When is the last time your organization ran a crisis simulation exercise?
While the reasons are many, some that serve as a foundation for a strategic-based approach to tabletop exercise programs include:
Provides an Opportunity to Review and Analyze Risk
In every business environment where there’s risk, continual assessment of known risks as well as emerging (new) risks is essential and should be the foundation piece of your overall preparedness. Throughout most crisis simulation exercises, the process often guides teams to discuss various serious simulated situations that they face in much more detail than they would normally during day-to-day business activities. This is mainly due to the fact that cross-functional teams don’t gather on a regular basis and often operate in silos.
Validates Plans, Processes and Capabilities
One of the most common objectives of exercising is validation and testing. Whether it’s a new team testing an old plan or an old team validating new capabilities, the exercise process really does provide a fantastic opportunity to uncover any issues before a real emergency strikes.
Develops Leadership Skills
I often get asked, “What’s one of your personal favorite benefits to exercising?” I always respond with “The development of leadership skills.” When there’s an opportunity, and only if it is part of the exercise objectives, we will pull out the key leaders and insert their backups to see how they perform. This is an exercise tool that is usually well received and becomes an opportunity for second-in-commands to practice their own personal communication and decision-making skills. There are obviously several other leadership development skills that transpire during exercises.
Creates Internal Awareness
At the end of almost every corporate exercise that we’ve conducted over the last five years, we end with the following question that is presented to the players: What is the one thing you will take away from this exercise that will help you improve your personal or your teams efforts to be prepared? In nearly every instance, we have at least one player that will answer with something along the following lines “I need to go back to my team and make sure they’re aware of….”
It’s a Team Building Opportunity
Crisis simulation exercises really bring the best and sometimes the worst out of us. And it’s ok if it’s worse because it’s better to get it wrong during an exercise rather than during a real event. An exercise requires teams to communicate and coordinate under different working conditions compared to daily routine. This should allow everyone an opportunity to find out more about individuals from their own departments as well as members of other areas of the business that they don’t often see or work with. It is important for teams to trust each other and exercising helps build that trust and overall team bonding.
Helps Identify Gaps
We encourage all exercise players to have the opportunity to raise issues during the exercise. This of course should be controlled. Issues are usually classified as something that has been identified during the session that needs to be addressed at a later time, as the exercise will need to continue to meet the pre-designated objectives.
Identifies Potential Mitigating Measures
During some exercises, teams will identify issues or major gaps that they want to address while they’re in that moment. This is fine as long as leadership understands that taking the time to discuss an issue in detail might impact the overall objectives of the event. If there is time, then identifying potential mitigating measures can be a benefit as this will reduce the amount of time it takes to remediate at a later date. Having the decision makers in one place usually allows those decisions to be made.
They Don’t Have to be Complex
One of the benefits that is usually overlooked is the fact that exercises can be simple and do not have to be long and complex sessions. In fact, it is our experience that building up to a larger more complex exercise can take up to three years and involve multiple smaller tabletop and functional exercises. Keep them simple and make sure your objectives are achievable in each event.
A Tool for War-Gaming
Another very good benefit of exercising is that we can use the process to look at other challenges within the business and not just crisis, emergency, security and business continuity. Corporate War-Gaming is another variant of exercising and is used to look at higher-level strategic challenges, as well as new initiatives like the launch of a new product into the market place. War-Gaming often includes a “Red Team” that play opposition forces, or in the corporate world, a competitor.
Strengthens Stakeholder Relationships
It has to be said that the most resilient communities and businesses are strong due to their relationships and knowledge of each other’s expectations and capabilities. If there’s an opportunity to invite one or more of your stakeholders into your exercises, then take that opportunity. Regulatory bodies, critical vendors, first responders or any other stakeholder should appreciate the opportunity to observe or even participate. Don’t be afraid that your team might make a mistake. The fact that you’re transparent and open to the idea of stakeholders being there will provide your team with a lot more confidence than if they were not invited. In certain exercises you may mandate that your critical vendors be present to ensure you understand their response protocols and capabilities so you’re both on the same page.
Can you think of other major benefits to conducting exercises? If so, feel free to post them here.
About Rob Burton
Rob is a Principal at PreparedEx where he manages a team of crisis preparedness professionals and has over 20 years of experience preparing for and responding to crises. Part of his leadership role includes assisting PreparedEx clients in designing, implementing and evaluating crisis, emergency, security and business continuity management programs. During his career Rob has worked for the US State Department’s Anti-Terrorism Assistance Program, as a crisis management consultant in Pakistan and Afghanistan where he negotiated with the UN and Pashtun tribal warlords and he served with the United Kingdom Special Forces where he operated internationally under hazardous covert and confidential conditions. Rob was also part of a disciplined and prestigious unit The Grenadier Guards where he served Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Palaces in London. Rob was a highly trained and experienced infantryman serving in Desert Storm and commanded covert operational teams and was a sniper. Rob has keynoted disaster recovery conferences and participated in live debates on FOX News regarding complex security requirements and terrorism. Rob has a Queen’s Commendation for Bravery.