StrategicRISK takes a closer look at Deloitte’s new Centre for Excellence for Crisis Management for the South East Asia region

Now that he has had a few months to settle into the role of head of the Australian crisis management business at Deloitte, Graeme Newton (pictured) is turning his attention to one of the global professional services firm’s key projects.

The former head of the Queensland Reconstruction Authority has been charged with establishing and expanding Deloitte’s new Centre for Excellence for Crisis Management for the South East Asia.

This entity forms part of the Deloitte Global Centre for Crisis Management, which is focused on assisting both the public and private sectors prepare, respond and recover from crises.

As Deloitte forensic risk services leader Chris Noble explains, the centre is “not actually a bunch of physical centres”.

“It’s highly governed international network with regular meetings of the committee, [and it] is always monitoring emerging crises,” Noble says.

“The network has a series of protocols that if something happens, where are the best people across the Deloitte network to pull out capability and offer it up to clients.”

Australia, Japan, China and Singapore are the lead countries for Asia, Noble says, but it’s a completely virtual network.

“So if there’s a natural disaster like the tsunami that went through Thailand, Indonesia and South East Asia a few years back, we would immediately engage a set of protocols to basically get the world talking about that, and Graeme would drive that particular initiative for the firm in that region,” he says.

Noble explains that while Deloitte deals with multinational clients for a plethora of crisis events, the actual crisis triggers can be many and varied.

“It could be financial crime, financial disruption or distress, natural disasters or an oil spill, but there is commonality in how you go about responding to the crisis,” he says.

“This is why we’ve put the crisis management centre together, because we’ve learned a lot of lessons across a whole lot of different triggers that actually have applications around crisis management in general.”

First 20 days

Deloitte’s Melbourne-based forensic risk partner Campbell Jackson advises that it’s the decisions and actions made in the first 20 days of a crisis that have benefit downstream.

“When things need to be rectified, quantified, restored and settled, proactive decision making has lasting benefits to stakeholders,” he says.

Newton says that organisations are getting “a bit more clever about readiness”, and often run simulated events.

“We are seeing clients starting to play out how a crisis might affect their business, how would they respond, and in those first 20 days how they’d get on the front foot,” he says.

“For example, we have a client who has already gone though a process of looking at a pandemic relating to water contamination.”

Jackson believes that there are three key considerations that organisations grapple with in terms of immediate response and managing uncertainty.

“Based on our experience working with clients following SARS and the bird flu, the first [consideration] is around what you can actually do in terms of research. There is no vaccine for the Ebola virus, for example, but studies can be undertaken and contingency plans [created] around what practical steps can be taken.

“Second is preparation, and this underpins success in those first 20 days, and core to that in our view is engagement with the community through providing information that is relevant through social media and providing real-time information.

“Third is consideration around response. If it does accelerate to projected levels, what organisations and stakeholders can do to control outbreak, and that obviously all comes down to solid case management, surveillance, safe burials and so on.”

Realistic expectation

With good monitoring and anticipation, the hope is that an organisation won’t end up in a crisis situation, Newton points out, but there also has to be a realistic expectation that something unexpected is bound to happen.

“You have to test people to try them out, and you need to be in a position of communicating effectively with whoever the constituency is that’s affected to make sure that there’s a clear message coming through,” he says.

“How the messages are put out there in those first couple of days can make or break an organisation’s reputation.

“Rapid response is about getting on the front foot and, really, organisations don’t generally have a rapid response force sitting around ready to go.

You can have a business continuity plan on the shelf, Newton says, but unless you test it you can’t be sure that it’s actually going to work.

“People’s personalities change in crisis situations and you want to find that out,” he says.