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The Importance of Exercises to Effective Incident Response

January 9, 2014 - Kestrel Management

Effective incident response is all about preparedness. The management guidance created through the Incident Command System (ICS), Incident Action Plans, Business Continuity Plans, and Emergency Response and Preparedness Plans are all fundamental elements of planning and preparedness. Training on the Incident Command System (ICS) and related plans, then, ensures that participants understand their roles and responsibilities.

Exercises take preparedness one step further by providing a safe alternative to “work the plan,” practice the response before an Exercises_graphicincident occurs, document strengths, and identify areas of improvement in the incident response process.

What Are Exercises?

Exercises provide the opportunity to work through a set of emergency conditions in a learning environment, where the emphasis is on the decision-making process. There is no right answer when conducting an exercise; rather, exercises offer participants hands-on practice when it comes to handling incidents and help evaluate whether incident response procedures operate as intended based on the objectives established for the incident.

There are several types of exercises—tabletop, enhanced tabletop, drill, functional, full-scale. Terminology differs, as does the definition of what each of these types of exercises entails. Some tabletop exercises are simply facilitated, discussion-based activities, where personnel meet to discuss roles, responsibilities, coordination, and decision-making of a given scenario. More enhanced, functional exercises involve a coordinated response to an emergency situation in a time-pressured, realistic simulation that involves several businesses and agencies.

All exercises are essentially a focused practice activity that places participants in a simulated situation, requiring them to function in the capacity that would be expected in a real event. And while exercises vary in complexity and level of effort, the basic goals remain the same:

  • Promote preparedness by testing policies and plans and by training personnel
  • Elicit constructive discussion as participants examine and resolve problems based on existing operational plans and identify where those plans need to be refined
  • Improve the coordination, integration, and interaction of a businesses or organization’s policies, procedures, roles and responsibilities before, during, or after simulated events

Evaluating Results

Evaluation is the cornerstone of an exercise. It is critical to leveraging the outcomes of the exercise and ensuring the overall success of the incident response program. Effective evaluation assesses performance against exercise objectives, documents strengths, and identifies areas for improvement in the incident response process.

Participants should be actively engaged in debriefings to discuss key outcomes and observations for things that worked well and things that could be improved throughout the exercise. The corrective actions identified during individual exercises must then be tracked to completion to ensure that lessons learned are incorporated into future incident response efforts.

Benefits of Exercises

Many successful responses to emergencies over the years have demonstrated that exercising pays huge dividends when an emergency occurs:

  • A well-designed exercise provides a low-risk environment to validate plans, test capabilities/new ideas, explore new technology, and familiarize personnel with roles and responsibilities.
  • Participants get to meet counterparts from different businesses/organizations/agencies, foster meaningful interaction, and form relationships before having to work together in an emergency situation.
  • Businesses/Organizations/Agencies have the time to take corrective actions that will improve plans, build and sustain capabilities, and maintain readiness for a potential incident.
  • An effective exercise program maximizes efficiency, resources, time, and funding by helping the organization to build, sustain, and deliver core incident response capabilities.
  • Exercises create an appreciation for the roles and management process of the Incident Command System (ICS) and how it functions in practice.

Your Incident Command System (ICS) and Business Continuity Resource

Kestrel’s core team comprises senior consultants with extensive EHS, quality management, operational risk management, and emergency response experience. We add to that expertise an industry leader with hands-on experience developing and establishing the Incident Command System (ICS), serving as an Incident Commander, instructing the complete Incident Command System (ICS) training coursework, and facilitating incident response exercises.

Our team can help you develop the systems and plans you need to effectively manage your business risks–no matter the size or complexity. For more information, contact us at 608-226-0531.

 Submitted by: Tom Kunes

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