Guest Post: Common Tabletop Exercise Mistakes

Avoid problems that will hamper your crisis preparedness down the road

Tabletop exercises are a powerful tool in your crisis preparedness arsenal. They allow your team to practice working together, your plans to be felt out for gaps, policies to be fleshed out, and procedures to be checked for realism and readiness.

Although these typically consist of discussions of simulated scenarios, the consequences of running the exercise poorly has very real consequences that are rarely discussed. Enter the following article, from PreparedEx Managing Director Rob Burton, “5 Common Tabletop Exercise Mistakes”:

I compiled this short list based on my personal experience within the corporate crisis, emergency, business continuity and security exercise space.

1. Not Setting Clear and Achievable Objectives

If you don’t set clear and achievable exercise objectives, the exercise will either fail or it will not be as productive as it could have been. Considering the objectives is one of the very first steps in the exercise design process. Ensuring the objectives are achievable is also something you’ll want to put some thought into. Consider how much time you have and what you want the group to get out of the session. Forethought here will lead to a better exercise experience for everyone involved.

2. Failing to Communicate Prior to the Session

This is a question on our feedback form: Did you understand the exercise objectives prior to the exercise? The answer we get depends on a number of factors. Many times we see the “No” circled. The pre-read document that you put together needs to be flawless. Try and get creative if you feel your audience will not read the pre-read materials. Try something different. How about an audio or video that outlines exercise details? This should generate interest and start to build the buzz. The pre-read process always seems to be a challenge for many organizations. Most participants walk through the door on the day of the exercise and expect to conduct the session without any preparation which is never good. Try and get them informed and excited well before they walk through the door.

Related: 3 Pros and Cons of Exercising

3. Not Testing Equipment Well Before the Session

This is really basic but often seems to be an issue for some organizations. This is about having a plan for how you’ll deliver the session and ensuring that ALL the equipment is tested the day before and then re-tested a few hours before you start. If you have AV support, use it! Have a backup plan if the network goes down or is the AV system stops. Going to paper and having a backup projector that’s not part of the AV system are very basic backups but should be considered. Don’t blame the equipment if your session falls flat.

4. Failing to Invite the Correct Participants Based on the Objectives

Don’t over invite unless you have a clear plan on how you intend to include everyone in the scenario. Look at your objectives and see who you need involved. It’s a good idea to map this out as part of your exercise planning document that should also include exercise objectives and evaluation criteria. If you intend to invite a more senior group, but don’t need them until the second half of the exercise, then have them join during a break or after lunch. This is a good opportunity to have the management team brief them on the current status of the simulated scenario and practice the briefing cycle. Ensure exercise participants remain active throughout the exercise.

5. Create Realistic and Thought-Provoking Injects

A simulated scenario is made up of injects that provide participants with the status of the situation. These are updated throughout the exercise to reflect a realistic replication of what could happen during that particular situation. When designing injects, there needs to be thought about each period of time and inject details to ensure they make sense to those involved. The injects should lead participants down a path that allows them to consider their COA’s (Courses of Action) and decision-making abilities with the ultimate goal of achieving the exercise objectives. Try and make the inject information as informative and accurate as possible. Ask yourself what each inject is trying to accomplish and how might the participants respond at each juncture. Adding some creative and thought-provoking questions in various injects should also increase participation. If your scenario is realistic and thought-provoking, then you will have active participation. Get creative.

Rob Burton is Managing Director of PreparedEx, where he specializes in crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management preparedness.

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