How to Use Action Cards

By Andrew Carvell Sep 22, 2017

Action cards, checklists or aide memoirs are a fundamental and essential element of any crisis management organisation. This article looks at the key considerations for anyone revising or creating them.

A Support Tool

Action cards are tools used to help your team members follow logical and pre-defined measures during the response to an incident. You can think of them as operational, ‘living’ versions of your contingency plan. They are designed to be prompts influencing your thinking during the early stages of the crisis, regardless of the incident type or severity. Although they will most certainly vary in terms of content, size and complexity, every function involved in the response to a crisis should have an action card belonging to their role.

Specific or General?

Many practitioners would recommend that action cards are kept generic, which means that they can suit any type of incident. There are two main reasons for this; Firstly, the card must be updated as your organisation, regulations and external factors change. A generic action card is easier to update than having to consider multiple cards per role, something that can put unnecessary strain on resilience professionals for whom time is already a precious commodity. Secondly, this avoids complicating the process.

Simple Language

Keep the writing brief, almost in bullet point style, and be as specific yet concise as possible: ‘Use CIM to notify Gold Team’ is far more useful than ‘Mobilise senior management’. Bear in mind that many team members may only see their action cards a handful of times a year, during exercises or live responses. Therefore, it is important to think hard about how your preparation can help them. If further detailed information is required, this can be made available in the crisis management plan or supporting documentation. The key point here is to keep the headline of the action card simple and provide easy access to the finer details if required.

Involve More People?

Any crisis management process should provide the capability to assign people additional tasks. Whilst the action card provides food for thought in terms of what people should be considering as part of the response, tasks are a product of the reactive phase of the response and must be clearly recorded, distributed and tracked. This is the same for members of staff both in and out of the office, therefore mobile friendly solutions are an advantage. One key consideration is what should be done if someone becomes overloaded, or if a different team member is better qualified to carry out the task. Always retain the ability to easily reassign tasks.

Time Is Precious

The increasing adoption of the ICS model in Europe is seeing more and more organisations paying close attention to the timeframe in which tasks must be completed. When recording and assigning tasks, it’s no use leaving them open ended- the task needs to be measurable and have a deadline set to it. Those with overall command of the situation can then plan ahead with a clear picture of what the situation will look like in 2/6/12/24 hours.

Good quality action cards help any organisation start a response in the best possible shape, but they cannot replace thorough training and competency management. Only when every single member of the crisis team has rehearsed their routine thoroughly, you may have the confidence to say that you're truly prepared.

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Topics: Contingency


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By: Andrew Carvell

Andy is the Managing Director of One Voice’s international business, based in London and has worked with incident and crisis management solutions since 2010. He has a particular focus on the aviation and energy sectors and works closely with One Voice’s partner Control Risks to broaden the service offering of both parties. Andy has a degree in law from the University of Nottingham and outside of work, enjoys rugby, golf and outdoor pursuits.

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One Voice

One Voice is an specialist technology company based in London, UK and Trondheim, Norway. We provide a comprehensive web based software solution for risk and vulnerability analysis, emergency planning and crisis management. Our main product, CIM®, is the market leading software in these fields and forms the backbone of the national emergency response system in Norway.

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