simulation exercises

All organizations should consider the advantages of implementing a comprehensive exercise program rather than focusing on singular periodic simulation exercises.


Whether they are a start-up company, an older well-established company, an organization undergoing a leadership change, or a company that is has just completed a merger, and are in the process of developing a new business strategy or contingency plan.

A search on the Internet reveals that there are at least ten different types/levels of simulation exercises (e.g., Seminars Workshops, Tabletop Exercises, War Games, Drills, Functional Exercises, Full-Scale Exercises, Command Post Exercises, Operations Center Exercises, Case Studies). There are similarities in many of the aforementioned and the majority of organizations involved in the conduct of exercises employ the US Federal Government’s identification of five different levels of exercise. The five levels are as follows:

  1. Orientation Seminar
  2. Drill
  3. Tabletop Exercise
  4. Functional Exercise
  5. Full-Scale Exercise

The Orientation Seminar:

This is a low-stress, informal discussion in a group setting with little or no simulation. The orientation seminar is used to provide information and introduce people to the policies, plans and procedures in the organization’s contingency planning.

The Drill:

These is the simulation exercise most organizations are familiar with. The drill is a coordinated, supervised exercise used to typically test a single specific operation or function. It involves usually involves the deployment of equipment and personnel in more than one location.

Related: 3 Crisis Simulation Exercise Scenario Planning Tips

The Tabletop Exercise:

This is a facilitated group analysis of an emergency situation in an informal, stress-free environment. The Tabletop Exercise is designed for examination of operational plans, problem identification, and in-depth problem solving. There are basically two types of tabletop simulation exercises (simple and enhanced).

A simple tabletop exercise is a facilitated analysis of a specific situation in an informal, stress-free environment. It is designed to elicit constructive discussion as participants examine and resolve problems based on existing operational plans and identify where those plans need to be refined. The success of the exercise is largely determined by group participation in the identification of problem areas. There is minimal attempt at simulation in a tabletop exercise. Equipment is not used, resources are not deployed, and time pressures are usually not introduced. This is the simplest type of exercise to conduct in terms of planning, preparation, and coordination.

Related: 3 Reasons to Invest in a Tabletop Exercise

An enhanced tabletop exercise is a simulated interactive exercise that helps to test the capability of an organization to respond to a simulated event. The exercise tests multiple functions of an organization’s operational plan. It is a coordinated response to a situation in a time-pressured, realistic simulation that involves several departments within an organization. An enhanced tabletop exercise focuses on the coordination, integration, and interaction of an organization’s plans, policies, procedures, roles, and responsibilities before, during, or after the simulated event. It places heavy emphasis on communication between all the departments and/or stakeholders participating in the exercise.

These types of simulation exercises will require much more planning, preparation, and coordination than a simple tabletop exercise. To a large extent, the value and benefit of an enhanced tabletop exercise comes from bringing representatives from all of the stakeholder roles in the exercise together to participate in the exercise. It is still possible to run an enhanced tabletop exercise without representatives present from all the stakeholder’s roles. If possible, you can fill these roles with individuals that are familiar with the mission of the individual stakeholder that is missing. It is recommended that you note during your after action review that actions taken by the missing agency may have been different than those taken by the “stand-ins” during the course of the exercise.

Related: PreparedEx Podcast Episode 12 – Crisis Simulation Exercise Objectives 

Functional Exercise:

The Functional Exercise is a fully simulated interactive exercise that tests the capability of an organization to respond to a simulated event. This exercise focuses on the coordination of multiple functions or organizations and takes place in an Emergency Operations Center. The Functional Exercise strives for realism, short of actual deployment of equipment and personnel.


Full-Scale Exercise:

The Full Scale Exercise is a simulated event, as close to reality as possible. In the case of a simulated catastrophic event, it is an exercise of an emergency response plan to a particular contingency (e.g., hurricane, earthquake, explosion, hazardous material spill, violence in work place, etc.), and involves all emergency response functions and requires full deployment of equipment and personnel. Typically, in a business setting these simulation exercises should include fire, law enforcement, emergency management and other agencies and organizations as identified in the scenario. A full scale exercise should test the end-to-end crisis response, management and recovery capabilities of the organization.


If you need assistance with any of these types of exercises, we would love to hear from you.

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Rob Burton

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.