4 Steps to Conduct an Effective Crisis Simulation


You may have a crisis communications plan — but until a crisis actually occurs, how will you know if your plan is effective? That’s why it’s critical to hold one to two crisis simulations each year. Crisis simulation exercises allow your leaders to prepare for a real-life crisis and get comfortable with the pace and uncertainty inherent in these pressure-filled situations.

If your team has never conducted a crisis simulation before, use the steps below to host an exercise that will help you test your response plan’s effectiveness and pinpoint any gaps in advance of a real crisis.

Step 1: Prepare the Scenario

Prior to the simulation, you will select the type of scenario you want your team to respond to. Pay particular attention to the scenario’s level of difficulty. A challenging simulation will ensure that your crisis communications team learns how to react in a crisis and builds confidence in their response. On the other hand, if the scenario is too hard and the team fails to respond appropriately, the team may experience a decrease in morale and confidence. Ultimately, you should strive to strike a balance between providing valuable lessons without pushing your team past their breaking point.

You will also determine how to conduct the simulation. This can vary from desktop exercises to full-scale simulations that involve mock press conferences, breaking news, and other real-time developments.

Step 2: Stage the Event

To make the crisis simulation as realistic as possible, your scenario should include detailed materials that set the scene, including:

  • A specific hypothetical event that represents a realistic possible crisis
  • An overall narrative and schedule for the simulation that includes a series of escalating segments
  • Additional materials to deploy throughout the scenario, such as mock news stories, social media posts, and escalations that your company must react and respond to

To get the most value out of a crisis simulation, it can be helpful to have a third party plan and implement the scenario. This guarantees that the company is reacting to an unknown issue and all company decision-makers can practice their response in real time.

Step 3: Respond According to Your Plan

As information is revealed, instruct participants to take the situation seriously and interact as they would if the scenario was real and if each decision had real consequences. Ideally, the scenario should be flexible and will evolve based on the decisions your team makes.

The simulation should involve leaders and teams from all affected areas of the company. For instance, instruct the communication and PR team to work from its crisis communication plan and resources, including using templates to create messages, drafting statements and press releases, composing social media updates, advising management, briefing spokespeople and taking calls from journalists.

Step 4: Debrief and Analyze Your Response

After each test run, the crisis communications team and management should analyze the plan’s strengths and weaknesses. Were the right decision-makers involved, or does anyone need to be added to the crisis response team? Does everyone understand their designated roles? Was the company’s speed of response satisfactory? Answering these questions will help you determine if you need to make any adjustments to your plan.

Crisis simulations are an essential element of crisis preparedness. For a comprehensive guide to hosting crisis simulations, download our guide, “Crisis Simulation Playbook: Put Your Crisis Response Plan to the Test.”