They] have good plans and processes in place to which they can then add the 10% or 20% of specialist advice which is required, which is what we get from organisations like International SOS.”
The foundations of what businesses need to have in place are: a good emergency plan, a good crisis plan and a good business continuity plan, Lythe said. He added that if there is any good news to be had from the coronavirus outbreak, it is that it is shining a light on the need for businesses to have these response plans in place and showing the work that is done in the shadows to help organisations during a crisis.
Whether businesses will need to implement these plans during this outbreak is entirely dependent on how this crisis unfolds, he said, but the coronavirus is a disruptive event and there will be others. Having a good plan in place is going to help every business, he said, and highlighted the adage of “in peace prepare for war, in war prepare for peace.”
When businesses are in a crisis, he noted, it is important for them not only to look at how to respond to the unfolding crisis, but also to examine what recovery looks like. If a company wants to be ahead of the situation, he suggested, it can use the contingency and scenario planning it utilised prior to the disruptive event to apply these in a positive way to see what it will look like when they come out of the situation.
“All crises… end,” he said. “That’s a characteristic all crises share - eventually they do all end. Going into it, we know that at some point we are going to need to come out of it. So, what are the positive things that we can look at when recovering the business?”