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Success, Failure, and the Emergency Response Exercise

Posted on Mon, Nov 18, 2013

“Our greatest glory is NOT in never failing, but in rising up every time we fail." 

-Ralph Waldo Emerson

Corporate culture and associated public perceptions do not embrace the ideology of growth through failure. A recent LinkedIn discussion highlighted the issue of exercises being designed entirely for success. The exercises in questions were ones that were specifically designed to match response capabilities, not necessarily challenge participants and established preparedness efforts.

The discussion brings to light the multifaceted purpose of an exercise. While the action of conducting an exercise may validate regulatory requirements, exercises should be designed to test response plans and training effectiveness. The unique paradox of success through failures is the key to overall response plan improvement, especially within exercises.

Real world exercise scenarios can often highlight potential deficiencies (meaning failures) in response plans and procedures, comprehension of individual roles and responsibilities, and partnership coordination. However, it is through identified deficiencies that mitigation opportunities are revealed and valuable response knowledge and experiences can be attained.

The discussion emphasized that designing exercises strictly to create stressful, non-attainable objectives, is counter-productive.  It is imperative to balance current capabilities with realistic scenarios in an effort to strengthen the overall resolve of the emergency preparedness program. An exercise should present challenging situations in an effort to improve capabilities. A demanding exercise can clearly identify deficiencies. However, creating a bottom line, no-win exercise situation can negatively affect the overall preparedness program by diminishing and detracting from the goal of improved response. An exercise should support a positive response team synergy by validating successes, yet create a path to increased response capabilities and improve targeted training efforts.

Conducting a challenging exercise outside the scope of response capabilities can also create a flawed negative reputation and unwarranted fallouts from the failed endeavor. Companies may suppress some negative impressions, feeling that a “failed” attempt at exercises may lead to internal and/or external perception that a company is poorly prepared for responding to an emergency. Pre-emptive crisis management efforts can alleviate possible unfavorable judgments. Companies sometimes promote their exercises results through public relations campaigns that highlight their dedication to overall preparedness advancements and a commitment to safety.


Whether a full scale or tabletop exercise, participants should understand and demonstrate the following:

1. A proficiency in utilizing the forms, processes, and common terminology to respond to the scenario in association with:

  • National Incident Management System (NIMS)
  • Incident Command System (ICS)

2. A comprehension of the specific roles and responsibilities within the following teams:

  • Emergency Response Team
  • Incident or Emergency Management Team organizations

Gaps in response plans or training should be identified and follow-up action taken to ensure that these gaps are addressed.

3. An understanding of external responding organization(s), and general internal responsibilities and expectations of the company: The following should be identified and confirmed for the applicable scenario:

  • Communication processes
  • Response methods
  • Response times
  • Roles and responsibilities
  • Available equipment

4. The ability to document and communicate actions, management decision, and track resources, using standardized ICS forms and the Emergency response Plan: Participants should record processes and implement procedures per regulatory requirement(s) and company standards. Documentation can be used for:

  • Response assessments
  • Legal inquiries
  • Team reviews
  • Training efforts
  • Identification of action items and lessons learned
  • Improving emergency response plans

Exercises provide a setting for operational response procedures to be tested. In preparation for these exercises, companies should develop exercise-planning documents, including participant and controller’s packages that contain exercise objectives, scenarios, ground rules, and simulation scripts. These guidelines, at a minimum, should be provided to all participants prior to the exercise to allow for an understanding of expectations.

Threats, hazard vulnerabilities, staffing and organizational structure, facilities, and equipment are continually changing. A response exercise should be a tool utilized to identify effective efforts and inefficiencies in response to these changes. Through honest evaluations of response efforts to simulated “real-world” scenarios, emergency preparedness programs can continually improve, strengthen, and succeed... until the next change!

For a free download on "Conducting Effective Exercises", click the image below:TRP Corp Emergency Response Planning Exercises

Tags: Testing, Tabletop Exercise, Resiliency, Emergency Preparedness, Training and Exercises, Emergency Management Program, Emergency Response Planning