WHAT IS A TABLETOP EXERCISE FOR EMERGENCY RESPONSE PREPAREDNESS?

Tabletop exercises are an excellent and cost-effective method to train employees in emergency response preparedness.

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What is a tabletop exercise? Emergency response tabletop exercises are a cost-effective, discussion-based training method in which response team members collaborate and communicate assigned roles, responsibilities and required actions in response to one or more emergency scenarios. The objective of the tabletop exercise is to strengthen the overall response plan and review associated response procedures through guided discussion of one or more emergency scenarios.

Increased personnel responsibilities, reduced staffing, and cost constraints make it challenging to ensure that effective tabletop drills are conducted. The duration of a tabletop exercise depends on the expertise level of participants, the topic being exercised, and the exercise objectives. Many tabletop exercises can be completed in less than two hours, which allows the exercise to be a budget-friendly and a timely approach to validate emergency response plans and capabilities.

Tabletop exercises for emergency preparedness are effective for new or inexperienced team members. It allows managers and responder to assess internal and external competency levels and build team relationships in a low-stress environment. It may be beneficial for inexperienced or new response team members if the tabletop drill focuses on the incident command process, communications protocols, forms, meeting schedules, and other process elements.

An emergency response tabletop exercise should include:

  • Practical application of National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS)
  • Demonstration of a functional understanding of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) and Incident Management Team (IMT) organizations
  • Effective integration of common organization(s), and general responsibilities and expectation of the company
  • Demonstration of the ability to document and communicate actions, management decisions, and tracking resources using standardized Incident Command System (ICS) forms and the Emergency Response Plan (ERP)

Incident response tabletop exercises may reveal shortcomings in preparedness planning and responder knowledge. Companies should review shortcomings to bolster and improve the effectiveness of the preparedness program. Areas to examine after a tabletop exercise is conducted include, but are not limited to:

1. Corporate Commitment

  • Establish enterprise-wide safety policies and encourage and empower employees to be active participants in sustaining and improving safety procedures
  • Emphasize safety and regulatory compliance to protect employees and avoid financial losses

2. Site Analysis

  • Following the tabletop drill, examine unidentified potential work site hazards through employee feedback, thorough audits, and detailed inspections

3. Task Analysis

  • Determine and possibly realign job specific methods and procedures for each employee’s duty to reduce or eliminate associated hazards

4. Incident Prevention and Control

  • Schedule deadlines so that safety considerations are not compromised and procedures are followed
  • Establish procedures for addressing unique circumstances and tasks NOT typically performed, yet could potentially occur

5. Health, Safety and Environmental Training Program

  • Following the emergency response tabletop exercise, identify any new or additional training needed to correct or limit unsafe procedures or processes, or reflect new employee responsibilities
  • Evaluate compliance of applicable government agency mandated safety training

7. Incident Reporting and Post Incident Review

  • Understand requirements of mandated regulatory forms and assign or reinforce submission responsibilities
  • Access incident reporting and documentation procedures for effectiveness
  • Review incident investigation methods regarding eyewitnesses, supervisor perspectives, and corporate assistance

8. Emergency Response Planning

  • After the incident response tabletop exercise, review specific mandated plans, such as Emergency Action Plan, Fire Prevention Plan, Facility Response Plan, Fire Brigade and Hazardous Waste Operations and Emergency Response, etc
  • Update procedures after tabletop exercise for emergency preparedness if required

9. Risk Management

  • Following the tabletop drill, review systematic application of management policies, procedures, and practices to be carried out by all management levels
  • If applicable, establish new risk evaluation criteria, probability of incident, and potential consequences
  • Monitor and review procedures for continuous improvement, effectiveness, control measures, and changing conditions

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