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How to build and train organizational resilience teams

Well-trained resilience and emergency response teams are a key element of maintaining business continuity and recovering your organization when disaster strikes.

Aside from the typical data gathering and analysis that characterizes resilience plan development, it's essential to have the right team to support those efforts. Organizational resilience is key to preparing your business for potential disaster.

An organization may have employees already in positions dealing with emergencies. These can include facilities staff, employees in landlord roles and in-house or contracted building security employees.

In this tip, we'll examine the creation, training and leadership activities associated with teams that deal specifically with resilience-related activities. Among those activities are the following:

  1. Program and plan development
  2. Incident response
  3. Damage assessment
  4. Business continuity (BC)
  5. Technology disaster recovery (DR)
  6. Plan/program exercising
  7. Support during recovery
  8. Relocation coordination
  9. Operational resumption
  10. Post-event analysis and review

For organizations with a large resilience staff, it's possible to set up multiple teams with the above duties. For smaller organizations with one- or two-person departments, a single person may have multiple organizational resilience duties before, during and after an event.

Organizational resilience

Creating the teams

Begin by determining how you are going to respond to an emergency event. This is usually defined in the course of developing a BC and/or DR plan. The plan will identify teams for specific activities, such as incident response and system recovery, and their roles and responsibilities. Next, identify the available people resources. These can be in your department, the overall organization and outside the firm. Work with your human resources department to identify suitable candidates.

Discuss your requirements with the candidates to assess their interest and availability. See if any potential team members have prior experience in emergency activities, as they can be ideal candidates. Look for evidence of an interest in participation, a commitment to protecting the company and its employees, and the willingness to participate in training programs and periodic simulation exercises.

Be mindful of the caveat that someone who does well in exercises and training classes may seem like a great candidate, but that doesn't mean they're ready to take on the role right away. Some people may not be able to perform to that same level in a real emergency. While it's difficult to identify those who have the potential to freeze up in an actual emergency, proper training and periodic exercising can reduce the likelihood of such difficulties occurring down the line.

Preparing the teams

Once you have the candidates identified and approved by their respective management and human resources, you can proceed to the next step of preparing your organizational resilience team for action.

Whenever an exercise concerning BC/DR, incident response, evacuation and other emergency plans is contemplated, be sure to invite emergency and resilience teams to participate.

Successful emergency response and resilience teams are only as successful as the amount of training they receive, the number of exercises they perform, the resources they have available and their overall commitment toward participating in the teams.

Options for organizing and conducting training programs for your team include the following:

  1. Do-it-yourself internally developed training programs
  2. Externally provided training programs from qualified firms
  3. Training provided by the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS)
  4. Training provided by the U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)
  5. Training provided by law enforcement organizations, such as police, fire and emergency management
  6. Training programs developed internally by other firms

Determine the types of training your team will need, evaluate and select candidate training firms, establish a training schedule and coordinate it with team members as well as human resources and company leadership. If possible, invite members of senior management to attend introductory training classes so they will have a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the emergency and resilience teams.

As each training session is completed, prepare a post-session report on the results and lessons learned. Also, make sure team members receive certificates of course completion. If it's possible, consider grooming some of the team members in leadership roles for professional emergency accreditations, such as those offered by FEMA and DHS.

Exercising the teams

Whenever an exercise concerning BC/DR, incident response, evacuation and other emergency plans is contemplated, be sure to invite emergency and resilience teams to participate. They can join in an exercise and serve as facilitators for specific exercise activities.

If possible, invite representatives of local first-responder organizations to participate in organizational resilience training activities. Their expertise and guidance can be invaluable to teams as they develop and expand their skills. Be sure to brief the first responders on the exercise in advance as well as their proposed roles.

Once each exercise has finished, prepare an after-action report, sometimes called a "hot wash," to summarize what worked and what needs improvement. Share the after-action report with teams and seek their comments and suggestions for improvements.

Embedding the teams

An oft-stated desire among resilience professionals is to "embed" resilience activities into an organization. This means, for example, that product/service development, operational activities and other functions have provisions that ensure they can be protected and maintained in an emergency.

Embed team members in resilience activities, not only as emergency team members but also as active participants in planning and development activities. Be sure to invite them to review incident response, BC/DR and other plans during the scheduled review cycle. They can also be invited to participate in awareness and training programs for employees. In short, emergency and resilience teams are vital assets in support of an organization's commitment to operational resilience and survivability.

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