Disaster 101: How to Plan and Run a Disaster Exericse (Part 1)

Part 1: Learn how to define objectives, enable communication and create a plan that will bring meaningful knowledge to your company’s response team

It is important to note that scheduling is not merely telling people where they need to be or what they need to do, and when. A variety of other "scheduling" tasks will likely be needed. For instance, in the case of operations-based exercises involving multiple organizations and vendors, participation agreements may be an essential document that not only addresses important legal aspects but also defines roles, scope of responsibilities, rights to access premises and so on.

A key exercise design decision that may surface during the scheduling is whether or not to notify the participants precisely when the exercise will take place. If the exercise calls for its participants to travel to a special location from which the exercise will be run, then advance notice with detailed logistical information will most likely be a hard requirement. However, starting the exercise by surprise may in some cases not only be feasible (e.g., sending a short text message to the participants' cell phones, PDAs, or pagers to kick off the exercise) but also offer an extra degree of realism.

Last but not least, notifications to the public, media and government officials should be given careful consideration. An exercise conducted by a single private-sector company on its own premises and indoors may not warrant notification outside of the company. On the other hand, if the exercise involves activities that are visible to the public, pose some form of inconvenience (e.g., traffic congestion at the plant's main entrance), or require use of or access to public property or infrastructure then advance notice outside of the circle of people involved in the exercise may be a crucial step.

In the second part of this 101 course on conducting an emergency exercise, we'll address the actual "running" of the exercise as well as the actions you'll need to take upon completion of the exercise.

About the author: William Comtois is managing director of Varicom, Inc., a consultancy and software company specializing in homeland defense and service logistics. He has over 20 years of experience in applying leading technologies and innovative process management practices to business and defense solutions. Over the past fourteen years, his work has focused on large service companies where he has lead numerous performance improvement, training and process management initiatives that have resulted in major breakthroughs in financial performance, service levels and disaster preparedness. He can be reached by phone at (212) 561-5782 or email at william.comtois@varicominc.com.

(c) Varicom, Inc.