The Brooke is an international animal welfare charity working to improve the lives of working horses, donkey, mules and the people who depend on them in Africa, Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. They do this with the help of over 900 staff and volunteers.
Beginning in 2013, the Brooke began working with Safer Edge on a Crisis Response Policy and that same year conducted an international crisis exercise with their UK, India and Kenya offices. Over the past four years their operations and activities have grown and developed so they felt it was time to refresh their skills and test their crisis management plan. They approached Safer Edge with the request to develop and run a tailored crisis simulation simultaneously with their UK and Kenya offices.
Safer Edge specialises in crisis simulation and often develops and tailors these for international organisations. Running a simulation, in real time, across multiple continents, time zones and with different cultures is complex but, then again, crises are never simple.
The Brooke’s crisis simulation was run over two days in July 2017 with the team’s first day in both the UK and Kenya spent working with a Safer Edge facilitator to refresh their crisis preparedness learning and reviewing the existing policy and procedures.
The crisis simulation began without warning at a point during those two days. The simulation was created specifically for the Brooke considering what they do, where they work and the people they work with. It simulated a real event – communications (emails, texts, and skype) received were muddled and confused containing often contradictory information. A Safer Edge Simulation Controller guided the simulation remotely developing the story line in response to decisions taken by the Brooke’s staff in both locations.
“Simulations are super effective as you are forced to act and feel like it’s real,” said Sophie Gass, a Prospect Researcher at The Brooke. “Making mistakes or failing to think of things was an important part of the learning, and much more useful than someone just telling you what to do through a presentation.”
Realism was maintained to the greatest degree possible throughout and a level of stress simulated which staff could expect had the crisis been real. Participants were forced to focus on key areas in a crisis such as communication, team dynamics, family liaison and media management.
Not all decisions made in the moment appear to be the ‘right’ ones but the dynamic structure of the simulation allows participants to experience the consequences of their decisions made only with the information they had in hand. Observers watched the teams and took notes to facilitate the team debrief at the conclusion where participants can analyse what, how and why they acted when they did.
Gass continues saying, “This was a hugely beneficial training in less than two days with a lot of learning…We were encouraged to think for ourselves and prompted where we may have overlooked something important. Feedback was given at the end of the simulation in a concise and structured manner and a follow-up of recommendations made to help our specific organisation improve in crisis management preparedness. The experience was very enjoyable overall and I feel a lot more confident to deal with a crisis should it arise.”
Julie Porter, the International Head of HR at the Brooke agreed saying, “As an INGO working across Africa, Asia and Central America, it has been very helpful for us to test our emergency and crisis response in a simulation with one of our African programmes. This is the second time we have done this with one of our Country Programmes and shows how essential it is to really test out our processes and capabilities. The quality of the training and simulation is very high indeed and the learning we have taken considerable.”
The goal of the crisis simulation was to ensure that every member of the Brooke’s Crisis Management Team (CMT) would be able to understand the crisis management process, their role and how their role contributed to a successful resolution. However, the Brooke’s teams found it gave them much more. It helped them identify gaps in knowledge and practice as well as being able to appreciate each other and work together despite being continents apart. It also improved their skills and confidence so that should the worse happen they would be prepared to face it. Samuel, the Brooke’s Administration Officer in Kenya summed it up best saying, “being prepared for a crisis is a painful experience; being unprepared hurts like hell.”