Exercises must be conducted in order to ensure response plans are effective, and personnel are prepared to respond to an incident. Minimum exercise requirements should be established within an emergency preparedness program to ensure response plans are properly tested for use during a disaster, emergency, or crisis.
A tabletop exercise is often the simplest form of exercise to prepare for, coordinate, and conduct. A tabletop exercise utilizes a simulated scenario that enable participants to react to events as they unfold. This exercise format should facilitate analysis of an emergency situation, elicit constructive response from participants, and identify gaps or inaccuracies in response plans and personnel knowledge. 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 response plans
- Identification of action items
- Response team relationships
- Operational response capabilities
- Personnel preparedness, regardless of the threat or hazard
The tabletop exercise also provides an environment to:
1. Apply National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS): The Incident Management Team (IMT) should demonstrate a proficiency in utilizing the forms, processes, and terminology of the ICS.
2. Demonstrate understanding of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and Incident Management Team (IMT) organizations: The ERT and the IMT should have a functional understanding of their specific roles and responsibilities. Gaps in training should be identified, and follow-up action taken to ensure that these gaps are addressed.
3. Unify common organizations, general responsibilities, and company expectations: The ERT and IMT should have a clear understanding of the capabilities of each responding organization. Communication processes, response methods, roles and responsibilities, and available equipment should be identified and confirmed for the applicable scenario.
4. Demonstrate the ability to document communication, actions, management decisions, and track resources: Participants should utilize ICS forms to record processes and implemented procedures per regulatory requirement and company standards. Documentation can be used for post-exercise assessments and team reviews, and to create action items to improve follow-up and emergency response plans.
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 time-frame (not real-time). Events should move rapidly through some phases of the exercised response. However, it should be clearly understood that under real conditions the same events or actions would require much more time to complete.
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.
Weather Conditions: Depending on the scenario, either real or simulated weather conditions may be utilized during the exercise.
“This is a Drill” Exercise Communications: All radio, telephone, electronic, 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.
Response Equipment Deployment: Emergency equipment and vehicles should be simulated for tabletop exercises. Staging area locations should be identified.
Injects: An Inject describes an event or circumstance that requires an additional 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.
Follow-up on Action Items: Exercises provide insight into emergency response plan deficiencies. In order to take response efforts to the next level, action items resulting from the exercises should be completed in a timely manner.