Emergency Response Tabletop Exercises

Customize a Tabletop Exercise

The exercises contained on this CD have been developed to be applicable to a broad, national audience at the local, state, and federal level. As such, the scenarios have been designed to contain as many agency roles as possible in realistic, simulated incidents that are relevant in a post-9/11 world, but do not contain any specific details regarding any locality, state, or region. To accomplish this, the tabletop exercises included on this CD are set in fictional Zenith City. It is possible that a trainer or user of this CD may wish to change certain aspects of the enclosed scenarios, add to the scenarios, or "borrow" the structure of a scenario to create a unique exercise that can account for individual utility, local, state, or regional policies and practices. "Customizing" the scenarios is highly encouraged. Utilities may desire to adapt a scenario and its materials for their actual city, while keeping sensitive information protected as necessary. Original, editable source files are provided to the user with each scenario just for this purpose. You can also use your own water distribution maps and town or city road maps to replace the Zenith City maps included on this CD.

The following steps will serve as a guide for "customizing" scenarios:

1. Determine which aspect of a utility, local, state or regional emergency response plan you wish to test.

2. Determine what type of incident scenario will best test that aspect of the utility, local, state or regional emergency response plan.

3. Determine whether a "simple" or "enhanced" tabletop exercise will be best based on available resources and time. Remember, an enhanced exercise is more realistic, but it is also more resource and time intensive in terms of preparation. More materials need to be prepared, an appropriate training site located, and many individuals from various agencies will need to be invited to attend in order to maximize exercise benefits. The "simple" tabletop exercise requires less preparation time but may actually take more time to conduct since no time pressure is placed on the participants during the exercise.

4. Determine your exercise objectives (what you wish to accomplish during the exercise) as a team and what individuals or agencies or individual and agency roles should either attend or be represented in the exercise to help accomplish those objectives.

5. You can alter or change the exercises on this CD to suit your purposes by accessing the source files included for each exercise on this CD. These files are in Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Feel free to edit these source files to make the exercises more applicable to your local or regional setting (if you do not own some of these software packages, you will not be able to edit certain source files). You can also use your own water distribution maps and town or city road maps to replace the Zenith City maps included on this CD. In the "simple" tabletop exercises, feel free to omit "injects" as necessary due to time constraints or to help simplify the exercise or ensuing discussions. In addition, you may use the structure of any of the exercises as a model or road map to create your own "simple" or "enhanced" tabletop exercise scenario.

To create your own scenario, brainstorm how the exercise scenario will be initiated, how it will unfold, and how it will end. At the end of this session, you will have your scenario outlined, a rough exercise timeline constructed, and a list of needed props or "injects." While brainstorming for an "enhanced" tabletop exercise, envision all the potential reactions that exercise participants may have, and develop props or "injects" to guide those reactions to ensure that you test what you want to test and to ensure that your exercise objectives will be met. This thinking through of potential reactions is especially important when creating an "enhanced" tabletop exercise, as the participants will determine, to a large extent, how the exercise will unfold.

Example: Let's say that in your enhanced tabletop exercise you expected the water or wastewater utility to notify the police of a certain event that occurred during the course of the exercise; however, the utility did not make the expected notification. A well-timed "leak" to the media, represented by a "media alert" inject read to all participants, would effectively notify the police that an event has occurred at the water or wastewater utility and keep the exercise on track.

If you are developing a simple tabletop exercise, this process is very streamlined as you will be able to control the participants' discussion during the course of the exercise. Therefore, you will not have to be too concerned with unexpected participant reactions and you will be able to move smoothly from inject to inject.

The remaining steps apply to the development of enhanced tabletop exercises:

6. If you are developing an enhanced tabletop exercise, draw up your floor plan. A sample floor plan is provided in the exercise materials. The floor plan will help you to visualize the individual and agency roles you will have represented during the exercise. This will also give you an idea of the minimum amount of people you will need to run the exercise effectively. As a general rule, each table or role should have a minimum of two people. This allows discussion to take place within a table or role prior to decisions being made. Don't forget that as a controller you will be representing the control, probably the media (see #9 below), and potentially the lab role within an exercise.

7. Create a list of needed materials for every role represented in your enhanced exercise. This is an important task during the development of an enhanced tabletop exercise. You will want to ensure that each table has all the necessary background information, maps and forms to start the exercise. You will also want to ensure that as a controller, you will have the needed information, maps, and forms to distribute to participants as the scenario unfolds.

8. Create the necessary information, maps, and forms. Look at the materials included on this CD for examples. The materials on this CD can also be taken and edited to suit your purposes. Paragraph 6 above contains more information regarding this process. In addition, pay close attention to the exercise objectives slide within each scenario's introductory PowerPoint presentation. Currently, these goals are broad and general, reflecting the fact that the goals are based on national level guidance and that they are not specific to any individual utility, region, or state. You may need to change these goals to be more specific to the Emergency Response Plan or procedures you are exercising, especially if you customize any of the scenarios.

9. You may wish to expand the media role. You can assign an individual to this role who can serve both as the media and as an aggressive reporter during the exercise. As a reporter, this individual can circulate between the tables in the room asking questions and distracting people from their job functions. The idea behind this role is if the participants fail to establish a point of contact for the media such as a Public Information Officer (PIO) or a Joint Information Center (JIC), this individual will be disruptive to all the participants' response efforts.

PLEASE NOTE: Materials you customize may contain sensitive information from emergency response plans. Be sure to collect and destroy all materials upon exercise completion.

The above information will help you to conceive and create your own exercises. Any file on this CD can be taken and edited for your own use. The bottom line is that the exercise design process is a very creative process.

The "Train-the-Trainer" portion of this CD contains presentations that will give you tips on how to set-up for the exercise, conduct the exercise, and perform an after action review or "hot wash."

The Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) offers an independent study course in Exercise Design (Independent Study IS139). Detailed information regarding exercise design can be found in this course. This course is offered through FEMA's Emergency Management Institute and can be found on-line at: http://training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS.