Professor Chris Kemp is known worldwide for his work on Emergency and Crisis Management. Edinburgh Napier University sat down with him to ask his opinion on the importance of crisis management in an increasingly unpredictable world.

What is Emergency and Crisis Management?
Emergency Crisis Management comes into play when the normal and expected development of your plans does not take place. It is linked to the reduction in a time-frame, when something that you are not expecting to happen occurs.

For example, if you take a marauding firearms attack, or a lone shoot attack, or a terrorist bomb blast – then that is unexpected, it is one of many ‘unknown unknowns’. You have no idea that it is going to happen. It happens, and you have to put into action some sort of planning framework as quickly as possible, to reduce the impact of what is taking place.
Emergency and crisis management is not necessarily a growing industry, but it has been thrown into sharp focus because of the issues we’ve had over the last ten years with extreme weather at festivals, the likes of the Bataclan shootings, and the increase of terrorist incidents and alerts.

If you go back in time, and you look at something like Heysel, Hillsborough, or Roskilde, or even the Love Parade Festival – then you see the difficulty emergency and crisis management planning faces. Because of the uniqueness and unusual nature of what happened – even if you were to put something in place, it’s often too late.

Four key things you need to think about in emergency and crisis management are:

  1. The Collapse in Time-frame
    The time-frame is getting less and less and that’s what makes it a crisis.
  2. The Value of the Asset
    If the asset is human life that is very, very high value – therefore, it is more important that you save the asset. If it’s a stadium or a building, then the value of that – although in monetary terms is huge – in reality and in life sense, is very low.
  3. What is the probability that the asset will be damaged?
    If it’s a lightning storm for example, the probability of it happening is low – but if it happens it is very damaging. If you’ve got a bomb on site, or a terrorist, then the probability that someone may be injured or killed is high. There may not be that many victims, but it is still high probability there will be injuries or loss of life.
  4. What environment are you in and what’s the context you are working in?
    So in an environment when you’ve got concrete walls, doors, and locks, then in a terrorist attack or lone shooter attack, you have somewhere to hide. You have somewhere to run to and call from. However, if it’s at a festival, where are you going to hide? Where are you going to run? When are you going to tell somebody? And who are you going to tell if the attack only lasts 30 seconds?

The majority of times in a crisis, it’s a surprise. So what happened at Hillsborough was a surprise – they didn’t expect it to happen, and they weren’t ready to deal with it. It would have been their contingency plans that they put in place, not their emergency and crisis management plans.

Usually when you employ your emergency and crisis plan, it can be too late due to the issues that are building up. It is never one single individual thing that causes a crisis. It’s the culmination of five, six, maybe ten things that have started possibly an hour before. Gradually, this has built up – and there have been signs that these things are happening – but people haven’t clocked on, so vigilance is very important, as is identifying what is happening.

How far do you take planning like this? What level of emergency or crisis do you have to be prepared for?

The whole idea behind this is mitigation. You cannot plan for everything, because if you could, you would never have any problems with any of your events. It’s easier to plan for an indoor venue because you know where everything is, you know that it’s all fixed, so it seems like there are less things that can go wrong.

So what you try to do is mitigate risk. You can never get rid of risk completely, but you try to mitigate it with your planning framework. Therefore, the more you plan the better your mitigation will be. The top crowd managers and security people – they’re people who instinctively know by how the crowd’s behaving or by what’s happening, that something is starting to change. They can tell that something is starting to go wrong and they are slightly ahead of the curve by identifying these things.

You have your everyday planning, then you have your secondary planning – then you have your emergency and crisis management planning behind that. Live exercises and simulations are absolutely key in preparing people to do things in a crisis, because if you don’t test your plan, how do you know if it works? These plans have to be dynamic. They’re constantly changing; constantly moving; constantly taking place.

When you look at an event, you spot patterns in the crowd. You’ve seen the wave coming, it’s hit the barrier, people have fallen down – this is a crowd collapse, we know we’ve got to do something to stop it happening again. It’s very much dynamic. Crisis management may happen, but people don’t consider it as crisis management, because it’s something they do all of the time – they just avert something from going completely wrong.

Where do you see the future of Emergency and Crisis Management as a subject area? How do you see it evolving in the industry?

It’s about thinking on your feet. It’s making things happen, and it’s driving the information into people and stopping them from panicking. And it’s all about reducing that collapse in timeframe so it actually expands the time you’ve got to do things on it.

So when you’re looking at this as a subject area, it is growing all of the time. When you think about the military, they have crises all of the time. When they are at war, war is one huge crisis – with small amounts of crises taking place because of battles and other things that are happening. They have battle plans, they have crisis plans, they have management plans – and the way the military work is all about planning and delivering.

It happens in all aspects, and that’s why the course that we’re putting together is really important. It doesn’t just teach people how to look at crises in events, it helps people to look at crises right across the board in all the different areas. If you’ve got a cyber crisis, a military crisis, if you’ve got something on fire, something happening in health care, things can collapse at any moment – even if you’re doing your job correctly. That’s what I think the government are worried about.

If a crisis at an event gets to the point where it involves crime, or if that crisis becomes a public order issue – the police will then take over. It will become command and control in that area until it is sorted. So you always have to remember that you will always have the fall back mechanism in a huge crisis, that the police will step in or the military will step in and they will take over the crisis.

It’s quite interesting because it’s very difficult to put together a table top exercise without the police. On the one hand, some of the scenarios we might suggest could not be practiced for – because the police would take over, but we have to think about what if the police aren’t there, what process needs to happen. It’s no excuse to say on these types of courses ‘well it’s okay, the police will take over from this point onwards’ because you’ve got to know what can happen, what does happen, and how it happens, and the supporting rationale behind what you’re trying to do.

Professor Chris Kemp is known worldwide for his work on crisis and emergency management. He has addressed the House of Commons Select Committee for Olympic Security on the merits of training for the 2012 Olympic Games as well as the Royal Society of Medicine. Chris was employed by the HSE as their crowd expert for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games.

Chris joined Edinburgh Napier as a visiting Professor in 2013 and has delivered joint programmes with the university and Police Scotland in Event Security and Safety to event managers from across Europe. He has also lectured postgraduate students on security and crowd management at events, and worked in partnership with Visit Scotland on areas including counter terrorism. Chris has provided security and crowd management programmes in Dubai and Abu Dhabi as well as delivered a professorial lecture entitled ‘Are We Safe’