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Incident Response Drills and Tabletop Exercises

Posted on Thu, Jul 17, 2014

There are various types of types of emergency response drills and exercises that target specific goals. They can range from small group discussions to complex, multi-faceted exercises. But each drill or exercise presents the opportunity to improve site-specific response plans, rendering the potential for a more effective response.

Response plan testing can begin with simple exercises intended to validate general response plan comprehension or incorporate an all-inclusive, full-scale, realistic, multi-scenario exercise. Managers should determine the goals of the exercise before settling on a particular method. To fully execute a response plan, synergistic drills or exercises should be developed to assess the following critical response skills:

  • Communication
  • Training
  • Resource management
  • Teamwork

An exercise should prepared employees and responders to minimize the impacts of an incident. Below are three of the most basic exercises.

1. Orientations: The purpose of an orientation is to familiarize participants with roles, responsibilities, plans, procedures, and equipment. Orientations can resolve questions of coordination and assignment of responsibilities. The inclusion of first responders and facility staff promotes the development of an effective plan.

2. Drills: The goal of a drill is to practice aspects of the response plan and prepare teams and participants for more extensive exercises in the future. A drill can test a specific operation or function of the response plan.  Facilities should conduct evacuations, shelter in place, and lockdown drills to demonstrate emergency response actions. Drills can be altered to incorporate various scenario situations. The procedures, individual responsibilities, and public safety coordination may be addressed depending on the presented scenario or outcome of the drill.

3. Tabletop Exercises: A tabletop exercise simulates an emergency situation in an informal, stress-free environment.  The participants, usually comprised of decision-making level staff and responders, gather to discuss simulated procedures and general problems/solutions in the context of an emergency scenario.  The focus is on training and familiarization with roles, procedures, and responsibilities relative to the emergency synopsis and potential injects.

Below is a list of common tabletop exercise planning considerations:

Condensed Exercise Time Frame: In order to exercise the emergency scenario, the exercise must progress in a condensed timeframe (not real-time). Events should move rapidly through the phases of the exercised response. However, it should be clearly understood that under real conditions the same events or actions might require additional time to complete. Conversely, real world scenarios can quickly change and transition from a basic emergency to a full scale crisis within a short time frame that require rapid decision making and expeditious responses.

Scenario Information and Position-Specific Tools: Detailed scenario information, ICS forms, and position specific events should be prepared to guide all participants through the execution of their roles and responsibilities. These tools should be included in a participation package and distributed to all participants prior to the exercise. A web-based drill and exercise management tool can streamline the distribution of these tools.

Weather Conditions: Depending on the scenario and if the weather is a critical factor, either real or simulated weather conditions may be utilized during the exercise.

“This is a Drill” Exercise Communications: All radio, telephone, fax and written communications must begin and end with the statement "This is a Drill".  Include this statement in all verbal communications, and in a prominent location on all written correspondence, including report forms, fax communications, and press releases. It may be helpful to add the date to any written documentation for organizational and regulatory compliance purposes.

Communications with external agencies, contractors, medical responders, or other parties not participating directly in an exercise must begin and end with the statement, "This is a Drill". This may involve state or federal regulatory notifications or contact with suppliers or vendors to source simulated logistical needs. In all cases, exercise participants must ensure that the all involved parties clearly understand that no actual emergency exists, and no resources or equipment should be mobilized or dispatched.

Response Equipment Deployment: Emergency equipment and vehicles should be simulated for tabletop exercises. Staging area locations should be identified.

Injects: Injects may be provided to some participants or as a component of the exercise. An inject describes an additional event or circumstance that requires a response or action from the participant.

Exercise Termination and Debriefing: Following termination of the exercise, a debriefing of all exercise participants should be conducted.  All participants should have the opportunity to provide feedback on the exercise and complete an exercise evaluation form. Feedback should be evaluated for potential response plan mitigation opportunities.

Follow-up on Action Items: Exercises may provide insight into the deficiencies in an emergency response plan. In order to take response efforts to the next level, action items resulting from the exercises should be completed in a timely manner.

For a free download entitled, "Tips on How to Conduct an Effective Exercise", click the image below:

TRP Corp Emergency Response Planning Exercises

Tags: Tabletop Exercise, Training and Exercises, Facility Management, Emergency Management Program, Communication Plan, Workplace Safety, HSE Program