Defence Company Business Continuity Exercise Case Study

PlanB Consulting recently carried out another one of their large on-site exercises. It was carried out on behalf of a large multinational defence company - who are in the process of certifying to ISO22301. They contacted PlanB Consulting to carry out a large on-site exercise involving their Strategic and Tactical Teams The also wanted PlanB Consulting to carry out an internal audit, a requirement of ISO22301 certification.

 

Due to time limitations it was an intense six weeks of planning ‘Exercise Abraxis’ it was finally completed on the 20th November. In total, there were twenty-four ‘players’ – eleven of these were part of the Strategic Team and the other thirteen were part of the Tactical Team; there were also three ‘Role-players’ and three ‘Exercise Staff’. The purpose of this exercise was to develop the communications between the Strategic and Tactical Teams. This included developing the usage of both the Strategic and the Tactical Incident Management Plans - in order to ensure that the correct people were allotted into the correct position on both teams.


This exercise was a first for PlanB Consulting as they utilised their new social media simulator M.I.T.S for the first time. This proved to be highly successful as it introduced a new dimension to the exercise which the Strategic Team had not practiced before. The social media simulator not only posted tweets, trending statistics and Facebook posts it also produced other media sources such as Breaking News stories and Newspaper headlines in real time. This ensured that the company were able to not only be aware of what possible publicity they may have to deal with, but also the ability to discuss in a controlled environment what procedure was in place to response.

 

Initially, Charlie and Jen travelled to Midlands in order to prepare the Exercise with the defence company’s own national Business Continuity Manager (BCM), who was responsible for getting the UK part of the company to ISO22301. The preparation entailed discussion of the exercise, as well as the roles and responsibilities of each participant. For many this would be the first time that they would be participating in their role within the teams; however there was also a number of highly experienced participants. Therefore there was the challenge of ensuring the correct balance to ensure all team members were fully engaged throughout the exercise.


Exercise Abraxis was carried out between the hours of 13.00-16.00. The exercise commenced with the national BCM introducing PlanB Consulting and specifically Charlie - who briefly touched upon the use of the Plan and the social media simulator. The Strategic and Tactical Teams were then split up into different rooms and the role-players were set-up elsewhere

 

The job of the role-players was to act as external bodies that would call members of the Tactical Team and place them under the sort of pressure that they would be expected to deal with during a real life incident. They also managed internal written communications between the two teams during the exercise as well as the social media simulator – ensuring real time injects were available. An example of the sort of trending topic the teams had to deal with was:


A trending topic of toxic fumes from the fire within their building causing rashes in the local residents ‘’How do we respond to this?’’

This type of media attention ensured the Tactical Team put the Strategic Team under a great deal of pressure as their plans state this media response is the responsibility of the Strategic Team. This also ensured that the Strategic Team were required to solve the problem at short notice, assess whether the information that was trending was accurate and correct or if there was a need to publicly clarify this.

This trending topic was happening simultaneously with incoming calls from official bodies and customers which meant that there was a lot of pressure on both teams, ensuring that effective communications took place between the teams and the wider organisation was required to ensure that there was a consistent message and not sending out conflicting reports. For this to be successful the Team Leader in both teams had to show great leadership skills and make certain that all members were doing their job correctly. This proved to be the case as we found out after the exercise when we conducted the Hot Debrief, and the teams commented on the leadership of both team leaders.

After the exercise was completed, PlanB Consulting conducted a ‘Hot Debrief’ with the Strategic and Tactical Teams separately then a large debrief involving all players, role players and exercise staff with regards to the day’s event. The purpose of Hot Debriefing is to reflect and gain a view on people’s thoughts of the exercise. This was achieved by allowing each person involved in the exercise to state what they thought of the Exercise. 

My overall view of Exercise Abraxis was that it even with the time constraints it was very well prepared and the pilot of the social media simulator was very successful. This was proven by the ‘buy-in’ shown by the team members, specifically the Strategic Team, all members stated their enjoyment and satisfaction after partaking in – for many their first ever exercise. In terms of performance – the response to the incident was excellent and the team members all communicated well with each other and created a number of solutions to the problems posed. This was particularly impressive due to the varying experience within both teams.

 

Therefore in conclusion, I think that Exercise Abraxis was a success and the social simulator will become a regular part of PlanB Consulting’s future exercises. It also showed that the UK part of the defence company is in a strong position with regards to Business Continuity. However, the exercise also showed a few flaws in their plan, which need rectified before they can consider themselves to be fully resilient, however, overall these identified issues where able to be solved and ultimately helped them to gain the Stage 1 ISO22301 certification.


by Jennifer MacKenzie Consultant PlanB Consulting