This Is (Not Quite) a Test

This Is (Not Quite) a Test

Six tips and three scenarios to get you started on a tabletop exercise

A tabletop exercise is a great way to get business continuity off the written page without the interruption of a full-scale drill. Rather than actually simulating a disaster, the crisis management group gathers for three hours to talk through a simulated disaster.

It can be a full-scale production that involves local first responders and professional moderators. Or it can be a simple affair conducted by in-house disaster planners. The idea is to have an escalating scenario that unfolds in several segments. After each segment, small working groups discuss how they would respond, then report back to each other before hearing from moderators about what happens next.

Tips for an Effective Tabletop

• Decide how much gloom and doom you want. When planning a tabletop, Joe Flach, VP of Eagle Rock Alliance, asks: "Do you want this to be a physical event with assets damaged and destroyed, or do you just want those things inaccessible? Do you want death and injuries, or just to test the ability to get work up and going someplace else?"

• Test how quickly you can pull together key players. At public utility PSE&G, director of corporate security Mike Paszynsky says the crisis management group doesn't always know when a tabletop will occur. Instead, the company tests how quickly it could reach all those individuals. Specialized software pings team members' phone numbers and communications devices, alerting them that the crisis management team is assembling.

• Involve everyone. Make sure each person has a role. If one person answers all the questions, have others enact how they would respond if that person were unavailable.

• Acknowledge that first-timers may be nervous. "Some business managers don't want to show that they may not know how to respond to a certain issue," says Rad Jones of Michigan State University. To make them more comfortable, consider an hour-long orientation. Later, work your way up to a three-hour exercise, and then invite local law enforcement and first responders to participate.

• Encourage misinformation. During a crisis, Flach says, "you're always asked to make timely decisions based on incomplete and inaccurate information". You can simulate the confusion this causes by giving the groups handouts containing different information.

• Take the lessons with you. A designated note-taker should keep track of what happens; always leave time for lessons learned.

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