On 21 October, employees from various Belnet units took part in a tabletop exercise. For two hours, they formed the Belnet crisis team and had to endure a simulated crisis. Aim: to test and adjust our existing procedures for crisis management and communication in order to be even better prepared in the future.
Earlier this year, the European research and education network GÉANT organised a training course for all national research networks (NRENs) that were interested in holding a crisis exercise in their own organisation. Many NRENs, including Belnet, considered this training course to be an opportunity to thoroughly test their existing crisis plan.
The concept of a tabletop exercise was explained in detail during the training course. This is a specific type of exercise in which participants can test procedures and collaborations without any real impact on the organisation. It is also a good way to identify any gaps or obstacles. A crisis management plan is best tested and adjusted when things are calm.
After the training course, we were ready to work out a tailor-made exercise for Belnet. We focused on our goals and called in colleagues from technical units to draw up the most realistic scenario and roadmap possible. These colleagues formed the ‘response team’ and ensured that the Belnet crisis team received the necessary input during the tabletop exercise. In order to make the scenario even more realistic, we also called on the cooperation of external parties who played a specific role as customers or journalists.
The crisis team was briefed on the context and the participants were given some practical guidelines at the start of the exercise. Then it was time for the real work. The tabletop started with an incident that soon escalated into a crisis requiring a coordinated approach.
Although little or no information about the cause and the exact impact was available at the start of the crisis, there was an urgent need to communicate with our various target groups. For example, the Belnet crisis team had to deal with phone calls from customers, journalists, questions from internal employees, and social media enquiries.
The crisis team managed to set priorities quickly and to work efficiently with the response team throughout the crisis. The members of the crisis team also ensured that the various Belnet stakeholders were reassured and informed on a regular basis, despite the time pressure and the limited information available to them.
Of course, during the exercise, we were also able to identify a number of areas for improvement that we will be working on in the coming weeks and months. By clarifying roles and responsibilities even more and by developing a ‘quick start’ version of our crisis plan, our teams will be even better prepared for crisis situations.