Preventive measures in crisis management - Career Times

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HR Corner Preventive measures in crisis management by Charles Mak The secret to handling potential crises lies in effective training and following clear procedures One of the first duties of any employer is to assess the work-related risks their employees may encounter and to take adequate preventive measures. When the nature of the job is inherently more risky, that obligation is even greater, which explains why the Correctional Services Department (CSD) has adopted a multi-dimensional approach to guard against potential crises. As much as possible is covered in an emergency organisation handbook (EOH). This includes all the important elements, such as recommended modes of response, the mobilisation of resources and manpower in handling different situations, and operational needs for major incidents and emergencies. As Rick Ying, assistant commissioner (human resource) for the CSD explains, "The handbook not only details proper procedures for handling a crisis according to the recognised emergency levels, but also focuses on the follow-up actions and the preventive measures." In managing any crisis, people are the CSD's greatest asset and their top priority. "We continuously equip our officers with the skill-sets and mindset for crisis management," says Mr Ying. To train staff to deal competently and efficiently with any crisis at departmental, institutional or regional level, different types of exercise are periodically conducted. These include controlling a simulated escape from a correctional institution and reacting to a large-scale regional emergency. All of this requires detailed knowledge of conflict management, emergency response and the practical psychology used in dealing with prisoners. Therefore, these topics form an essential part of the 23-week and 26-week training programmes for assistant officer and officer recruits. Additional courses are also arranged to keep other members of staff up-to-date with information and tactics for handling different scenarios. Furthermore, an elite response team is specifically trained to cope with large-scale disturbances or riots and to provide emergency support. Practical policy The department's policies are shaped by the principles of graded response capability and the successive levels it entails: prevention, deterrence and pre-emptive actions; early resolution; containment; and massive intervention and neutralisation. "In our experience of handling large-scale incidents, the prevailing policies have been effective in coping with the challenges of maintaining a stable and secure penal environment," says Mr Ying. "With the current perspective on training, we also expect the orderliness and good control of the penal institutions to continue in future." Discussions and reviews of current measures are maintained through operational and management meetings. After each simulated exercise and surprise check, members of staff and other departments, such as the Hong Kong Police Force and Fire Services Department are invited to evaluate all the existing practices. More importantly, during in-service training sessions and development training courses, participants are encouraged to exchange and contribute their ideas about the policies. Contingency plans Diversified contingency plans are in place for all institutions and staff to react to and overcome potential crises effectively and within a short period of time. Those plans include guidance notes for minor incidents such as conflicts between prisoners, or disobeying orders and regulations. There are also arrangements to deal with hunger strikes, riots, and prisoner escapes, which pose a potential threat to the security and stability of the penal institutions. "The contingency plans have consolidated the expertise of the profession and outside experts and counterparts. That means we are capable of managing crisis and containing the impact to a large extent," notes Mr Ying. "In a congested environment like the penal institutions, though, conflicts between prisoners are a part of daily life." In the past two years, more than 800 cases of a minor nature, such as assaults and fighting, were reported annually. However, with strict surveillance, no major incident, like an escape or disturbance, was reported for the same period. "The use of force is not our primary consideration in managing prisoners. However, we are empowered by law to apply necessary force when prisoners turn violent," adds Mr Ying. New dimension Crisis management as a concept and in practice is also receiving close attention outside the routine operational context of the CSD. For the department as well as other government institutions, any crisis nowadays has to be closely monitored and is likely to have administrative and public relations implications. Mr Ying says, "Timely crisis management is required by many professions. In some situations, damage control measures even have to be applied simultaneously." As he also points out, the essence of an effective crisis management system for any organisation should combine knowledge, training and practice, operating with an effective communication system. "The Correctional Services Department is leading the way in this respect by developing and reviewing training methodologies, as well as the day-to-day management of the department." Salient points Policies, procedures and related issues are reviewed and fine-tuned to keep pace with changes in society Empowered by law, the CSD can apply necessary force when prisoners turn violent Crisis situations may involve administrative and public relations issues Crisis management should combine knowledge, training and practice with an effective system of communication Taken from Career Times 11 March 2005, p. 16 Your comments are welcome at [email protected]
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