How to Create and Run

TableTop Exercises
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What is a Tabletop Exercise?

Tabletop Exercises bring together heads of lines of business and leaders of business processes in a low-stress environment to test crisis management, emergency management and business continuity. Realistic scenarios are presented in an engaging, relatively relaxed environment, where teams walk through their plans for responding to an unfolding crisis. There are two main types of Tabletop Exercises, they are:

The Simple Tabletop Exercise

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.

Tabletop Exercise Pricing

PreparedEx has developed a tiered pricing structure to fit your orginization’s needs and budget.

The Enhanced 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. This type of exercise 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 stakeholders’ 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.

What are Tabletop Exercise Objectives?

One of the most important, if not the most important steps, in the design and preparation of an exercise is to determine exercise objective(s). It is not unusual for individuals planning an exercise to want to begin by focusing on a specific scenario. While the particular scenario they want to use may work, we have experienced situations where the scenario may not allow them to reach the objective(s) they want to achieve. Try to follow the S.M.A.R.T. method when developing objectives.

Try to keep objectives:

Simple & Specific

A good objective is simply and clearly phrased. It is brief and easy to understand. What exactly do you want to accomplish? Ask the question, “Why are we doing this?”


Can it be measured? The objective sets the level of performance, so that results are observable and the evaluation can tell when an objective has been met.


Should not be too tough to achieve. Should be reasonable in its commitment of resources. Can you get it done in the time given?


Even though an objective might be achievable, it might not be realistic for the exercise. Will it lead to desirable results?


When will it be accomplished?

Once the objectives are determined, then you decide what game mechanics and scenario will allow you to address the stated objective(s) during the exercise.

Here’s an example of Tabletop Exercise Objectives:


  1. Work through a heightened simulated scenario that facilitates the review of team roles and responsibilities.
  2. Identify potential challenges or needs to support:
    • Existing crisis communications response processes.
    • Current crisis management resources and protocols.
  1. How best to coordinate with internal and external stakeholders during emergencies.
  2. Create a framework for support of Crisis Management needs.
Tabletop Exercises

“Our company has grown quickly, and recently a dedicated risk resource was tasked to build a true crisis management program.  With the help of PreparedEx, we were able to not only template a crisis management plan, but also create a tabletop exercise to truly get our senior leadership team’s thoughts on if the plan was actionable and if the right players were designated.  PreparedEx did a great job designing the exercise and were able to keep everyone engaged and on task in a virtual environment, which I never thought would be possible!  Even better, they were able to share best practices with the senior leaders when it came to crisis response so everyone felt comfortable, we were heading in the right direction.  We are truly grateful for their partnership and look forward to growing our program.”

Director of Enterprise Risk

Healthcare Company

The Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management Tabletop Exercises

A FREE eBook written by PreparedEx that explains in detail how your organization can develop and conduct tabletop exercises that will test and improve the efficacy of its crisis plans and the functioning of its crisis response teams. 

Download a copy of the PrepaedEx Ultimate Guide to Crisis Management Tabletop Exercises

Identify Who Needs To Be Involved

Another key element of planning a successful tabletop exercise is identifying who needs to be involved. This includes not only those who will be participating in the exercise, but also those who will be observing and debriefing afterwards. It is important to have a mix of people from different departments so that you can get a well-rounded perspective on how the exercise went.

Create A Scenario

Once you have a clear understanding of what you want to accomplish and who needs to be involved, you can start creating a script or scenario. This is the backbone of the exercise and will help guide the discussion or simulation. The script should be realistic and challenging, but not so difficult that it cannot be resolved. Also, when creating the scenario, be sure to make it as realistic as possible so that you can get the most out of the exercise. 

Evaluation of the Tabletop Exercise

After the exercise has been completed, it is important to debrief and evaluate how it went. This includes looking at what worked well and what needs to be improved. It is also important to identify any lessons to be learned so that you can apply them in the future. Tabletop exercises are a valuable tool for preparing your organization for emergencies. By following these tips, you can ensure that your tabletop exercise is successful.

Running The Tabletop Exercise

Now that you have everything planned, it is time to run the exercise. This is where all of your planning will come together. Be sure to debrief afterwards so that you can learn from any mistakes that were made. Tabletop exercises are a great way to prepare your organization for emergencies, so don’t hesitate to run them often!

Planning and running tabletop exercises may seem like a daunting task, but the benefits far outweigh the costs. Tabletop exercises provide a clear insight into response plans as well as how teams will respond during the real thing. If you’re looking for a way to improve your organization’s emergency preparedness, look no further than tabletop exercises!

How to Run a Tabletop Exercise

There are five main steps to creating, delivering and evaluating Tabletop Exercises. They are:  

Step 1

Pre-Exercise Planning  

Step 2

Scenario and Exercise Design  

Step 3

Final Pre-Exercise Preparations  

Step 4

Exercise Delivery and Evaluation  

Step 5

Post Exercise Activities  

Dolwnload the 5 Steps to Creating Crisis Simulation Tabletop Exercises. The Complete Guide to Creating and Delivering
Crisis Simulation Tabletop Exercises

Benefits of Running Tabletop Exercises

There are many benefits to conducting tabletop exercises, here are a few of the key ones:  

  • They advance critical thinking among leaders under “near real” conditions  
  • They uncover issues before they occur in real life  
  • They bring together the right audiences to ensure coordination and decision-making is thought through  
  • They are an effective way to familiarize team members with their roles and responsibilities  
  • They don’t require too much effort to prepare and can be delivered in most settings  

Other Types of Exercises

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 or War Room. The Functional Exercise strives for realism, short of actual deployment of equipment and personnel.

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 this exercise should include fire, law enforcement, emergency management and other agencies and organizations as identified in the scenario.

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