When preparing for any crisis, good planning processes make for good crisis management plans. Planning for a potential crisis on the Korean Peninsula is no different. Following the best practices of analysis, preparation, and good decision-making can lead to the best possible result regardless of what kind of crisis our organization ends up facing.
This article provides fundamental guidance and assistance for preparing a crisis management plan (CMP) for a conflict on the Korean Peninsula. The different components of it should help you to understand not only what should go into your crisis management plan, but also how to make a better plan and how to execute it better. It is the internalization of the lessons of a potential conflict on the peninsula, and not just the mechanics of the plan, that will ultimately enable you to make better decisions and maximize your opportunities for safety and security in a time of crisis.
Erudite Risk provides consulting on crisis management planning for the Korean Peninsula, crisis plan building, training, and plan stress testing. Erudite maintains a unique approach and body of knowledge relating to North Korea-related crisis management. We have performed crisis management consulting services in this area for more than 15 years, for many of the Fortune 100 from a variety of industries.
If you are interested in
- existing plans review or updating,
- evaluation of organizational plan requirements
- new plan creation,
- training on new or existing plans
- stress testing of new or existing plans
The point of the CMP process is to think not just about where we're going to end up, not just the result, but to think about the path to getting there. The process of planning includes all of the points where we could have made decisions, the decisions we did make, the preparations, signals, noise, false positives, false negatives, etc. Of course, the path we take determines the end result, but it will also determine if there are any options left to us when we get there, or if we're relegated to just being spectators when the situation gets serious.
This document is supposed to help you manage the path. It is supposed to help you get ready to make the most of the time you have during the trip down the tunnel toward conflict.
Our mission in developing any crisis management plan should be multifold. We should
- Anticipate possible threats
- Make decisions regarding what preparations will be necessary
- Make decisions regarding how specific incidents will be handled
- Lay the preparations necessary to deal with the incidents should they come
The crisis management plan then allows us to spend our time during an actual crisis not on determining what should be done, but on determining where we are on the crisis path, reconciling what we see occurring with what we have anticipated may occur, and most importantly, taking effective action. These fundamental principles do not vary by the threat or the scenario. Whether we are talking about an earthquake or a war with North Korea, the elements of the CMP process are the same.
Our goal is to prevent losses from incidents that are predictable and mitigate losses from incidents that aren’t. If the incidents cannot be avoided, we should attempt to mitigate their effects on our organization and our assets, including, of course, our people. Even though an incident may give no early warning (or may give no overt and unambiguous early warning) our goal should be to limit the damage we suffer from taking the best actions we can at each and every stage of the crisis we find ourselves caught up in.
One of our goals in implementing this specific North Korea-related crisis management plan is to turn many of the crisis signals that may otherwise pass unnoticed into clear messages to inform our action. The goal is to lay the groundwork for action so that when those messages are received, and properly understood, we may act with efficacy because we have prepared ahead of time. The act of preparing, itself, through the knowledge imparted by the process, will make us more likely to correctly judge the signals, environment, and events, so that what looks like a completely unforeseen event to many will not be unexpected to us.
Begin at the Beginning: Where do we stand today?
The first part of the plan building process is to understand where the organization is, what the organization is comprised of, how it operates, and therefore, how those things impact the plan. Some of the key questions we need to answer in order to solidify our plan include the following.
- What plans are already in place, if any?
- What facilities do we have in Korea?
- Where are we geographically? Where do our people work?
- What kinds of operations do we do in Korea? How will our normal work role here affect our crisis management decision-making, including decisions to leave and decisions to shutdown?
- What are our key assets?
- What are our key processes?
- What kind of conflict crisis would hurt us most?
- What are our CMP priorities and goals?
- What resources can we marshal in the event of a crisis?
- What are our demographics?
- Who is going to be in charge of the planning process?
- Who is going to be a part of the planning process?
- Who needs to be included in the CM leadership in time of crisis?
Where does our risk come from?
Our risk in the crisis management plan comes primarily from things we cannot control, things we cannot foresee, and threats we improperly evaluate.
The following are normal risk factors we need to concentrate on when planning, broken down between internal risk factors and external risk factors. We can clearly mitigate some of these risk factors more than others, as some of them (the internal ones) are almost completely within our control.
The Internal Drivers of Risk
The Internal Drivers of risk are mostly within our control. Furthermore, we've become very good at managing this kind of risk over the last century for a variety of reasons. Many of the professional managerial tools and metrics we've developed over the years have focused on internal drivers of risk.
Knowledge of the plan
How well the plan is known and internalized is a function of training and practice. If the plan is created and then merely shelved, decision-making and action will suffer.
Have the preparations mandated by the CMP actually been completed? Are those preparations still valid? (Have they been kept up to date?)
Does everything have to work just right in order for the plan to be of any use? Truly robust plans will anticipate failure and plan in alternative paths.
Existence and usefulness of plan assets
Does the plan rely on resources and events that may not end up being available?
Quality of communication between participants
Quality communication means personnel are effective at communicating their needs and concerns during a crisis. Practice and stress testing greatly increases the quality of communications in a crisis.
Willingness of participants to stick to the plan
Confidence in the plan is key to a good outcome. Participants are more willing to stick to a plan they have confidence in. CMP managers can increase confidence in the plan through training and stress testing.
Quality of decision-making
Just as with communication and confidence, decision-making skills increase with training, practice, and stress testing.
CMP leadership needs the ability to ascertain what scenario is being witnessed and where that scenario is likely to lead. This ability is increased through training, practice, and stress testing. Analysis practice may be done on a regular basis by studying the media, announcements of local and relevant foreign governments, military-related actions by all parties, etc. The more CMP leadership learns about the characteristics of the different media sources, the tendencies of government announcements, defense policies, and current defense posture, the better they will get at correctly evaluating plan triggers.
The External Drivers of Risk
External drivers of risk are mostly out of our control. That said, we can take them into account when we determine what preparations we should engage in so that we can mitigate their impact on the effectiveness of our responses.
Ability to communicate
We should prepare backup communications channels to keep communications up as long as possible. Satellite phones and satellite-based Internet connections are an example of tools that make our communications more robust.
Ability to move
CM plans should not assume that we have the ability to move about as much as we may wish. Plans should include options where movement is possible and where it is not.
Access to assets and resources
Assets and resources the plan relies on may not be available for whatever reason.
Locus and proximity of the crisis
Geographic scope of the crisis
The geography of the early stages of the conflict will determine several important issues, such as how stretched out the allied response is, how stretched out police and emergency services are, and the potential to be directly affected by the violence.
Severity of impact on operations
Criticality of impacted operations to business continuity, safety, and recovery
Severity and criticality can be compared to how deep a knife wound is (severity) and where the knife wound is (criticality). The various ways these can be combined determines how deeply the organization’s operational abilities are directly affected.
Speed at which crisis comes, moves, expands, and worsens
The rapidity of the onset of the crisis is the key criteria we are using to separate the different scenarios from each other. Rapidly approaching crises leave us less time for preparation, deliberation, and action.
Impact of decisions made by third parties (authorities, building tenants, related entities like schools)
Other entities have their own plans or lack of plans and their actions will ultimately impact how effectively the organization can carry out its own plan.
Quality and timeliness of information
Despite the best intentions concerning monitoring of news sources, government announcements, etc. information may ultimately not be forthcoming. It may not be timely or it may simply be wrong.
Making Good Decisions
Crisis Managers and CMP leadership will be required to make a variety of decisions. Decisions about creating the plan, itself, decisions about what preparations to make and what to leave off, and when a crisis comes, decisions about actions and responses. It is easy to see how good decisions are at the heart of the crisis management process, because it is through good decisions that effective plans are made and executed and through bad decisions that even good plans can be undone. All good decisions in both planning and in the crisis time period, itself, share some of the same characteristics, including the following.
- Increase redundancy
- Decrease reliance on efficient linkages
- Increase robustness of the plan
- Convey confidence to participants, increasing participants likelihood of compliance
Increasing Robustness of the Plan
How to make your plan more robust
- If the office building is the first safe house, can there be more?
- Build redundancy into our emergency supplies
- Build redundancy into our transportation methods
- Build redundancy into our communications methods
- Build redundancy into our data storage
Minimize reliance on command and control
- Train so that in the absence of guidance, good decisions will be made
- Train so that people can be teams of one, and take responsibility for themselves
- Minimize the need to move
- Organize resources so that distances are less
Maximize access to assets and resources
- Identify criticality of each part of operation, stage the plan by criticality
- Work the concepts of severity and criticality into the triggers system to understand not only how triggers affect whether a war will happen but how they affect the robustness of the plan
- Work to immunize the organization and your plan against the poor decisions of third parties
Erudite Risk offers risk management and security-related professional services for multinational companies operating in the Asia-Pacific region. With operations in India, Korea, and Singapore, Erudite Risk is ready to help you meet the challenges of Asia, the most dynamic and challenging business environment in the world.
Rodney J. Johnson is President of Erudite Risk. He has lived in Asia for most of his adult life, but still longs for good Mexican food.