How to Run an Effective Crisis Room

by KFC on April 30, 2012

This article is part of a series focusing on developing crisis committees. This article was written by Katrina Trost and Travis Cunningham, Chargée d’Affaires and Secretary General of Boston University’s BarMUN 

The BarMUN crisis at work

Introduction

As Austin mentioned in the first of this series on crisis committees, crisis is definitely the exciting, “sexy” side of contemporary Model UN. With a fast paced committee style with room to allow action by both individuals and coalitions, crisis presents a unique opportunity in the world of MUN. The steps to developing a crisis committee concept are extremely important, as are honing the skills of crisis directing. The real heart of a crisis committee, however, is the crisis room. Filled to the brim with staffers, directors and under-secretaries general, crisis rooms are chaotic and charged. Before getting to the nitty gritty of running a great crisis room, it’s important to remember the details of who is in the room and their respective roles.

At the top of the food chain  is the Undersecretary General (USG), who has been hard at work with every crisis director and staff in the lead-up to the conference. In conferences where each committee operates individually, the USG oversees each committee and ensures its success. In a room where two or more committees are integrated, USGs have the exciting job of coordinating integration and pacing of committees. The crisis directors run their respective committees in coordination with their staffers, who are responsible for presenting crisis updates to delegates in creative and innovative ways, and also responding to the notes that delegates may send at any time. Lastly, the crisis room is also responsible for playing the part of un-simulated bodies, and the crisis director can respond to actions and correspondence at his or her discretion. Now that we have established a foundation for every crisis room, whether it be a single committee, a Joint Crisis Committee (JCC), or a fully-integrated track of three or more committees, here are some key areas to focus on when running a successful central command!

Preparation

As Austin’s article emphasized, preparation is huge in running a crisis committee and even more important in an efficient crisis room. Dossiers, full page reports specific to each character, should be written before the conference, and the best ones contain information that can be used in crises. Characters’ histories and previous relationships can be huge in establishing contacts outside of the committee room. You never know what little tidbits of information can come in handy while implementing a crisis.

As we mentioned before, the crisis room represents figures not simulated in the committee room or in any other committee. Since you will obviously know this before conference weekend, plan accordingly with which staffers can represent said characters. Continuity is helpful when the delegates start barraging their “contact” or other body with notes and directives. Remember that NGO’s, MNC’s, and other non-state actors can also be extremely interesting and give depth and educational value to your crisis plans. Also keep in mind that when formulating your committee concept, that your body must have a reason to be meeting.  While it might seem cool to have a meeting of the ten richest people in the world all in the same room, if they don’t have an incentive to be there and to work together, the committee will have a difficult time functioning.  In the same vein, if you realize that a certain issue will not divide the committee in any substantial way and promote lively and interesting debate, then it probably shouldn’t be a central part of your crisis plan. A balance between preparation and creativity exists, and should be remembered as the weekend is planned and underway.

Integration

Integration is our absolute favorite part of crisis. Whether it’s a pair of two committees, or an entire track, integration allows for incredible creativity and opportunities for delegates to stand out. Integration can be a bit tricky though, and there are many ways of approaching it. Integration can stem from individual delegates or entire committees. For example, committees can forge treaties and agreements with one another, but may also find themselves at odds and choose to pursue aggressive economic or military action targeting each other. Individual delegates may also send notes to delegates in other committees through the crisis room, or even arrange meetings in person. With all of these notes, personal directives, and communiques flying around, an integrated crisis room must manage the mayhem. Communication and cooperation is integral to integration, and if a crisis is going to affect more than one committee, all CD’s need to be prepared before the crisis goes into effect. In crises that affect more than one committee, timing is everything, and all of the committee staffs need to be in similar mindsets so they can react in a timely manner. In short, pacing of joint committees is key.

Integration works best when crisis directors work well together and keep their respective committees working at the same pace. Among many other things, the timing of when crises are delivered is extremely important. If one committee gets relevant information long before another, serious problems can occur and one committee will have a decided advantage. Similarly, if an identical crisis update is delivered by two different crisis staffers, it’s essential to make sure that both staffers understand the key concepts of the crisis and will answer similarly when questioned by delegates. If the crisis directors do not communicate well in the first place, none of this is possible. The pacing of committees also involves the production rate of committees that are interacting with one another. For example, if two committees are at war, each needs to have the opportunity to respond to an action by their foe before being updated with five new crises. Chairs have an important role in this facet of integration, and should be able to communicate on how much they want their committees to produce as the session moves forward, as well as which topics are important for the delegates to focus on.

JCCs-

When it comes to JCC’s, it’s important to have a good mix between isolated and integrated crises.  Isolated crises are those that can be delivered to only one committee without affecting the flow of debate in the other.  This gives crisis directors the ability to stall if one committee is progressing at a faster pace than the other.  Furthermore, isolated crises can turn into interesting inter-committee battles between delegates, and are often the most exciting and heated part of any given conference weekend. Integrated crises, on the other hand, take more time to prepare and must be delivered very carefully to both committees.  It’s usually best to have the same staffer or set of staffers give these updates twice so as to limit the possibility of facts getting mixed up and information being confused between committees. And while this may seem obvious, it’s important to remember that these crises must be relevant to both committees in the JCC, as if they are not, integration will fall apart quickly and the committees risk going in vastly different directions.

Multi-Integration-

Many of the same concepts that apply to running JCC’s also apply to integrating more than two committees together.  However, with each added committee, the difficulty of integrating successfully increases exponentially. When developing crises, it is important to have several that can affect the entire track, and several others that can affect different pods of committees.  This layered system allows committees to interact with each other while also moving at their own pace. Crisis directors also need to be able to react to directives of other committees, and to coordinate with other CD’s in developing crises on the spot that directly relate to the documentation passed by their respective committees. In this way committees can truly interact with each other, as opposed to operating in the same world, but different universes. Pacing of committees is again key, and deciding how much time elapses between sessions can be vital in helping to adjust any discrepancies that may be caused by overly fast or slow-paced committees. Domestic issues can also help to bridge these gaps, just like in JCC’s.

Communication with (and between) delegates

The bread and butter of the crisis room is communication with delegates. The crisis room controls all information flow, delivering and responding to notes that the delegates send, so be sure to know what mediums you will use to deliver said information. Logistically, this can entail written notes that are fetched by pages and ferried between the committee and crisis rooms, a member of the dais typing notes in a chat box to the crisis room, or a mixture of both. As far as crisis staff organization and streamlining goes, it’s far easier to dictate notes to staffers then write them as a crisis director, and allows you to think in more than one direction at once.  Organization of notes is key, as is not losing them, avoiding contradictions and always replying, even if just to confirm that a note was read.

In integrated crises, delegates can pass notes between committees, and can also meet in person with members of other committees (with consent of all chairs/crisis directors involved). It is important that the crisis director knows how he/she wants to handle said communication and what will and won’t be allowed. In historical JCC’s or multi-integrated committees, delegates cannot utilize information or technology that is not available at the time period the track is set in. Time lapses can be a great tool to slow down the pace of a committee, but be sure to respond to all inquiries by the end of a session, even if it is just to say a longer response will be coming at the beginning of the next session.

The communication of crises is obviously THE integral part of a crisis room. Therefore, always have an idea of how crises can be presented! Some great methods we’ve seen over the years include news channel updates (which prevents delegates from asking questions), newspapers, pamphlets, pre-recorded videos, skype call ins, crying villagers- you name it, it can be done. Small touches can be added to updates to make your conference memorable- small details like stickers with the emblem of the body on secret letters will truly set your committee apart. Crisis updates can also come in the form of secret notes sent to an individual delegate (i.e. A note from a contact outside of the committee alerting the delegate of an update or development of an ongoing situation requiring action by the committee as a whole). The method can involve a lesser active delegate, or set up an exposé of a back channel conspirator.

Creativity/ Flexibility- Responding to Your Delegates

While crisis plans, flow charts, or crisis trees are important, especially in the brainstorming process, nothing is worse as a delegate than being in a committee where the crisis room railroads every action put forth by the committee. Don’t force your delegates to go in the direction you want them to go if they want to do something else. It will end in a disaster since both the committee and crisis rooms will become frustrated with inaction. The best crisis committees and conferences realize that delegates drive the direction of each committee, joint crisis or track. In historical committees, you have the creative opportunity to play with counterfactual situations and see what could have happened in such and such year. With all the imagination you are encouraging in your committees, be sure to clearly communicate what is not allowed- i.e. nuclear weapons and time travel. After attending a myriad of conferences, we’ve realized the importance of a crisis room responding in a proportionate manner to committee actions. For example, if a committee unanimously passes an intricate war plan, with details about the position and size of every battalion, regiment and unit, along with specific orders, do not reply with “The mission failed. They all died.” and nothing else. Again, even if the committee is moving in a direction you didn’t initially plan, delegates can provide some great crises themselves, and as a crisis room, you can take those ideas and run with them.

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