Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Conducting Emergency Preparedness Drills

There is increasing awareness and understanding of the need for adequate and proper planning for emergencies.  Preparedness for any type of emergency (natural or man-made, accidental or deliberate, criminal or terrorist) really requires not only the development of an appropriate strategy and plan with commensurate policies and procedures, but 2 additional, separate but equally important activities:  a desktop exercise, and a live/physical drill.
The desktop exercise will be of significantly longer duration than the live drill (because activities will be discussed consecutively rather than occurring concurrently) and should include all stakeholders, all of whom should participate in all aspects of the exercise.  The agenda should include verbalization and visualization (maps, charts, etc.) of all steps that would be taken during each phase of an actual emergency.  Key decision-makers and responders for each phase should take the lead in the discussions, but the discussions should also include immediate analysis, feedback and critique from all participants to assure that as many nuances and potential problems as possible are brought to light (the different perspectives from persons usually not directly involved in a particular aspect can be very helpful and insightful).
To be effective and a true learning and preparedness experience, a live/physical drill must include everyone that would normally be involved at the time of a live incident (and that includes random types of non-employees who would normally be present at the scheduled time of the drill) and should be conducted in real time – some organizations erroneously believe that only certain employees need to participate in an emergency drill and those only need to slowly act out or verbalize their motions during the drill.  But such is not productive, since it is important to learn/know what the scope of chaos and extent of time will be during an actual event, both of which are critical for successful mitigation of a real emergency.
As in any facet of real life, theoretical knowledge is important; but actual hands-on participation is a key component of assuring that emergency plans are truly workable.