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5 Tips for Effective Emergency Functional Exercise Scenario Planning

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Emergency Action Plan (EAP) testing requires thoughtful planning, stakeholder communication and engagement, logistics, AND a well-conceived exercise scenario or simulation. Although all of these factors are important (and perhaps the subject of future blog posts), today we’d like to offer five tips to help you craft a functional exercise test scenario. If well crafted, these exercise scenarios will be realistic, suggesting outcomes that are plausible given the owner’s facilities, inundation maps and timelines, and stakeholders. But perhaps more important for an engaging exercise, the scenarios must involve all exercise attendees (occasionally to the detriment to exercise realism).

Tip #1 - Perform a Thorough Facility Site Visit

A well-prepared exercise scenario begins with a thorough facility site visit. This might be a different effort if you are preparing an exercise as an employee of a facility operator. However, as a consultant, when we work with our clients to prepare exercises we use an initial facility site visit as a way to develop an in-depth understanding of the facilities, topography, operations, and adjacent populations. An inventory of communications systems and capabilities is also important so that a realistic scenario includes any constraints the facility owner might have related to communication infrastructure and procedures.

Tip #2 - Review EAP Documents, Inundation Maps, and Stakeholder Contact Plans

The Emergency Action Plan is an excellent resource that should be used to inform the function exercise scenario. Inundation maps and timelines, in particular, are critical to scenario timing. Assuming your scenario results in flooding, the inundation maps lay the framework for stakeholder impacts and impact timing. The EAP stakeholder lists are also important as they help the scenario planner to develop a simulation that respects planned lines of communication and that reaches all of your stakeholders.

Tip #3 - Balance Exercise Reality With Involvement

It is critical that a proposed scenario be realistic to ensure that participants are stressed during the exercise. Unrealistic scenarios are often disregarded during the event and engagement suffers. However, it is necessary to educate exercise participants that realism is not always the most important result. The purpose of the exercise is to test the EAP and its communication plans. As a result, the most important result is that planned lines of communication are stressed. This means that the scenario should always prioritize broad stakeholder participation over realism. Your stakeholders are investing significant time to participate in your EAP test. Plan for everyone’s involvement during the functional exercise.

Tip #4 - Create Exercise Engagement through thoughtful Timeline Planning

Your exercise timeline must reflect the realities of your facility locations, the inundation maps, and expected response timing. This takes careful study and some experience, but a well-drafted EAP can provide a basis for many timeline decisions. Also, during the exercise, it will likely be necessary that the clock be sped up so that the timeline of the simulated event can be fit within the 2-3 hour time window of your function exercise. This will require some technology and a well thought out timeline. 

Tip #5 - Plan Creative Messaging

Planning your exercise messaging is where the fun begins.  It’s also an extremely creative effort.  Your pre-planned messages will tell the story of your scenario and add context to your simulation.  Through effective simulation messaging, the exercise must facilitate stress, keep participants engaged, and provide requisite information to prompt realistic responses from your stakeholders.  However, your messaging should also include noise.  Real emergencies are messy and your communications should include appropriate gaps for simulation realism.

A well planned EAP test is a great opportunity to engage your stakeholders and community partners.  It will also strengthen your EAP and communicate the importance your organization places on safety, proper emergency planning, and communication. By following these five tips you will create a functional exercise scenario that stresses and engages your stakeholders, is realistic, and most importantly, tests the Emergency Access Plan.

What are some of the lessons you’ve learned as you’ve scenario planned as part of your EAP testing process?  We’d love to hear your thoughts.


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Topics: Public Involvement, Civil Engineering, Multi-Disciplinary

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