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people working through tabletop exercise scenarios in a conference room
Emergency Management Sep 13, 2022

7 Tabletop Exercise Scenarios to Level Up Your Preparedness

Use these tabletop exercise scenarios to train your team for dealing with high-stakes situations in a safe environment.

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Tabletop Exercise Guide
Conduct simulated exercises that test your organization’s emergency response procedures.

During an emergency at your business, you want your response to run as smoothly as possible. But this can only be achieved with practice.

Training and drills are an integral part of proper emergency preparedness. These opportunities allow your emergency response team to get familiar with their responsibilities and your team members to get familiar with the procedures and processes that may save their lives.

But running a full-scale drill can be incredibly disruptive and costly, both in time and productivity. A good way to supplement and even increase the effectiveness of drills and hands-on training is to use tabletop exercises.

These collaborative exercises can support your emergency plan by engaging your employees’ problem-solving skills and safe incident response without the stakes or strain of a drill.

What Is a Tabletop Exercise?

A tabletop exercise (sometimes shortened to TTX) is a training tool that simulates emergency situations in an informal environment. A facilitator guides exercise participants through a dangerous scenario from the safety of a conference room to practice their response strategies.

These training exercises are a low-risk, low-stress, and low-cost way to ensure that your response plans are complete and effective and your team knows exactly how to execute them.

Conduct simulated exercises that test your organization’s emergency response procedures.

7 Tabletop Exercise Scenarios to Practice With Your Team

You can practice your response procedures for a variety of threats with tabletop exercises. You might default to the most common threats your business faces, but those exercises won’t always be the most effective use of your time.

Pro Tip: Run a threat assessment to determine what specific risks your business might face. During this process, you’ll consider both the likelihood and impact of those diverse threats so you can prioritize your preparedness efforts. With your list of priorities, coordinate tabletop exercises for the most tailored emergency preparedness for different critical scenarios.

Some less common threats might actually have a significantly higher impact if they were to happen. So running exercises for those situations can help mitigate harm. Work with your stakeholders to build out your tabletop exercise plan. Here are a few scenarios to get you started preparing your employees for functional emergency response efforts.

1. Structure fires

A fire in your business can be debilitating, and a fire evacuation plan is effective only when employees know what they need to do. Run tabletop exercises that take team members through the evacuation routes and various contingency plans so they are prepared for the unexpected.

Emergency examples:

  • A kitchen fire
  • An electrical malfunction
  • An unsafe or blocked fire evacuation route

2. Inclement weather

With typical poor conditions or uncommonly severe weather, there is always the possibility that a storm or weather event could do significant damage to your business operations—whether through physical damage or by causing transportation/infrastructure issues. Design practice scenarios involving inclement weather so your business has the best chance of continuous operations, rain or shine.

Emergency examples:

  • Downed power lines causing an outage
  • Iced-over roads preventing travel
  • Extreme heat above the safe threshold

3. Cybersecurity incidents

Cybersecurity incidents are growing more and more common. Many businesses have simple training for things like creating safer passwords or spotting phishing attempts. But there are other types of cyberthreats you need to be prepared for, especially if you are in a high-security industry or you have sensitive data on customers or employees.

Emergency examples:

  • Cloud storage breach
  • Malware or ransomware attack
  • Third-party cyberattack on a critical vendor

4. Workplace violence

Violence in the workplace is a jarring threat that nobody really feels prepared for. But training can help prevent panic and keep your employees safer in the event of an incident. Don’t limit your training to extreme situations alone. Some of the most common workplace violence comes from angry customers or clients or even disgruntled former employees.

Emergency examples:

  • Active shooter scenarios
  • Threats from customers or clients
  • Domestic violence incidents

5. Workplace injuries and accidents

The last thing you want is an employee hurt on the job and everyone standing around unsure of who to call. While general workplace safety and accident prevention are critical to emergency management, accident response should get just as much attention. After all, there is no way to prevent every workplace accident.

Emergency examples:

  • Slips, trips, and falls
  • First aid responses
  • Health incidents like heart attacks

6. Business travel disruptions

If you have traveling employees, tabletop exercise scenarios can be an important component of travel risk management. Travel can inject countless complications into already challenging and dangerous scenarios because so few variables are in your control. Use a tabletop exercise to ensure your team knows how to stay safe in a different environment.

Emergency examples:

  • Flight delay or cancellation for a critical staff member
  • Foreign insurgency or civil unrest
  • Pandemic or related travel restrictions

7. Natural disasters

Every business location has its own natural disasters to contend with. And as these events become more frequent and more intense with climate change, you need to be ready with a response and recovery plan long before the hurricane approaches or the wildfire sparks up. You should also practice how you would respond if a disaster affects any critical third-party vendors or even important customers.

Emergency examples:

  • Gas shortage from an offshore hurricane
  • Secondary fire from an earthquake
  • Extreme drought

Tips for Running Effective Tabletop Exercises

Now that you have an idea of what types of exercises you should practice with your employees, here are a couple of tips to help make the process as easy and productive as possible.

Take advantage of templates

Preparing for emergencies is complicated enough without having to create brand-new documents every time you want to run a training session. Use a tabletop exercise template to streamline the process. Your facilitator can use them to keep track of exercise objectives, how well the participants followed the plan, and any other notes that might be helpful.

Document your performance

Keeping track of how your tabletop exercises go is a great way to improve your response performance over time. An after-action report can help you review, reflect, and learn from any mistakes you made during the exercise. You can then create tactical plans to improve future response efforts.

Engage Team Members in Safety Plans for Lasting Outcomes

No matter what kind of emergency you are preparing for, having a team of leaders and employees who feel ready to respond in a safe manner will ensure your business isn’t leveled by a critical event. Training in a safe environment to build muscle memory around a response plan is a great way to create a successful safety culture.

Tabletop Exercise Guide

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