We aren’t talking about side-bends or sit-ups here. This is a different type of New Year’s resolution and it’s about why you need to practice your incident and crisis response protocols through crisis exercises.
Exercising means talking through a scenario that your plan is intended to navigate. Exercising helps your team to get more comfortable with their role and reveals gaps in existing plans (or realize the need for a plan if you don’t have one already). It is also a great way to engage your team – after a crisis exercise, there is an increased appreciation and desire for crisis preparedness. The investment in time is limited, but the return is significant – making this one of my top recommendations for the year ahead.
A crisis plan that hasn’t been exercised isn’t much good to anyone. Because when an incident occurs, it is unlikely anyone will use it. And that is the whole purpose of having a plan – to have a guide of what to do (and what not to do) when something goes wrong. If a plan isn’t exercised, there isn’t any way to know if it will actually work.
If your team doesn’t have crisis plans or hasn’t exercised the plans before, the best way to start is by creating a simple exercise. If your team has done exercises before or does them regularly, simulations might be the best fit. See below to determine what makes the most sense for your situation.
Exercises. In an exercise, your team will talk through their crisis plan and their role. To create an exercise, you will need a good facilitator, a likely scenario, some goals (of what you are hoping to test or learn), and the response team. An exercise generally is a series of “triggers” that should put your team into action – implementing their plan or talking about the steps they would take given the situation. As the complexity grows, there may be added challenges intended to test different aspects of the plan (depending on your goals).
The more your team exercises, the more complex the situation can become to test different aspects. Afterward, its important for the team to share what they learned and observed. The result should be a clear list of improvements needed for next time. Altogether, an exercise can be completed in to three hours.
Simulations. Another type of exercise is a simulation. Similar to an exercise, there are roles, a likely scenario, goals, and triggers. However, instead of talking through actions that each person would take, the team does those steps – by acting them out. This means that if “share a media statement” is in step one of your crisis plan, you would actually write it. Acting out these steps shows the time each step takes, reveals gaps that may not be obvious from reading the plan, and surfaces steps that could be done in advance (to include in the plan) that will save time at the moment.
A simulation can even go so far as to mimic social media sites, media calls, emergency responders, and others that would be involved in the scenario. Simulations are a good fit for teams that have talked through exercises and are looking for a greater challenge. A simulation is closer to a real-life scenario and a greater test of the crisis plan. Typically, simulations will last longer than an exercise – from four to six hours and should include the same debrief at the end to capture observations and a list of improvements needed.
Overall, exercises and simulations are a great way to test plans, get teams thinking more in-depth about the processes in place, and bring alignment to core crisis responders internally. Regular (monthly or quarterly at least) exercises are the best way to keep everyone comfortable in their roles and to keep plans up to date.
Don’t forget to test yourself – don’t play the facilitator every time – you need practice just like your team!
Can we help you?
We’ve built and managed exercises for Fortune 30 corporations, law enforcement at all levels, academic institutions, and public sector emergency management agencies. Our consultants are even certified in the Department of Homeland Security’s Exercise & Evaluation Program (HSEEP).
Contact us today at +1.612.235.6435 or via our contact form – and let us help you advance your exercise program!