Disaster Exercise Management, Part 3: Information Technologies

Knowing when and how to use today's measurement technology in your exercise operations


An essential piece of the exercise management support system is the database in which information is stored and managed over the entire life cycle of the exercise. The user interface, another important piece, in some cases can allow graphical views of timelines, organization structures, exercise venue and other information.

The benefit of such a solution will continue well after the exercise is over. For instance, various after action analysis results, including performance measurements, can be stored in the exercise management support database and logically linked to the participants and tasks to which they apply. Segments of the exercise can then be retrieved or replayed side-by-side with corresponding measurements and post-mortem analysis. And for dissemination purposes, archived versions of the database can be made accessible to others through a secure point of entry into the exercise management support software.

Performance Measurement and Reporting

Applicability of technologies to recording, analysis and presentation of performance measurements will, in part, depend on what type of measurements are involved. For example, a quantitative measure such as "percent of victims decontaminated on the first pass through a decontamination chamber" could utilize a barcode tracking system to count the movement of victims through the decontamination chamber.

Recording of qualitative measurements (e.g., rating a group's intra-group collaboration on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 is worst and 5 is best) can be aided by electronic forms with pre-defined rating values or other controls that prevent invalid inputs. Even unstructured recording of information, such as a hand sketch of a rescue scene, now can be done paperlessly using pen-based computing capabilities such as that offered on contemporary tablet PCs.

Analysis tasks such as tabulation of ratings, calculation of averages and totals, as well as the deriving of various measures (e.g., "7 of the 12 HAZMAT crews failed to shut off the feeder valve before entering the unit") will often lend themselves to automated calculation with computer programs and/or database queries. Structured databases and spreadsheets can be powerful tools in this capacity.

Presentation tools can include document imaging software, tabular report generators as well as multi-media players. The ability to present results remotely, i.e., over the web, can offer efficiencies and expand reach to those who did not participate in or witness the exercise. Webcast technologies are powerful tools for holding after-action sessions when participants are not co-located.

Conclusion

Knowing what type of IT to use in a disaster exercise often is not a black and white decision process. In making this choice, exercise directors can ask the following questions:

  • Will the technology improve the learning experience?
  • Are there worthwhile savings in time or costs to be realized?
  • Can miscommunications and other errors be reduced?
  • Would the technology be reusable in subsequent exercises?

Once a particular technology is identified as a potential fit for the exercise, other factors should also be considered before the final selections are made. For instance, noteworthy points to evaluate the technology against are:

  • Compatibility with existing technologies (e.g., radio systems)
  • Ease of use and maintenance
  • Resources and costs to setup and operate
  • Resilience for the environment (e.g., temperature, vibration, moisture).

When wisely selected and matched to the needs and constraints of your exercise, information technology can lead to a more fulfilling training experience for all involved. With ongoing improvements in the price-to-performance ratios for many off-the-shelf technologies the future for information technology in disaster exercises looks rather promising.

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.