At the end of 2016 Wisse Kommunikatie was both cause and part of a very elaborate crisis simulation at its client CHDR, the Centre for Human Drug Research. The CHDR is a contract research organization where pharmaceutical companies and hospitals have their final medicine tests performed on human test subjects, as the name of the company already suggests.
There isn’t an organization better equipped than the CHDR. Medical safety is ensured down to the smallest details, each test subject monitored minutely 24/7, its staff all specialists in their respective fields. The friendly lady at the reception desk lets no one pass who doesn’t belong there; all doors and floors are impenetrable without a key card.
But what if… What if something went wrong anyway? Under these highly secure circumstances, our challenge was to cause a panic…
The simulation included the following elements:
The CHDR is testing a new vaccine against septic shock. The test subjects were dosed with a drug that mildly suppresses the immune system three days prior to the test with the actual medicine. An attenuated E-coli bacteria is administered to them by infusion to induce septic shock. Simultaneously, an infusion is administered either with medication to suppress the inflammatory response or with a placebo. Therefore, it is no surprise to see a slight fever and feelings of sickness develop among the latter group.
However, something went wrong in the manipulation of the E-coli…
The bacteria were not sufficiently attenuated, causing symptoms of septic shock of a higher intensity than expected among several test subjects, one of whom has even entered into a life-threatening shock and has to be taken to hospital. He will die on the way. A second test subject will become quite sick a bit later, developing a high fever.
A slight panic develops among the aid workers: the first volunteer victim is starting to vomit blood and presses the alarm bell. The nurse warns the doctor and the clinical research director; the ambulance is called. The crisis team meets to discuss the incident and decides on the appropriate measures.
A journalist from Telegraaf News and his cameraman have picked up on several tweets about the incident, all simulated in a protected environment, and enter the building, camera running, demanding to talk to a CHDR spokesperson. He is not available as he is busy leading his crisis team.
‘What is going on?’ ‘Is it true that one test subject has died?’ ‘Are there any other victims?’ ‘Is there any danger to public health?’ ‘When will we get more information?’ These questions are fired at all who dare to show themselves.
Several other test subjects are very worried and wish to abort the test in which they are partaking immediately, regardless of whether they are involved in the E-coli trial. Tweets fly across the protected web environment, the journalist is looking for quotes and the cameraman captures great shots of the first victim being lifted into the ambulance.
The CHDR’s own Emergency Response Team is working up a sweat transporting the volunteer victims and keeping the camera crew out. The crisis communication agency is notified and asked to prepare statements, while two other Dutch newspapers continue to call about a statement.
The telephone network overloads, leaving the crisis team with mobile phones as their only means of internal communication.
Although the simulation produced some great shots, the panic was not as pervasive as the images might suggest. The logistic handling of the incident was good, and the medical crisis procedure was followed to the letter and functioning properly.
Thanks to this simulation, communication between Wisse Kommunikatie and the CHDR, as well as between the CHDR and journalists, will be organized even better in the next training or during an actual incident. And those responsible for social media certainly will not underestimate the impact of a tweet that suggests ebola instead of E-coli…