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Drone attacks highlight why it pays to invest in crisis planning, training and exercising

January 9, 2019 by Sophie Hunt

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Last night, Heathrow Airport was temporarily bought to a standstill after a drone sighting. Newsworthy in its own right, the story has gained additional traction because it follows hot on the heels of the drone attack at Gatwick Airport in the run up to Christmas.

Over the course of three days, starting on the evening of 19 December, the crisis management skills of the UK’s second largest airport were tested to the limit after alleged drone sightings resulted in hundreds of flights being grounded. Thousands of passengers were left facing the prospect of Christmas in an airport departure lounge and the story made headlines across the world.

So what lessons can we learn from this Yuletide crisis and yesterday’s incident at Heathrow?


1. Ensure you have adequate resource to manage the crisis communications response

In today’s 24-hour media society, companies need to recognise that a breaking issue can become global news within seconds.

Both Heathrow and Gatwick were quick to mobilise their media response and in Gatwick’s case, the press team continued to issue regular updates, producing a total of 12 media statements between 20-24 December. Statements contained consistent messaging, demonstrated appropriate levels of empathy and provided guidance to affected stakeholders.

If your organisation was faced with a challenging issue, would you have adequate communications resource in place to manage the media circus that goes alongside a major crisis? Consider how you would staff your press office and think about how you could enable your media team to respond faster, for example pre-agreeing approval processes and drafting template statements. However, always ensure that speed is not at the expense of accuracy.


2. Think the unthinkable

Four weeks ago, the idea of two major international airports being brought to a standstill by a drone attack might have seemed fanciful. No longer.

Recent events at Gatwick and Heathrow should encourage every organisation to review and refresh its risk register. Equally, time should be spent thinking about how to manage the impact of crises - for example an inability to operate, regardless of cause.

No one can predict every possible risk or threat, but by being vigilant when it comes to risk assessments and scenario planning you will put your organisation in a far stronger position.

 

3. Plan ahead

If you work in a sector where reputations can be created or destroyed in minutes by customer experiences, it is essential to have the necessary crisis handling skills in place to respond appropriately if things go wrong.

The incidents at Gatwick and Heathrow required management to take swift action, working closely with partner organisations including the emergency services to manage customer expectations and keep stakeholders informed. In both cases, their speed of response indicates a level of pre-planning and prior rehearsal.

A crisis is not the time to test how your team will react under pressure or to agree how you’ll work with critical partners or third parties like the emergency services. Instead, plan ahead by identifying and establishing relationships with the organisations you’d need to call on in a major incident. Get to know specific contacts within them, such as the relevant police press officer and document their details in your crisis management plan.

Additionally, if you think your organisation has the potential to be involved in a crisis that might require a multi-agency response, where possible, involve those agencies in desktop exercises and crisis simulations you run to ensure you understand each other’s needs.


Experience shows that the organisations who perform best in a crisis are those who have invested time in crisis planning, training and exercising. So, as we start 2019, my advice is to make assessing your crisis management capability one of your top New Year’s resolutions. You’ll not be sorry.

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Sophie Hunt

Consultant

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