Reflections from a former Major Incident convenor in times of COVID-19

Over the last 5 years, I worked closely with colleagues in my University to maintain business continuity during times of incidents (minor, and major). We dealt with fires in buildings, snow closures, deaths under tragic circumstances, earthquakes and terrorist incidents. Sometimes I chaired the silver group, sometimes the gold… Some incidents lasted a few days, some we carried with us for 3 months.

I now have time to reflect on those experiences looking in on the COVID-19 implications from the outside. I am self-employed, work a great deal from home and over the past 18 months have gotten attuned to a different pace of working.

I share with you three things I found challenging in terms of managing an incident:

1.    It is important to be aware of the need to balance levels of energy and pace in dealing with an incident. The rush of adrenaline at the start means you can act fast and move mountains. But this approach can only carry you through for so long. Recognising when the immediate emergency has passed and when you need to switch gear, slow down and take stock is important during incidents which carry on over a longer period. Questions I would ask myself: can we change the frequency of the meetings? do we now need to involve different people as we start managing the medium -term consequences? do we need a different way to communicate with people affected? how do we remain open for feedback so we can adjust our plans? how do we allow ourselves to slow down and take stock? At this point I always found it helpful to reflect on our immediate response: what did we do well? what can we do differently next time? do we need to make adjustments for the next phase of work?

2.    It is important to acknowledge that as we deal with incidents in a professional role, we remain human and can -and often will be – affected by the incident. Making sure the immediate incident response team is reflective and appropriately supported is crucial. Not only from a kind, human perspective, but also because emotional responses and levels of stress can affect the quality of thinking, judgment and problem-solving. This at times calls for an outside intervention as the emotional impact is not always obvious to the person dealing with the incident. Questions I would ask of me and the team: how are we all feeling? do any of us need support? do we have trusted colleagues who we can start bringing in as part of the team so we can take a break? Having to deal with a number of incidents meant I got to know my fellow incident response colleagues really well and we got comfortable showing our vulnerability to each other.

3.    It is important to acknowledge the lasting impact incidents can have. We need to give people time to recover and re-energise after an incident. We need to recognise that in some instances people will have been traumatised and will need support from professionals. We also need to recognise that incidents can lead to stronger bonds of trust, a more psychologically safe workplace and a change in perspective which can be extremely powerful foundations for change. Questions I would ask of myself are: do we need to think about additional capacity in the weeks and months immediately following the incident? Who has been most affected by these incidents and how do we support them? How can we harness the energy and positivity for our future working together?

My thoughts go out to everyone who is involved in responding to this incident. Contact me if a conversation with me might be helpful.