These Seven Tips Will Help You Create Impactful and Memorable Crisis Simulation Tabletop Exercises

1. Ensure your tabletop exercise gets off to a good start by doing this….

Ensure you invite the right audience. This may seem obvious, but I have seen tabletop exercises fail when the they include functions that are not engaged throughout the scenario. Start by creating your exercise objectives and then you will know which groups to invite to the tabletop.

2. Get creative be doing this and you will engage the exercise participants

A less than enthusiastic group can be difficult to engage. We find that by creating a detailed scenario that is specific to the participants every-day environment makes it easier for them to actively participate. When developing your scenario, do the research into how each participating group would be impacted at the various stages of your simulated timeline. In addition to the scenario details, you can develop a set of challenging questions that accompany each part of the scenario. These questions will lead to compelling discussions.

RESOURCE:  FirstLook – Created by PreparedEx – Delivered by You.

3. Create high quality visuals and you will reap the benefits

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. And the right video may be worth ten-thousand words. We like to add in realistic social media messages and even breaking news videos once the simulated scenario gets to that level. We include high-quality social media images (Twitter, Facebook, etc.) as well as any operational images based on your storyline. Having a few of these visuals will add another layer of realism that should create more discussion and overall engagement. Images of social media messages and videos will be of particular importance to the communications professionals on the crisis team who, during a crisis, will be tasked with managing both news-media and social-media relations.

Resource: Crisis Management Tabletop Exercises – A Guide to Success

4. Are you at the stage where you can try this in your crisis exercises?

Let’s take the simulation to the next level. Having created a detailed scenario that is relevant to your participants’ working environment, and then engaged them through realistic visuals, you could try having role players act out various stakeholders throughout the exercise. Role players can create an element of realism that exercise participants have never experienced before. Based on your scenario, consider the stakeholders that would be engaged in that crisis. Once you have created your list of stakeholders, you can then develop messages that might come from those groups. These messages could be emails that are sent, or phone calls that are made during the simulation exercise. In some cases, you might be able to use a real stakeholder. Just make sure you plan out these injects in detail to ensure they’re effective. Having several role players will also require a Sim Cell.

5. This one tip should allow for creativity…

I’m a big fan of breaking the exercise participants into smaller groups. This normally happens naturally based on their roles and responsibilities. When you breakout into smaller groups, this often allows individuals to have a much more active role than they would normally have in a larger group setting. In a larger group setting, it’s often the leader or most senior members that hog the stage. Smaller groups can assemble in separate breakout rooms. Ensure you have extra white boards and pens so the teams can document their responses.

Resource: eBook – 5 Steps to Creating and Delivering Tabletop Exercises

6. If you don’t properly evaluate your exercise, how will you improve your state of readiness?

Why would you go through the detailed planning of the crisis simulation tabletop exercise only to forget this one significant element? We conduct these exercises with a view to ensuring we improve as a team and as an organization. The evaluation of your tabletop exercise is key to improvement. To go one step further, you should consider having standard criteria against which all your exercises are evaluated. This is a good way to benchmark the organization. Here’s a list of some common topics you might want to consider for post-exercise evaluation for which you will want to develop detailed evaluation criteria:

  • Pre-Event (Plans, Training, Exercises, Risk Assessments, etc.)
  • Response (Activation of EOC, Notification, Initial Briefing, etc.)
  • Management (Leadership, Decision-Making, Tools, Messaging, Briefing Cycle Flow, etc.)
  • Post-Event (Recovery, Lessons-to-be-Learned, Documentation, etc.)

The criteria you develop might be a set of questions. Here’s an example as it relates to the Emergency Operations Center EOC or War Room:

  1. Does the plan identify an alternative EOC?
  2. Has the team practiced their response and management in the alternate EOC?
  3. Are the EOCs secure and only accessible by authorized persons?
  4. Does each EOC have backup power?
7. Try a different way to present your scenario

Drop the power point! It’s 2017, and I still see power point being used when there are other tools that can make your simulation exercise more stimulating. Engagement through the other things we have spoken about in this blog only works if your presentation delivery tool is also appealing. I like to use Prezi which is a cloud-based presentation software and storytelling tool for presentation ideas on virtual canvas.

Have other tips? Please post them in this blog and share your tabletop exercise ideas.

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.