Are hybrid threats the future of crises?

A global pandemic isn’t just that—it can be even more lethal when paired with an existing confluence of issues.

Amid global concern and rising anxiety, the dawn of the decade inaugurates a new kind of crisis with COVID-19: a quickly mutating, viral, global emotion with deep life and business impacts. However, the severity and spread of this virus' impact is not entirely unprecedented.

What are hybrid threats?

The last decade has seen the evolution of a global environment that has become increasingly susceptible to contagion—be it in the form of public health hazards, technology failures, or even disruptive social movements.

In such an environment, ground realities are being transformed into what military institutions would call hybrid threats: unprecedently elusive, quickly morphing, highly complex situations. Such conditions aren't limited to a single geography, and they impact not just individual businesses, but industries as a whole.

What has made such threats genuinely different and extraordinary from other business risks is that such crises are emerging from a confluence of several simultaneous, frequently inherent operational vulnerabilities and new market dynamics. They mimic and recombine the usual attributes of large-scale issues—instant spread, deep disruption and misinformation—at lightning speed and have more permanent impact. Yet, as harmful as they are, such threats may well help us prepare for future crises.

While the unconventional, blended, irregular nature of hybrid threats will remain an important challenge for most organisations, the fundamental change that will be required in the face of this new type of crisis will be a mindset shift to embrace the impossible, harnessing collective and open intelligence versus leveraging siloed expertise, remaining nimble in the face of an ever-evolving issue and not relying wholly on established protocols and procedures.

How should we respond to hybrid threats?

An effective response to these hybrid threats should be driven by a multi-stakeholder approach that is anchored in credible sources, reliable information and collective intelligence. When preparing for the unknown and unforeseen nature of such threats, organisations can look to new technologies, such as AI to provide predictive intelligence to support robust communication frameworks ahead of time.

Augmenting institutional knowledge with big data sets and machine learning can enable risk prioritisation, mitigation and recovery planning, advancing the capabilities of strategists and responders to instantly address changes, especially in the public mindset. With the introduction of these methods, we would be able to connect millions of dots and signals, unearth trends at scale and provide robust predictions.

It is inevitable that such threats will increase in intensity, impact and frequency, given the increased connectivity of people, systems, data and technology. To prepare for the overwhelming shock-and-awe power of hybrid threats, companies need to be ready to react from operational, digital, and counterinformation fronts, and organisations must be flexible in adapting to rapidly changing scenarios.

Crises of the COVID-19's magnitude, however, will remain very hard to predict. In its disruption of the global economy, this virus has become a crystalliaation of a growing undercurrent of fear and insecurity of the unpredictable.

But we are now warned: while the dawn of the new decade is shocking us with a global health epidemic, we need to prepare ourselves to not only handle crises, but draw upon these lessons and experiences, make preparedness part of our DNA, and take notice of threats already on the horizon.

Antoine Calendrier is head of reputation, North Asia, at Edelman


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