“How do you get to Carnegie Hall?” the tourist asks in the old joke. “Practice,” replies the New Yorker.

Organizations looking for crisis readiness get there the same way.

Over the last 20 years, a crisis communications manual or plan has become a staple of crisis preparedness for corporations, nonprofits, educational institutions and others. This important document codifies the principles, structures, policies, processes and tools needed to make order out of chaos. But what about the ability of the Crisis Team to implement the plan effectively? Or the organization’s ability to empower and support the team? What if the plan isn’t accessible when the crisis occurs? What if the crisis is completely unexpected or even unprecedented (see 9/11, Zika virus or Fukushima-Daiichi)?

So, it is no surprise that crisis simulations are growing in popularity as a way to battle-test both the team and the plan. By enabling the Crisis Team to practice its response as a group, simulations build confidence and competency while also helping to fine-tune the plan itself. And because crises, even when anticipated, rarely follow a manual’s neatly planned scenario, an experienced team – with the muscle memory gained during simulations – has the agility to adapt to changing circumstances.

An effective crisis simulation needs three elements: Seasoned crisis counselors to facilitate and observe, a true-to-life scenario and a secure environment in which to conduct the exercise. (Nobody wants to be the emergency worker in Hawaii who mistakenly sent out a real missile-attack alert during a crisis drill). A Burson PressurePoint ™ crisis simulation combines all three in a state-of-the-art crisis-readiness approach.

The PressurePoint experience takes place in a password-protected, closed digital “bubble” in which participants deal with the barrage of incoming information and demands typical of a crisis: News stories, social media posts, inquiries from reporters and communications from other internal and external stakeholders. Participants send all responses, statements and other communications through the secure digital portal.

Our simulation team works behind the scenes to portray the journalists, activists, customers, policy-makers and other stakeholders who are communicating with participants online. The result is a truly interactive experience with the flow and content of the simulation incorporating and responding to participants’ input in real time. The crisis counselors can also add real-world elements, such as live phone inquiries or interviews.

The exercise ends with an in-depth group debrief led by the senior crisis counselor who helmed the simulation – and aided by PressurePoint’s digital record of all actions that were taken by the participants. This is followed by a written report with further detail on findings and any recommendations for changes to the crisis plan, structure or processes that will improve the Crisis Team’s ability to perform at its best.

We have created PressurePoint simulations across the globe, each tailored to our clients’ needs in terms of length, content, degree of facilitation and nature and experience level of participants. Their feedback has been universally positive: It’s the ideal approach to prepare organizations to handle crises in today’s time-pressured, ultra-connected communications environment. (And that’s no joke.)

By Karen Doyne, U.S. Crisis Lead.

For more information, visit www.bm.com/pressurepoint or email pressurepoint@bm.com.