Emergency response training simulations are an integral part of a sound emergency management program. Exercises offer training opportunities for responders to strengthen their capacity for responding to various site-specific emergencies. By facilitating different types of drills and exercises, facilities can identify the appropriate methods for preventing, preparing for, responding to, and recovering from crises.
Real world exercise scenarios can often highlight potential deficiencies in response plans, individual comprehension of response roles and responsibilities, and partnership coordination efforts. Deficiencies often reveal mitigation opportunities and valuable response knowledge that can be applied to response plans and an actual emergency response situations.
There are various types of emergency drills and exercises for response training and planning validation. Companies can test response plans with simple orientations and drills, and work their way toward full-scale exercises, inclusive of multiple components and coordinated efforts.
A tabletop exercise is one of the simplest type of comprehensive exercises to conduct in terms of planning, preparation, and coordination. It should facilitate analyses of an emergency situation and the most effective processes to respond and recover. The informal, stress-free environment should be designed to prompt constructive discussions about existing emergency response plans as participants identify, investigate and resolve issues. The success of the exercise is mainly determined by the identification of problem areas, and applying applicable corrections.
These exercises should replicate realistic and site-specific emergency scenarios that allow participants to increase their awareness of roles and responsibilities required to respond, stabilize, terminate, and recover from emergencies. In preparation for these exercises, companies should develop exercise planning documents, including participant's 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 a thorough examination of exercise expectations. A training and exercise management system can streamline and simplify the documentation and administrative duties associated with exercises planning.
The goal of a tabletop exercise program should be to improve the overall readiness and capabilities of emergency response program that encourages:
- Realistic scenarios
- Proper training validation
- Effective emergency plans
- Action item identification
- Operational response capabilities
- Personnel preparedness to respond to incidents, regardless of the threat or hazard
The Department of Homeland Security addresses four types of exercise scenarios used in risk management and emergency planning:
1. Basic Scenario: Provides basic information about one specific variable or risk, such as internal or external hazard, attack type, or potential target. Scenarios can be used to establish response parameters and instructions based on a singular applicable variable (Ex: tank 101 fire or leak at a loading dock).
2. Narrative Scenario: Story-like, highly detailed scenarios with many fixed factors. Narrative drills are typically used for planning purposes rather than risk analysis. Narratives identify characteristics of a scenario, detailed background information, and each components of the scenario.
3. Visual Modeling: Highly structured scenarios that display multiple potential variables of an emergency situation. Depending on the level of detail, visual models can become highly comprehensive and complex. The Department of Homeland Security identifies three methods of visual planning: attack paths, fault trees and event trees.
Attack paths: A systematic method that examines the sequence of events that occurred prior to the incident.
Fault trees: A detailed, deductive tool is used to assess the ill-fated sequence of events that led to the incident. A fault tree highlights potential hazards and ineffective processes.
Event trees: Assess the components it takes to respond and recover from an incident. Event trees highlight the necessary planning initiatives required to counteract the incident.
4. Future Scenario: Speculative narratives that consider how trends, such as social media usage or global warming, will impact future risks. This scenario can to identify “future-state” planning strategies against a range of alternative risk possibilities.
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