All About Exercising your Emergency Response Plan
As a regular reader of IFW and undoubtedly this column, you have probably already noticed that there is a lot to learn from past mistakes. In fact as an Instructor and Consultant we use past case studies in many training scenarios, to improve future performance of our emergency response teams. Evaluating what went wrong at a large scale conflagration is endlessly debated in classrooms and at conferences around the globe. In this month's column, I thought I'd give some guidance based on prior incidents on how to properly exercise your emergency response plan. There are a lot of moving parts in conducting and excercising your plan. I do believe this is very important and unfortunately, MANY companies and Industrial Fire Brigade's DO NOT plan properly. I did want to emphasize though that when it hits the fan and there is an emergency with large scale property damage that causes a business interruption,? ie: your refinery shuts in and you are losing millions of dollars in production, someone's head will end up on the chopping block. Make sure it isn't yours!!!
These pointers will get you started, however I caution it does not replace consultation with professionals, who are in the business of emergency response planning.
There are five basic types of exercises that can be undertaken to properly assess the effectiveness of your facilities business continuity or emergency response plan.
- Desk check?
- Tabletop exercise?
- Functional exercise?
- Full-scale exercise
A desk check is an untimed exercise to review all of the elements of the plan in a stress-free environment. The participants are management and response team members who gather across the table to ensure that all are familiar with the plan; questions are asked and answered; changes are made to the plan if problems are discovered. This exercise is usually facilitated by the plan developer, business continuity plan coordinator and the Fire Chief.
Tabletop exercise or walk-through
A tabletop exercise simulates an incident in an informal, stress-free environment. The participants who are usually the responsible managers and the response teams gather around a table to discuss general problems and procedures in the context of an incident scenario. The focus is on training and familiarization with roles, procedures, or responsibilities.
The tabletop is largely a structured walk-through guided by a facilitator. Its purpose is to solve problems as a group. A scenario is developed in advance but there are no attempts to arrange elaborate facilities or communications. One or two evaluators may be selected to observe proceedings and progress toward the objectives.
The success of a tabletop exercise is determined by feedback from participants and the impact this feedback has on the evaluation and revision of policies, plans, and procedures.
This type of exercise involves a predefined scenario which is developed prior to the event. It is unannounced and once started it is timed from beginning to end. The exercise addresses the scenario using only the plan. It is used to determine the state of readiness and awareness of the plan's response teams. It incorporates associated plans and tests accuracy of call trees and supplier or recovery vendor lists.
The functional exercise simulates an emergency in the most realistic manner possible, short of moving real people and equipment to an actual site. As the name suggests, its goal is to test or evaluate the capability of one or more functions in the context of an adverse or emergency event.
- It involves controller(s), players, simulators, and evaluators.?
- The atmosphere is stressful and tense because of real-time action and the realism of the problems.?
- Exercise is lengthy and complex; requires careful scripting, careful planning, and attention to detail.?
- Geared for policy, coordination, and operations personnel (the players).?
- Players practice their response to an incident by responding in a realistic way to carefully planned and sequenced messages given to them by simulators.?
- Messages reflect a series of ongoing events and problems.?
- All decisions and actions by players occur in real time and generate real responses and consequences from other players.
The Guiding principle here is to imitate reality. Don't forget sending your people to fire school, is great and you need to do that BUT it adds very little value in terms of exercising YOUR company's plan. I've seen many HSE and Fire Chief's make this mistake, assuming that sending your people to fire school will solve all of the issues related to exercising your plan. There great value in exercising as a team, we do many company specials at UNR where fire brigades from one company will come in and train on our props, but this does not supplant the need to exercise your plan? when you get back to your facilities.
Full plan exercise
A full-scale exercise is as close to the real thing as possible. It is a lengthy exercise that takes place on location, using, as much as possible, the equipment and personnel that would be called upon in a real event. In a sense, a full-scale exercise combines the interactivity of the functional exercise with a field element. It differs from a drill in that a drill focuses on a single operation and exercises only one organization.
Eventually, every incident response organization must hold a full-scale exercise because it is necessary at some point to test capabilities in an environment as near to the real one as possible.
Benefits from exercising
The goal for every Industrial facility should be to design exercises and to establish a comprehensive exercise program. That program should be based on a long-term, carefully constructed plan. In a comprehensive program, exercises build upon one another to meet specific operational goals. The aim is to provide competence in all incident and emergency response functions.
The two main benefits of an exercise program:
Individual training: exercising enables people to practice their roles and gain experience in those roles. System improvement: exercising improves the organisation's system for managing incidents and emergencies. These benefits arise not just from exercising, but from evaluating the exercise, evaluating problems, and acting upon the recommendations.
Management should be clear that exercises are NOT tests. The intent is not to establish a pass or fail. An exercise should be viewed as the normal work required to refine and to tune business continuity and emergency plans. An exercise has value only when it leads to improvement.
Exercises should be conducted periodically. The period of the exercises should at least be yearly, or, if business is rapidly, changing twice a year.
Comments? Questions? Is there an Industrial Fire Training topic you would like to see covered in this column? Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Attila Hertelendy is an instructor with the University of Nevada, Reno - Fire Science Academy and President and CEO of Great White Emergency Medical Solutions, Inc. a training and emergency response planning company.