Disaster preparedness and business continuity plans stand to benefit from the inclusion of tabletop exercise activities into those plans.
Tabletop exercises enable organizations to analyze potential emergency situations in an informal environment, and are designed to foster constructive discussions among participants as they examine existing operational plans and determine where they can make improvements.
What is a Tabletop Exercise?
The tabletop exercise is a cost effective method of providing an organization’s Crisis Management Team with the opportunity to build teamwork, improve coordination, and validate the emergency response plan.
Especially relevant, these exercises provide a forum for planning, preparation and coordination of resources during any kind of potential attack on an organization.
Tabletop exercises can be tremendously helpful to organizations on many levels. A few of the benefits include:
- Organizations get a sense of how information really flows in a crisis.
- Managers identify questions and missing links that can then be addressed.
- Findings highlight the need and ability to use both in-house and specialized resources.
- Bringing together people from various areas of the organization helps to build cooperation and relationships across departments and regions while developing internal leadership.
- Data-driven action plans increase efficiency and support improved policies.
The following objectives should be written into the design of tabletop exercises: (a) to provide feedback, (b) clarify responsibilities, (c) identify roles, (d) enhance skills, (e) assess capabilities, (f) evaluate performance, (g) measure and deploy resources and (h) motivate employees.
Tabletop Exercises Introduce New Information
Each piece of new information that is presented during the tabletop exercise should stimulate consideration and discussion among participants.
In turn, each discussion should generate an action item that may include seeking specialized resources; applying an intervention strategy learned in a previous training; investigating or gathering more information; or determining that no further action is necessary.
The most important element of a tabletop exercise can also be the comprehensive debrief with participants after that exercise.
That comprehensive debrief can include the formulation and delegation of post-exercise actions, as well as expected results with individual deadlines for those actions.
Resolution of all post-exercise actions should be carefully monitored by management to help ensure an effective and efficient enhancement process.
As a result, one of these actions consequently will include the updating of current incident management plans to eliminate or minimize vulnerabilities identified by the tabletop exercise.
Some tips for tabletop exercises:
- Take the time needed to properly prepare for the exercise so that the scenario of the exercise be as realistic as possible.
- Set clear objectives for the tabletop exercise from the very beginning
- Leverage resources from within the organization’s industry as well as the government
- Involve the appropriate multiple parties from the entire organization
- Lay out and clearly state the ground rules of the exercise
- Ask challenging questions
- Exercise the process and not the scenario, and introduce unanticipated elements into the exercise
- Do not highlight things that could have been addressed before the exercise – any new learning should be captured and recognized as a product of that exercise.
- Involve external advisers and support wherever appropriate and relevant.
- It is critical to test the process all the way from the technical specialists through to the business impact management and the strategic corporate response and communication.
Additional material on the topic of tabletop exercises can be found in the links below:
If applicable, please pass this information along to the appropriate risk management team members in your organization.