by Laura Jury
New Zealand

Beyond Exercises into Strategic Risk Intelligence

Recently attending national Resilience Forum that had representatives from National & Local Govt, Critical Infrastructure, Corporate and Not-for-Profit entities, I was struck by the recurring themes in catastrophic event planning discussions. We all recognize the severity and complexity of these events, often discussing at length the very important, but already known and agreed:


  • Scale of a catastrophic event, recognizing that it will overwhelm our capability and capacity to respond.
  • Societal elements, disruption, recovery and secondary effects that will have a long, complex and expensive tail.
  • Cost of response and recovery will be in the magnitude of 5-10% of annual GDP every year, over years. The $$$ earmarked for preparedness are nowhere near this amount or sufficient for the needs.


Despite recognizing these challenges, our conversations often hit a roadblock:


  • We lament the loss of or the limited amount of preparedness funding, but don't discuss smarter, strategic, more cost-effective ways of preparing for disasters.
  • We discuss the likely size and scale of potential events but not how that would change the cascading compounding consequences.
  • Listing the Hazards, Disruption Events or Risks that concern us, ie. XYZ would be bad enough but Event:123 that would be 100 times magnitude worse. But, barely scratching the surface of the interconnected nature of the consequence of the risk.
  • Efforts are spun off to investigate and model these risks, but the modelling often stops short of the most frightening scenarios. Diluting the scope of the investigation and reverting back to steering blankly into the problem.
  • We do what we can, acknowledging the key risks that remain uncontrolled, admire the problem, and then kick the can down the road.
  • We are excited to plan and run Exercises to model the response in a fictional staged manner and these exercises are seen as the solution. Instead of the starting point to generate conversation, action and strategy.


Where we need to be:

  • Robust Exercises, that challenge and stress tests assumptions, driving effective leadership. While the current Exercises are beneficial, focusing solely on a controlled activation and resourcing, is at best picking off the low-hanging fruit. The real value lies in the strategic discussions on the second and third days of these exercises, which address sustained response and long-term recovery. I’m glad to see that this extension is a part of the next all Govt agency exercise.
  • Incorporating and planning for complexity, building into the exercise scenario the complexity and long tail of risks that make situational awareness and response challenging. We must get better at embedding lessons learned from these exercises and live events, instead of simply writing a report pointing to proposed action.
  • Build innovative preparedness strategies that factor in the reality that the 'responder' on the day most likely will not be the trained-up career emergency management professional but a volunteer (or worse voluntold person), who turns up and is now in the hot seat. This forces a necessity to develop smarter, more cost-effective strategies for disaster preparedness that go beyond traditional methods. This involves leveraging systems to think strategically, using emerging technology, public-private partnerships, and funding community-based initiatives.
  • Understanding, building, and developing mechanisms to provide strategic risk intelligence to underpin the response to the event that has occurred, regardless of its nature. This involves developing skills in Crisis Management, Intelligence, and Strategic Risk and using them to inform action and decisions.
  • Focusing energy on critical elements that would make a difference in terms of “So What” across multiple risk class, instead of thinking is silos. While researching critical interconnections and dependencies of risks is essential, we must challenge our thinking to ensure that once the research is done, it will lead to changes in our plans.
  • Shifting the paradigm in the language used across these fields. Often, when we discuss “Crisis Management and Strategic Risk,” governance officials hear this in terms of what the Prime Minister or Spokesperson would say publicly, linking directly to the CIMS governance framework. Other people hear “there is no hope- we are responding with best endeavors” inferring that there is no point practicing or planning for these skills.
  • Shifting this Crisis Managment frame of reference to one about leadership, decision-making under pressure and risk intelligence. We need to think differently about what is possible, and create frameworks to enables possibility, in these catastrophic responses.


While Response Exercises are a crucial tool, they are just the beginning. We must move beyond admiring the problem, modelling, and measuring the interdependency between disparate impacts and consequences. Moving towards taking action, develop strategic risk intelligence, understand the critical elements that make a difference, and shift the language we use to facilitate effective communication. By doing so, we can enhance our ability to respond effectively to catastrophic events and build a more resilient future.

So, over to you: What’s your view? Where do we need to move to? If we truly want to build resilience, facing up to the extreme risks we all face in this disrupted VUCA world.