Why Test Response Plans?
Budget restrictions and staffing limitations are continually on the minds of many corporate leaders. Yet response planning and preparedness continue to be an essential aspect of company operations. In order to be effective, response plans must be interactive, and continually updated and improved upon in order to provide actionable information, processes, and procedures that help manage incidents, infrastructure, and critical business processes. As a result, response plans must be tested.
Periodical response plan testing requires a dedicated budget, even in times of economic strain. Testing responses can identify detrimental training gaps and non-compliance issues that may compromise the effectiveness of a response plan and cripple operational continuity. This critical preparedness level feedback is essential in stabilizing readiness, response competency, and corporate sustainability.
There are various types of emergency response drills and exercises that test response plans. Depending on operations, potential risks, and budgets, these drills and exercises can range from small group discussions to complex, multi-faceted exercises. To fully execute a response plan, synergistic exercises should be developed to assess the following:
- Resource management
- Command Post effectiveness
Managers should set exercise goals and budget before settling on a particular method. When budgets are restrained, a well-prepared tabletop exercise may be an acceptable method for a response plan assessment.
The Tabletop Exercise
A tabletop exercise is the simplest form of exercise to conduct in terms of planning, preparation, and coordination. In order to garner a heightened awareness of preparedness, response competency and plan effectiveness, the following tabletop components should be considered when planning exercises:
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.
Exercise Time Frame: The facilitator should determine how much time is allotted for the exercise in order to test response processes and procedures. Exercise responses are typically accelerated through each phase of the exercise. However, it should be clearly understood that the same events or actions under emergency conditions might require additional time to complete. Participants must be prepared for actual scenarios that can quickly transition from a basic emergency to a full scale crisis within a short time frame, requiring rapid decision making and expeditious responses.
Exercise Notification Communications: In all cases, exercise participants must ensure that all involved parties clearly understand that no actual emergency exists, and no resources or equipment should be mobilized or dispatched. The statement "This is a Drill" should be included on with all verbal communications and written correspondences, 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 should also be informed as to not inadvertently initiate responses.
Response Equipment Deployment: Emergency equipment and vehicles should be simulated for tabletop exercises. Staging area locations should be identified.
Injects: An inject describes an additional event or circumstance that requires a response or action from the participant. Injects may be provided to specific participants or as a component of the entire exercise.
Weather Conditions: Adverse weather conditions may be simulated during an exercise. In an actual emergency, weather conditions may hinder response processes and procedures.
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 prioritized and completed in a timely manner.