The Conversation; Juliet Maric, crisis manager

 

How did you end up at the Foreign Office?

I spent most of my career in the private sector, but I took my family to Spain for a year; we were on the verge of coming back and there was an article about this job as consul in Alicante. A relative said, "Oh don't be silly, the Foreign Office doesn't employ people like you". I applied for a laugh, but never thought I'd get it. From the minute I walked into the consulate I thought this is what I should have been doing my whole life.

Alicante is a prime tourist spot. I expect you dealt with some funny calls?

We had a phonecall from a lady very concerned about a cat she'd found. And the consular officer, very deadpan, asked "Is it a British cat?".

What does your job entail?

Every crisis is different but we go into Crisis Response Mode, we establish a battle rhythm – we're very MoD in our terminology. We have a command and control gold-silver-bronze structure.

Gold-silver-bronze?

The gold leader's a bit like Highlander, there can be only one.

Are you the gold leader?

I don't get to be gold very often, which is a bit upsetting. You'd think as the head of the crisis department I should, wouldn't you? If the problem is in Cairo, the director for the Middle East region is the gold leader. I'm the silver crisis manager. My team runs the crisis centre, so they make sure all the basics are working – you can't be fannying around with a computer that doesn't work in the middle of a crisis.

Crises can happen at any time; how do you handle it?

I take my phone with me in the shower, I take my phone to the loo. The Crackberry, my daughter calls it, because I'm so addicted I can't have it out of my sight.

Do your kids understand?

Well I've only got one at home now, and if I have to leave her in the middle of the night, it's fine. We had a plane crash in Burma in the middle of opening Christmas presents and they weren't very impressed with that.

One of the big crises you've dealt with was the sinking of the Costa Concordia.

It was all quite quiet until the media started printing this image of the Titanic-looking ship sticking out of the water. Our phone lines just went ballistic.

Do you use all the social networks?

Twitter is the main one. When we get a call the first thing I do is turn on the telly, but with the Boston marathon the first thing I did was log on to Twitter.

There were all sorts of reports about the number of deceased in Boston.

The media never have the right numbers, they're a bit rubbish at that. We sit and watch it in the Crisis Centre going, "Oh God, what have they said now?".

There's been violence in Egypt and Turkey recently – what would you say to holidaymakers planning trips there?

Read our travel advice before you go – which the vast majority of people don't. And once you've read it, it'd be really good if you could follow it. There was a survey which said 53 per cent of people said that if they read it, they would ignore it.

It seems as if you have a good bunch of people here, not like you hear about in other departments.

We don't have any of that. The Foreign Office is generally full of nice people. The salaries are… but I guess that means people are here because they want to be here, not because they want to earn pot-loads of money.

Biography

Juliet Maric, 48, is Head of the Foreign Office's Crisis Management Department. She lives in London with her husband and daughter. The FCO's Know Before You Go campaign is at gov.uk/knowbeforeyougo

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