The past two decades have sometimes been described as an in both quantity and quality slowly ascending sequence of global crisis situations. The question we are facing is whether we are really prepared to reliably cope with the multiplex challenges of the 21st century as clouds are growing as an effect of COVID-19. The answer is obvious and the overall picture resulting from that deeply concerning. Consequently, a broader approach to the concepts of resilience and holistic crisis preparedness has to be strategic focus for governments, corporates and other organizations.
Authors: Julia Vincke, Kristof Riecke
The global tall resulting from COVID-19 is difficult to imagine. Depending on the respective statistical techniques and the ongoing scientific discussion about the exact death causes, we are facing more than half a million fatalities worldwide. The number of people severely impacted by correlating social and economic consequences followed by the destabilization of whole regions is likely to be much higher. According to recent publications of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), global value creation could shrink at least 9.000 billion US-Dollars in 2020 and 2021.
Time to pause for a while (at least the ones who already can), reflect upon what went wrong and equally what we as security and crisis management community could have done better; the scenario of a global pandemic is anything but a „black swan“ appearing out of nowhere. The relevance, probability and the systemic extent of the scenario has been discussed and documented many times over the past few decades.
The question arises why, in the context of past scenario anticipation, adequate crisis response has been neglected as the COVID-19 pandemic seems to be one of the scenarios the world was least prepared for. One reason for that might be that large-scale global pandemics have long been perceived as hypothetical threat. Compounding the problem is the fact that views of risks are often too one-sided. Had health been understood more broadly, for example also as a security issue, with massive impact on the global security landscape that cannot be estimated yet, crisis preparedness may have been a different story.
COVID-19 has to be seen as a strong warning signal to think about what is about to come next; isn’t it still a quite moderate scenario compared to what might also happen in terms of e.g. CBRN threats, large-scale cyberattacks, civil disorder, climate change, mass unemployment or global financial instability? No one can predict what comes next in a world characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity (VUCA). But what we can already foresee is that COVID-19 has weakened the global immune system. By definition, weakened immune systems are particularly vulnerable, even to minor infections/events. But, the current crisis will not just reveal vulnerabilities but rather chances to improve performance of leaders, be that on governmental, corporate or organizational level. As there is no silver bullet for a rapid recovery of the global immune system, boosting resilience has to be the recipe of choice, focusing on the best-possible resistivity against similar or other crisis scenarios throughout all levels of any kind of organization.
We must grasp the opportunity provided by COVID-19 to learn elemental lessons about resilience, holistic approaches and the complexities involved in constituting and preserving security in a world of hybrid or invisible threats. From the current pandemic we have experienced that in order to manage crises, the role of holistic approaches involving multiple actors from governments to research, corporates, emergency management, law enforcement and citizens need to be considered and orchestrated. Without unified fronts and joint crisis management frameworks, efforts risk to be siloed around certain threats while other threats are given the time to unfold until focus and capacities tardily shift.
We cannot change the new normal but we can try to shape a common path to the next normal and stay ahead of it. What is needed is acceptance of expecting the unexpected or, even worse, the neglected and respective planning of worst case scenarios; the more “apocalyptic” and equally proactive we plan scenarios, the more easily it will be to cope with future occurrences. Ignoring worst case scenarios because of their complex nature and terrifying emergence, strained budgets or lack of personnel resources does not empower proper handling of the respective occurrence. The military principle „train hard, fight easy“ does not come without a reason.
That is why the establishment of post-Corona supra-national, nation state and corporate resilience strategies is of significant importance. While those strategies appear to be mainly on the agenda of leaders, it is highly important to perform a 360 degree consideration and approach the concept of resilience from all angles. Resilience strategies have to be incorporated into each and every organization`s DNA, interweaving hierarchies, viewpoints, topics, ideas, outlooks, projects and strategic orientation; the more resilient single parts of an organization are, the more resilient the whole organization will be. „Resilience by Design“, offering a framework to improve capabilities such as persistence, adaptability and transformability, is indispensably necessary on our way towards the new future. In this regard, possible strategic directions could be:
Extensive lessons learned: launch of post crisis round tables consisting of multidisciplinary teams
Full and blunt evaluation of the depths, extent, velocity and impact of the crisis
Adaption of the crisis management architecture to establish the capacities to cope with future strategic shocks
Preparation for the supposed unexpected through the launch of a plan ahead team
Development of future scenarios and identification of options and actions
Establishment of robust early-warning procedures
Performance of adequate stress testing of contextualized scenarios
Review of the internal risk management approach in terms of robustness
Compilation of relevant financial data according to different scenarios