Five Steps for Starting a Crisis Committee

by KFC on April 24, 2012

This is a guest post from Austin Matthews, Undersecretary-General at UNA-USA’s GCIMUN and staffer at Texan conferences such as GC Houston, CTMUN, and HAMUN. The introduction is by Kevin Felix Chan. 

Model UN conferences have become much more crisis-oriented

Best Delegate has been focusing on liveblogging during the peak of the season, but we do want to get back to our roots of sharing our Model UN knowledge. We’re always looking to provide topics that participants want to learn about, and fellow UNA-USA Global Classrooms staffer Austin Matthews reached out to us suggesting that we start a series focusing on crisis committees. With Austin’s extensive experience staffing and participating in crisis committees and with his background on the teaching side of Model UN — you may have noticed that many of our contributors share the same background as Ryan and I do as we typically competed as delegates on the college circuit but gained an educational perspective staffing Global Classrooms — we decided to have him write the first article.

Enter Austin:

I’ve been doing exclusively crisis committees since pretty much my junior year in high school, and have seen literally every angle of planning and participating in them.  I think it’s a booming trend in both high school and collegiate Model UN, with many conferences switching completely to this format. Crisis is the new “sexy” side of the MUN experience, and yet there is so little written in a operational/analytical format about it.  I believe my experience in the circuit could shed some light on new and interesting ways that all types of crisis staff could benefit from and generate discussion on. With that said, here are five steps for starting a crisis committee!

1. Decide whether you want to do a solo room or a joint crisis.

Single crisis rooms are the easiest to formulate and operate.  They have a set number of characters to keep tabs on.  The delegates can easily communicate verbally or through note passing without a third party runner.  In a solo room, Crisis Directors will find that it is easier to control the pace at which pre-determined updates are released, and how quickly past topics the room is moving.  Coordination of your staff is also streamlined into an easy back-and-forth direction between the crisis headquarters and the committee room.

Joint crisis rooms, unfortunately, are a logistical nightmare for the inexperienced.  Should your conference choose to take one on, I would highly recommend that you pick someone with several years of experience.  It also requires a greater amount of registered delegates and staff in order to accommodate the requisites of such an endeavor.  It is considerably more difficult to orchestrate two competing rooms when they are both populated by unique players and motives that you must fit into a single, coinciding story line.  Speaking of story lines, joint crisis rooms are also more challenging to think of, due to the necessary relationship between the two committees.  A joint crisis should be two different political groups involved in the same conflict, who have diplomatic relations, but also face the potential for a total meltdown (think East/West relations, a la Cold War).  Your staffers should also be structured in a certain way, so as to keep tabs on both rooms and ensure that delegates are quickly able to exercise their portfolios.  This will mean having your overall crisis staff split into two groups, essentially acting in equal roles for each room, with you and perhaps a few assistants coordinating on the macro level.

2. Find a topic, research it, and become an expert.

I cannot properly convey to you how important an immense amount of research is for your job.  The easiest way to lose your mind when acting as a crisis director is to have delegates initiate a move or call upon something important that you have no idea about.  You scramble for information, rush through communiqués, and potentially churn out a product that ruins a game-changing power play.  Thus,you have to be a master of the subject matter.

Personal experience in academia is a fantastic way to start thinking about potential ideas.  Keep in mind things you’ve researched or written papers about.  Successful crisis directors often propose topics that they have a personal interest in and have dedicated some thought to in the past.  I often find myself proposing Russian themed crisis rooms because that is what I’ve studied in college.  Also think of things you may have seen in the news or media that peaked your interest.  My home conference, CTMUN, allowed me to do a joint crisis between the Vatican and the Knights Templar this past year.  I got the idea from watching The Borgias on Showtime.

Another good way to begin researching a potential topic is (oh no, don’t say it) Wikipedia.  My personal favorite website gets dogged a lot for having questionable works cited, but I can’t express how amazing it is for simply browsing and getting general ideas.  Looking up the Wikipedia entry for “conflict” or “war” is how I’ve discovered most of my crisis topics.  Once you’ve gotten a topic in mind, now comes the difficult part.  You’re going to have to read actual books and scholarly articles on your proposal.  It is through these in depth citation-laden texts that you will truly become an academic on the subject matter.  You’ll learn the ins and outs of your crisis.  I know it’s cliché, but books and professional publications will help you understand who, what, when, where, why and how.  Having a deeper understanding of the material will allow you to make sudden decisions on conference day that you would have never before considered.  Draw on your knowledge and let it enhance the experience.

3. Pick an idea that will pass inspection.

When choosing crisis topics, keep in mind topics that may be frowned upon by school administrators if you’re involved in a high school conference.  Running a crisis meeting between fascists, terrorists, or other such groups may create trouble for your OSG when it comes to the faculty meeting, and is more likely to get rejected.  It’ll probably be educational if you do it correctly, but it’s usually more trouble than it’s worth.  Sometimes you’ll even be held personally responsible for whatever goes on in the simulation if it gets too edgy.  College conferences generally have a bit more leeway, since undergrads are likely to understand and appreciate the educational component of simulating such groups.  When leading a high school simulation, generally try to stay away from any organizations that are specifically known for war crimes or other international criminal acts.  Don’t ask me why, but Soviet rooms are usually permitted.

4. Brainstorm your crisis updates and possible delegate actions long before opening ceremonies.

Based off your knowledge of the topic, think of how you could incorporate other global events that happened in the same time-frame.  What major happenings around the time of your committee occurred that could be connected?  Say for example you have a NATO room in 1980; maybe you let the Bavarian communist revolution happen and see how they handle an uprising in the middle of occupied Germany.  It’s just another way to throw a wrench into the delegates’ plans.  This makes for more amusing directives and updates.

Also, one tool I’ve found extremely useful in crisis update planning is to create a giant flow chart of how the events could unfold.  Basically what leads to what, and how many ways could the delegates respond.  You should know every possible way the rooms will respond to a crisis update before they even react.  It’s all about foresight and planning.  Draw on your experiences as a crisis delegate, if you’ve been one before.  Think about how you personally would respond to the major events that you’re planning.  Laying out all possible delegate reactions will help you be prepared for the expected and unexpected.  Nothing sends a crisis staff into panic mode like an unexpected directive.  At least attempt to prepare and maybe have alternate plans to draw upon.

5. Prepare your pitch to the Office of the Secretary General (OSG)

Before you’re called in to defend what you want your crisis to be, prepare a presentation or speech for your OSG about why you chose this topic.  Don’t give them a lecture on the history of the topic, but at least provide for them a general historical overview.  Put passion for the material into your talk.  Show them how excited you are for this opportunity; they are likely to share your enthusiasm because you’re 100% behind the idea.  Also prepare for them potential crisis updates that you’d like to incorporate.  Major updates are the meat of crisis rooms, so guide them through a few you’d like to throw at the delegates.  Make it interesting, but save the wacky updates for conference.  Lastly, explain to your OSG why this topic will not only be interesting and totally awesome, but also educational.  The senior staff of every conference wants the delegates to learn and get something special out of every committee.  Keep education as the main mission of your crisis.  It’s fun to plan coups and bug rooms, but at the same time, crisis is all about learning by simulating.

What other tips do you have for creating a crisis room? 

  • demonkitti

    This is a great article. I’m in the middle of planning four historical crisis committees for an upcoming MUN and you’ve brought up some great points to keep in mind.

  • Nick Stewart

    This is exactly what I needed! I’m trying to introduce a crisis committee to my conference (WestMUN), though I’ve never been on one or run one before. So this is a great help!

  • Ryan Villanueva

    I definitely agree with doing your research. I also think Wikipedia, despite its criticisms, is a good starting point, but you certainly need to bolster it with actual research.

    Some additional things that crisis directors should consider is to look at crisis planning (pre-conference work) vs. crisis execution (during-conference work), as well as crisis information (the content/substance of crisis updates) vs. crisis delivery (how crisis updates are communicated to delegates).

    Specifically regarding crisis delivery, you can deliver crisis updates using more than PowerPoint presentations and videos — consider teleconferencing, Skype chats, Twitter/social media updates, and text messages/phone calls to delegates’ actual cell phones (be mindful of privacy concerns though) can enhance a crisis and make it more exciting/realistic.

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