Tabletop exercises are an essential part of emergency preparedness and business continuity planning for building management teams.
These exercises help to identify potential gaps in response plans, improve communication, and assess overall readiness for various emergency scenarios. This blog will focus on a fire scenario, its potential impacts on business continuity and life safety, and the steps to take for an effective response.
Scenario: Fire in the Building
Imagine a fire breaking out in the office building you manage. The fire alarm system activates, and occupants are alerted to potential danger. The fire starts on the 7th floor in a janitorial closet and quickly spreads to surrounding offices. Thick smoke and heat fill the area, hindering visibility and making evacuation difficult. The fire department is dispatched and en-route, but response time is 15 minutes due to traffic and distance.
Related: Fire Drills – an Interview with Jack Murphy
Life Safety Impact
The most significant concern during a fire event is life safety. Ensuring the well-being of building occupants is crucial. A fire can cause injury or loss of life, making it vital to have an effective evacuation plan in place. Additionally, understanding the potential dangers associated with fires, such as smoke inhalation, burns, and structural collapse, is essential for preparedness and response efforts.
Business Continuity Impact
A fire in a building can severely impact business continuity, causing both immediate and long-term effects. Immediate impacts include the evacuation of the building, suspension of operations, and potential damage to critical infrastructure, equipment, and other critical assets. Long-term effects may include the need to find alternative workspaces, repair or replace damaged assets, and address potential reputation damage with clients, employees, and stakeholders.
Tabletop Exercise: Fire Response and Recovery
Step 1: Initial Response
Gather your building management team and begin the exercise by discussing the initial response to the fire. Consider the following questions:
- How will your team communicate the emergency situation to building occupants?
- What is the evacuation plan for the building, and how will it be executed?
- How will you account for all occupants during and after the evacuation?
- What is the role of floor wardens and safety officers in assisting the evacuation process?
- How will you coordinate with first responders, such as the fire department and emergency medical services?
Step 2: Life Safety Planning
Discuss the life safety aspects of the scenario and identify strategies to ensure the well-being of building occupants. Consider the following questions:
- How will you manage potential injuries or casualties during the event?
- What training and resources do your team and building occupants have to address fire-related emergencies?
- How will you ensure that occupants with disabilities or mobility challenges can evacuate safely?
- How will you monitor and control potential hazards, such as smoke, heat, and structural damage during and after the event?
Step 3: Business Continuity Planning
Discuss the potential business continuity impacts and identify strategies to minimize disruption to building operations. Address the following questions:
- What is your plan for relocating employees and building occupants to alternative workspaces during and after the event?
- How will you ensure that essential business functions continue during the recovery process?
- What is your plan for addressing potential damage to critical infrastructure, equipment, and documents?
- How will you communicate with clients, employees, and stakeholders about the event and the steps taken to address it?
Step 4: Recovery and Lessons Learned
Finally, discuss the recovery process and identify lessons learned from the exercise. Address the following questions:
- How will you evaluate the effectiveness of your response plan and identify areas for improvement?
- What resources will be needed to repair or replace damaged assets?
- How will you address potential reputation damage and rebuild stakeholder trust?
- What additional training or resources might be needed to better prepare for future fire-related emergencies?
- How will you develop and maintain relationships with external partners, such as first responders, insurance providers, and local government agencies, to ensure a coordinated and efficient recovery process?
Step 5: Implementing Changes and Improvements
Based on the lessons learned and identified gaps in your EAP / response plans, discuss the changes and improvements that should be made. Consider the following questions:
- What modifications should be made to the building’s evacuation plan to improve its effectiveness and efficiency?
- How can you enhance communication and coordination with first responders and other stakeholders during an emergency?
- What additional training or resources should be provided to your team, floor wardens, safety officers, and building occupants to better prepare for fire-related emergencies?
- Are there any modifications that can be made to the building’s design, systems, or equipment to minimize the risk of fire and improve life safety?
- How can you improve your business continuity plan to minimize disruptions and expedite the recovery process after a fire event?
This tabletop exercise is designed to help your building management team proactively prepare for a fire scenario and its potential impacts on business continuity and life safety. By actively discussing response plans, identifying gaps, and implementing improvements, your team can enhance its preparedness and reduce the potential consequences of a fire event. Regularly conducting tabletop exercises and updating your response plans will ensure that your team remains well-equipped to handle emergencies and protect the well-being of your building occupants.
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.