Want your organization to be ready for the next emergency?

The Tool that Breathes Life Into Emergency Plans

Exercises are vital for organization’s that rank high in emergency preparedness. They enable staff to test and validate emergency response plans and capabilities, and identify areas for improvement. According to the Department of Homeland Security’s Exercise and Evaluation Program, a well-designed exercise provides a low-risk environment to test capabilities, familiarize personnel with roles and responsibilities, and foster meaningful interaction and communication within and across organizations.
Practice Makes Perfect

Recent findings in neuroscience indicate that practicing anything reduces the amount of mental effort required, leading to better performance—especially under high-stakes conditions. Could there be any condition with higher stakes than an emergency? Exercising results in more predictable and better performance during an emergency.

Imagine that you are expected to do a task for the first time. To fulfill this expectation, you begin by learning how to perform that task in a way that you feel confident will work for you. You may decide to first talk with other people who you know have performed the task before. Or you may start the task first and bumble along until you figure it out because you know that mistakes are allowed and they will help you learn how best to perform the task. Or you may search the internet first and see how others perform the task. All of these methods or a combination of them are valid ways to learn a new task.

But what if you are expected to do a task for the first time during an emergency. Such a high-stakes condition would likely throw you off as well as your colleagues. You may not have access to the internet or other people to help you. Mistakes may have major ramifications but you don’t know how best to proceed. You may become overwhelmed by your lack of preparedness. You may lose your cool and then your confidence. After the emergency and upon reflection, you and your colleagues will realize that had you been better prepared, your response would’ve been quicker, more effective, and resulted in fewer losses.

Exercise Your Emergency Plans

Practicing emergency preparedness and response activities with the goal of improvement has two primary benefits:

  1. You identify ways to improve preparedness, and with that knowledge, can now make beneficial changes in the organization.
  2. Your staff benefit from the opportunity of practicing the actions they must take during various emergency scenarios. This results in greater ease, speed, and confidence.

Types of Emergency Exercises

There are two main categories of exercises: discussion-based and operations-based. The discussion-based exercises include workshops, seminars, and tabletop exercises. They’re often low-stress and are useful when staff are first learning a new plan or when they need to be refreshed on what the plan expects of them. They often involve discussions about strategy, policy, and organization.  They take up minimal time, even as little as one hour of discussion can reap benefits. While this type of exercise is conceptual, it creates the groundwork and pathways needed to be ready for operations-based exercises and more importantly, for real events.

Operations-based exercises include drills, functional exercises, and full-scale exercises. More time is needed both to prepare these exercises and to perform them, but the experience of being in an operations-based exercise is closer to a real emergency and you build muscle memory. These exercises are used to validate plans, policies, agreements, and procedures; refine roles and responsibilities; and identify resource gaps. Operations-based exercises are characterized by live movement in response to an exercise scenario, such as initiating communications or mobilizing personnel and resources.

You Can Do This!

It is well known that practicing emergency exercises improves future performance in a real event. Any organization from the smallest to the largest can perform and benefit from routine emergency exercises.  If your organization performs them annually or more often, when a crisis hits, the return on investment is substantial. Save yourself the headache and regret of not doing something that could prevent future losses. Invest in your organization’s preparedness today with an emergency exercise.

If you want us to plan and facilitate an exercise with your staff, please contact Kate Novick at 860-402-6597 or email at knovick@gradientplanning.com.