Some incidents and events can be severe in scale and impact and escalate to become a full-fledged crisis. A crisis is not precisely the same as an incident as it is expected to significantly impact port operations.
A crisis management plan will be required and needs to be relatively short and flexible, reflecting the inherent unpredictability of events and address the following issues:
- The people involved: By identifying who, for example, is authorized to determine whether the port is facing a crisis and who has the function of activating the plans. It also needs to include practical information (e.g. contact details and relevant building and IT access requirements). Members of the crisis management team should be familiar with the plans, and gain confidence in carrying out their assigned roles during a crisis.
- Getting started: By setting out what is expected from the designated staff and ensuring that the appropriate level of resources is made available.
- Information management: Information is a critical part of crisis management. The port must carefully consider all potential information requirements in various crisis scenarios, setting out how the port might find the information likely to be needed, obtain the actual information, collate the information into the various briefing documents, and remain aware of how the situation evolves.
- Agreed objectives and means: By deciding on the goals and the options for achieving these and the resources available. Therefore, one of the priorities of a crisis management team is to produce a statement that defines, agrees with and communicates the desired end state that everybody is working to achieve.
- Coordination of action among the entire crisis management team, including senior management, operations and communications. This should be checked regularly, mainly as everyone will be operating under stress.
- Protection of the workforce: By balancing workloads amid the crisis to ensure that the crisis does not affect the health and well-being of port employees.
Validating pre-prepared crisis plans, including through scenarios, is also an important part of building a port’s crisis management capability. A scenario can be chosen to test the level of preparedness and consider reasonably foreseeable worst-case situations.
Scenario planning during a crisis could be envisaged by assigning a few people to consider: (i) what could happen next; (ii) how the situation could deteriorate; and (iii) what would be the worst-case scenario. They should report their conclusions back to the crisis management team. This exercise can be repeated regularly throughout the crisis. The crisis management team should identify and agree on the measures that would reduce the likelihood of a worst-case scenario occurring and agree on contingencies to be prepared should a worst-case scenario materialize.
Responding to a crisis will require ports to focus on:
- Situational awareness through a good understanding of what is going on, including: (i) what are the factual developments; (ii) what are the implications and impacts on the port; and (iii) what may happen in terms of potential worst cases and looking at how the risk it could be mitigated.
- Decision-making regarding what to do about the crisis. Not all relevant information will be available during a crisis or an emergency; the port will be making decisions based on the latest information available. It will need to confirm the facts behind the decision-making and move quickly as "doing nothing" is usually more damaging, especially in terms of the port's reputation and meeting customers' expectations. It will also need to continuously validate the facts even under the pressure of the crisis to mitigate potential mistakes.
- Clear communication with all relevant parties. When the crisis hits, the port should set out its strategic objectives and what it aims to achieve. Communication amid a crisis is crucial for a port's credibility, reputation, and protection of its position in the marketplace.
The strategic objectives set out in earlier communications can be relied upon to guide decision-making and prioritization throughout the crisis. The port will need to indicate where the primary efforts are focused and prioritized in terms of resources. While the strategic objectives are not likely to change during the crisis, the main areas of focus, however, are likely to evolve as the crisis unfolds. It is important at the end of a crisis that feedback is obtained from relevant stakeholders, e.g. customers, staff, government authorities, parties operating in the hinterland to the port and suppliers. From their perspective, the crisis may not be over. It is also critical that lessons identified and learned during the crisis are captured and shared appropriately across the organization.
- Just because a port has a particular perception of the current situation, it does not mean that this is shared by other stakeholders. The port should accept that other stakeholders can challenge its views.
- Across the industry, some common issues arising as part of crisis response include: (i) inaction/freezing rather than dealing with the crisis; (ii) the impact on the port shaping the response, rather than the impact on the port stakeholders/customers; (iii) absence of communication and lack of clear direction; (iv) acting without thinking and getting the priorities wrong; (v) focusing on tactical/operational matters rather than the need to be strategic; (vi) decisions may be being made too late or not at all; and (vii) confusion leading to mistakes and miscommunications,
- Conducting scenario planning amid a crisis has many benefits, including: (i) providing visibility of how a crisis might evolve; (ii) facilitating considered decision-making and planning; (iii) enabling the production of well-conceived communication materials; (iv) enhancing the port's ability to respond to a crisis promptly; and (v) allowing ports to better shape events rather than react to them.
- The following can help create a crisis resistant culture: (i) recognizing that, as with any other organization, ports can be vulnerable in the face of a crisis; (ii) committing to planning, training, and exercising; (iii) encouraging behaviours that reduce risk; (iv) welcoming challenges; (v) empowering staff to deal with frontline issues; (vi) identifying and addressing early crisis indicators; and (vii) learning from incidents and near misses to avoid their escalation.