Double-barrelled crisis scenario for Telecom

  • May 29, 2014
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Telecom is one of those companies that know how to deal with a crisis; they’re experienced in dealing with network issues, outages and they’ve operated through several earthquakes.

But even a company as seasoned as this one sees the value in putting in place exercises for the Crisis Management Team to make sure they get it right.

The challenge for Kestrel: how to put Telecom through its paces, in a short time frame, yet stretch them with a crisis situation different from the norm.

The solution: concoct a double-barrelled scenario to test the team on two fronts.

Karen Stephens says when Kestrel develop up scenarios they are always looking at real-life crises. “A hot topic at the moment is privacy breaches from large organisations. We decided to run with that and then throw in an operational incident as well for good measure.”

Andrew Pirie, Telecom General Manager Corporate Relations, says the exercise was a long time coming. Telecom had tried engaging Kestrel several times only to be postponed when real crises hit.

“We’ve had quite a long journey with Kestrel. We do usually try and have regular exercises across the whole company because we need to be prepared. But in recent years, it seems that every time we have scheduled an exercise, a real life issue has occurred around the same time – for instance we had one planned for February 2011 and then the Canterbury earthquakes hit,” says Andrew.

“As a result of having to deal with real crises and people getting experience through those, we hadn’t had a formal exercise for several years.”

Andrew says they wanted to ensure everyone was familiar with the crisis plans. “We wanted to make sure our senior people across the business understood their respective roles in a crisis. This is important because in a crisis the management structure changes.

“Our Chief Technology Officer is in charge of the Crisis Management Team during a crisis and the CEO is freed up to take an oversight role – this is obviously a different management structure than day-to-day.

”He says that although a couple of Telecom people worked on the exercise with Kestrel, none of the Crisis Management Team had any details about what was going to happen on the day, “this made it all the more real for us”.

“To start the exercise off we were told there had been a privacy breach. For the first hour of the exercise we didn’t really know the extent of the breach and we weren’t sure how it had occurred, and that was really quite realistic.

“Then we were told we had another, unrelated, issue to deal with, with damage to an international cable affecting customer connectivity. So we quickly made the decision to run two separate crisis management teams.

”Andrew says the exercise response validated the effectiveness of the current crisis plan. “For us it really was more a case of getting key people familiar again with elements of the plan. You always have people come and go in an organisation and that’s why these refreshers are so important.

”The exercise also identified some short comings, says Andrew.

“For example, we need to make sure we’ve got the right interface between the Crisis Management Team and the Communications function. Coming out of this exercise we have realized that in a real crisis, if at all possible, we need to physically locate our comms team as close as possible to the CMT.”

Andrew says Kestrel was very professional and realistic to work with. “Kestrel was very pragmatic, they understood the challenges from our business’ point of view. We couldn’t put aside a full day for an exercise and they were flexible enough to develop something that was still effective but much more self-contained and more doable within our constraints.

“Kestrel advised us to focus in on our senior level and that’s what we did, and we got a lot out of it.”