Emergency Response Tabletop Exercises


Today, water suppliers face the difficult challenge of changing their daily business practices, routines and preparedness levels so that water security becomes a part of “business as usual.” The new planning procedures and protocols developed by the nation’s water systems in their Vulnerability Assessments and Emergency Response Plans (ERPs) will serve as the basis for continued planning and training efforts. Before successful training can be conducted, water suppliers should become familiar with their new ERPs and with new, national-level response guidance such as the National Response Plan and the National Incident Management System. In addition, water suppliers will need to know the basics of the Incident Command System and how to conduct practical emergency response exercises. Orientation seminars, drills and tabletop exercises can be used to help accomplish these goals.

This CD contains the guidance documents, information, presentations, and other materials necessary for water suppliers, trainers and other technical assistance providers to plan and conduct successful water security emergency response tabletop exercises. Much of the necessary background information is provided in the Train-the-Trainer Materials, Useful Water Security Web Links and Documents and Customize a Tabletop Exercise sections. The materials needed to run a tabletop exercise are provided under the Tabletop Exercises section. The “Site Map” button on the main page will help you navigate through the information contained on the CD.

A tabletop exercise is a focused practice activity that places the participants in a simulated situation requiring them to function in the capacity that would be expected of them in a real event. Its purpose is to promote preparedness by testing policies and plans and by training personnel. Many successful responses to emergencies over the years have demonstrated that exercising pays huge dividends when an emergency occurs.

The After-Action Report following the 1995 bombing of the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City made the following recommendation regarding problems that were identified in integrating the response efforts of multiple agencies:

"Planning, training, and exercising are the only feasible recommendations. If an integrated emergency management system is to be utilized and effective in future disasters, all levels of government must be on the same page of the book. Effective coordination cannot be achieved during the chaos following any disaster. Relationships must be established, plans written and tested, and procedures agreed upon. Regardless of what our particular role is, our mission is the same... to provide effective response and recovery through coordinated logistics, communications, and information support systems."

In light of 9/11 and the addition of public utilities to the community of first responders by Homeland Security Presidential Directive (HSPD) 8, the above passage holds significant meaning for all water and wastewater providers within the United States.

The exercises contained in this CD will be a mixture of “simple tabletop” exercises and “enhanced tabletop” exercises. According to FEMA, a “tabletop” exercise is a “facilitated analysis of an emergency 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 simple tabletop exercise. Equipment is not used, resources are not deployed, and time pressures are not introduced. The “simple tabletop” exercises included on the CD will adhere to FEMA’s definition for a 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 agencies. An enhanced tabletop exercise focuses on the coordination, integration, and interaction of an organization's policies, procedures, roles, and responsibilities before, during, or after the simulated event. It places heavy emphasis on communication between all the agencies participating in the exercise. An "enhanced tabletop" exercise falls in between FEMA's definitions for a tabletop exercise and a "functional" exercise. According to FEMA, a functional exercise is a fully simulated interactive exercise performed in real time that tests the capability of an organization to respond to a simulated event without actually moving people and equipment to an actual site.

The exercise scenarios included on this CD will be based in fictional Zenith City. This allows for training to occur without sensitive information being disseminated regarding any actual facility. As the trainer or user, you will select from either a “simple” or “enhanced” tabletop exercise. From there, you will be able to select from five basic event types:

• intentional contamination;

• security breach;

• cyber security;

• physical attack; and

• interdependency.

In addition, you will be able to select from the eight basic threat warning types described in the Response Protocol Toolbox:

• security breach;

• public health notification;

• consumer complaint;

• unusual water quality;

• notification by news media;

• notification by law enforcement;

• notification by perpetrator; and

• witness account.

After the three basic selections have been made, the CD will guide you to the appropriate materials for that exercise. The exercise scenarios include:

Scenario 1: This scenario involves the intentional contamination of Zenith City’s water distribution system with a biological agent.

Scenario 2: This scenario involves a water tank security breach that is discovered by a Zenith City water utility employee.

Scenario 3: This scenario involves a computer virus attack on the Zenith City water department’s SCADA system, perpetrated by a disgruntled utility worker.

Scenario 4: This scenario involves a shut-down of the Zenith City water department’s high-lift pumps through the SCADA system, perpetrated by a disgruntled utility worker.

Scenario 5: This scenario involves the intentional contamination of Zenith City’s water supply reservoir when a “dirty” bomb explodes by the water intake.

Scenario 6: This scenario involves the destruction of a portion of the water treatment facility by a suicide truck bomber, causing the release of chlorine gas.

Scenario 7: This scenario involves a railroad workers strike that leads to the inability of the Zenith City water system to receive their chlorine shipment.

Scenario 8: This scenario involves a severe March storm that causes widespread damage in Zenith City including flooding, power outages, communication disruptions and water main breaks.

The tabletop exercises on this CD were mainly developed to train water and wastewater utility workers in how to exercise their emergency response plans and use the Response Protocol Toolbox and other guidance documents in the planning process. Additionally, the exercises contain secondary roles for health officials, fire, police, emergency medical services, and local, state, and federal officials.