“You just can’t afford to make any mistakes here”

Uncertainty, pressing questions, emotions – when dealing with affected persons and relatives empathy, seamless communication and reliable information are what is needed.

Something bad has happened and someone you care about may be involved. Everyone has pretty much the same reaction: I need to know exactly what happened right now and get the facts about the current situation. If a company is in any way responsible for where this incident has occurred, then every single second counts when it comes to crisis management. Three things are really important: speed, reliable information and empathetic skilled communications.

The three pillars of Persons-of-Concern management and how to build a robust crisis response based on those

Accidents can quickly have a serious impact on people in any industry. From real use cases working for an international energy company for over 23 years combined, both Marianne Brokjøb, Senior Analyst Emergency Preparedness Crisis Management, and Geir Helge Johnsen, Leading Engineer Emergency Response for the Continental Shelf, have made a lot of experience with Person of Concern Management. From helicopter crashes to hostage situations, the crisis management team has to deal with up to 20 smaller and larger incidents per year on the continental shelf alone. To track evacuees, communicate with relatives and keep track of the ongoing situation, the team uses an F24 solution.

Marianne Brokjøb
Geir Helge Johnsen

Pillar 1: Up-to-the-minute data and fast, active communications with affected groups of people

Nowadays, videos, pictures and eyewitness reports of incidents can spread in a matter of seconds via the internet.  This means that for the companies involved, it is essential that there is a specific contact person for People of Concern who is available immediately. Incoming enquiries must be taken up quickly and at the same time relatives and those close to them should be informed as actively as possible, ideally with the help of a well-organised call centre. An important prerequisite for this is up-to-date employee data and their emergency contacts. A helpful additional measure is to train employees to report back to the company and their relatives in the event of a crisis.

What experience has taught us:

After a helicopter crash in 1997, the team of Marianne and Geir Helge received over 700 calls within the first two hours. That was the moment when it became clear that the system was totally ineffective without robust processes and effective technical support. “Efficiency is absolutely critical,” emphasises Geir Helge Johnsen. “Those affected need a point of contact – and they need it now.” Today, Geir Helge tells us, they operate their own call centre, staffed by a small team of permanent employees from the crisis management team. If necessary, the team is expanded by additional specially trained staff. “Since we automatically transfer all current staff data from our SAP system to the crisis management system every morning, with a single click we can see who is working in the crisis area and the relatives we would need to inform if there is an incident. In addition, we have the personnel on board data easily and readily available through interfaces to the POB systems.”

Pillar 2: Reliable, verified, real-time information for the whole crisis team  

The escalating news coverage around an incident also paves the way for rumours and misinformation, the result of which is generally to contribute even more to the uncertainty of indirectly affected groups of people.  This generates the difficult but indispensable task of only passing on verified and confirmed information, consistently and always in the same methodical way. Consistency of information across all the external communications staff involved is absolutely crucial.  This is especially so for repeated enquiries from affected groups of people. The F24 solution solves this problem in a simple straightforward way since everyone who makes or receives a call always sees everything they need at a glance on the one system.  This includes all the contact data, call histories and currently confirmed information, company statements and press releases. After all, it is just as important to know what the media are reporting as it is to be able to access information from the communications department at any time.

What experience has taught us:

“If the media has better information than you do, you have lost,” explained Marianne Brokjøb.  That is why all their units and branches are connected into the crisis management system. Any available information is entered directly into the system and is therefore immediately available to everyone. “No matter where something is happening, we always have a direct real-time wire to what is happening at any location and make the information available to everyone via the system,” added Marianne Brokjøb. The rule is: even if it can be frustrating for information seekers and call centre staff, only correct information that has been checked and verified is passed on. “It is an absolute prerequisite that our calling partners can rely on our information. If we don’t have information, it’s because we don’t have a confirmation of the status. Imagine telling a relative that the person is fine and later on it turns out that they are life-threateningly injured. You just can’t afford to make any mistakes here,” she emphasises.

Pillar 3: a technically and psychologically well-trained response team

Even professional crisis managers can reach their mental and psychological limits during incidents where people are in severe danger. Discussions with those directly affected are also highly demanding and require a special presence of mind. Thank goodness these are exceptional situations. But for heart and mind to be properly focused on those affected in the event of a crisis, it is essential for these specialists to take part in training and role play scenarios on a regular basis. In addition, the national legislations applicable to these sensitive situations should be taken into account. In some countries, informing relatives is by law a police responsibility.

What experience has taught us:

About every six weeks when a new team is about to go on-call, they take part in a 2 ½ hour refresher course on the management of Persons of Concern. Staff who are part of the extended on-call team do this training at least once a quarter. “You just can’t work in a properly focused way if your first thought is `Oh no, I haven’t done this for months’,” said Marianne Brokjøb. And it isn’t just the frontline staff because every senior manager also takes part in this training twice a year. “Even though the F24 solution is very user-friendly, you still need regular practice. The motto we go by is ‘train hard, fight easy’.”

Another big advantage of the F24 solution is the flexible connecting up of organisational units. “This is a great help for our small teams. If they are affected by a crisis, we can integrate them into the system immediately. In this way, even small teams can have all the information in real time and the entire crisis organisation has their back,” confirms Geir Helge Johnsen.

Digitised processes: giving people centre stage

One thing is clear for Marianne Brokjøb: “We just can’t do without digitalised processes. We can only be there for affected people quickly and give them the support and human attention they need in a difficult situation because we have meticulously mapped our processes on the F24 platform and seamlessly integrated our information systems and locations into it.“

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