Logging in a Digital Age

Posted on 5 September

In today's bulletin, I discuss how logging incidents has changed in the shift to remote working and online meetings.

“If it wasn’t written down, it didn’t happen" - Michael Mansfield QC

At BC Training and PlanB Consulting, we have done a lot of Loggist Training, both before and after COVID-19. A couple of days ago I was talking to a client and we were discussing delivering further logging courses, as some of her administration staff were not trained in how to log. During the conversation, we were also talking about how all incident team meetings in her organisations were now on Zoom. This got me thinking about how our logging course should be adapted to take into account the change to incident meetings now mostly taking place online rather than physically in an incident room. In this bulletin, I am going to look at the different aspects of the loggist roles and how they have changed in the shift to online meetings.

When we train administration staff, we train them in a number of different aspects of logging:

  1. Logging incoming telephone calls
  2. Logging incident team meetings
  3. Logging decisions
  4. Providing logging support for a senior manager
  5. Information management and incident boards
  6. Preserving information after an incident

Logging is as important as ever

In the move to the digital age, logging and preserving of information and why an event happened has never been more important. After COVID-19 there will be government enquiries into the decisions made and actions taken. Did those who made the decision at the time, remember why they took that approach and based on what evidence? The action taken, guidance provided, U-turns and the impact of the decisions made, will all be reviewed in great detail. Decisions made by the government during COVID-19 has had a major impact, they have affected the livelihood of millions of people and decisions made have led to people dying from the virus.

I noticed on the Scottish news that a fatal accident inquiry was being conducted for a helicopter crash which took place in Shetland in 2013. Unless those who managed the response took copious notes and logged all events, they have little chance of remembering events which took place seven years ago. I think Figure 1 sums this up very well - logging information is as important as ever, even with our move to digital.

Figure 1 - The Importance of Logging

Logging telephone calls

One of the roles which I think is reduced is the logging of telephone calls. I have noticed that my teenage children rarely talk to their friends on a one-to-one telephone call. They will message and then video call them, but a telephone call is much less used. I also find that in business I am less likely to get straight on the work phone or someone’s mobile and ring them without making an appointment first and agreeing the time of the call. Information on the whole is much better relayed in text, as it is much easier not to lose or mishear information and that information can be passed on as the original text, without the danger of Chinese whispers. On the other hand, when an incident occurs at a location, often the information is witnessed by a person whose only means of communication is a mobile phone. They may send videos or pictures of the incident, but due to the difficulty of typing on a phone they are most likely to make reports from the site by a telephone call. The call must be accurately recorded by someone who has been loggist trained.

Logging incident meetings, decisions and information management

During Loggist Training we have a debate about the pros and cons of recording incident team meetings on a voice recorder or even videoing the meeting. Some organisations like this as a way of accurately recording what was said in a meeting, while others don’t. With Teams or Zoom meetings this can be done at the click of a button. Even if the meeting is recorded, this does not take away the role of the administration person. They should be in the meeting recording the actions points, circulating them to incident team members and then checking that they have been done.

The administration person should also be recording key decisions as the examination of decisions made by the team may form a key part of any enquiry. Many decisions at the end of an incident may be shown to be wrong after the event but made sense with the evidence available to the team at the time, this is known as hindsight bias. The term is used in psychology ‘to explain the tendency of people to overestimate their ability to have predicted an outcome that could not possibly have been predicted’. The recording of why decisions were made, on what evidence and whether there was consensus on the decision within the team, are all key information to record.

Information management is also a key role of the loggist. In incident rooms, they would record information on flipcharts and display them round the room. In virtual incident rooms this is not possible but key logs and information can be recorded in documents and then made available to all members of the incident team.

Logging for a senior manager

Some very senior managers may be very mobile during an incident. They may have to carry out media interviews, have meetings with key stakeholders, visit the site of the incident and those responding, at the same time as keeping in touch with those managing the incident. Logging some of the face-to-face conversations and telephone calls may be critically important in any enquiry after an incident. As part of our loggist training we make the logger aware of these roles and train them in the skills needed to carry them out.

Preservation of evidence

What I think is a difficult role, which has been made more difficult in the digital age, is the sheer amount of data created during an incident and the many different platforms it is created on. For many organisations WhatsApp is a key means of communication and people have multiple different groups which they use to keep each other informed on what is happening during an incident. This information needs to be captured and preserved so that it can provide key evidence after an incident. The important role of the business continuity manager, working with their loggists and IT department is to capture all the information associated with the incident, and to make sure that it is not deleted or lost.

In conclusion, although the move to online incident management is fairly universal, I don’t actually think it has fundamentally changed the role of the loggist. Information still has to be collated, recorded and shared, and it requires a trained person to carry out this role.