Tornado strikes are notoriously fast and furious, causing severe property damage, injuries and fatalities. This form of severe weather increased 78 percent globally between 2020 and 2021, and 79 percent in the U.S. during that same period, according to the Global Risk Impact Report.
Advance training, drills and simulations help keep your people, places and property safe and secure. These nine tips will help you run a successful simulation exercise so everyone is prepared and knows how to use critical event management (CEM) technology in the event of a tornado.
9 Tips for Tornado Tabletop Training
1. Maximize your time.
To make best use of the time allotted for the exercise, send out a pre-exercise video or a short PDF with an overview of what to expect. Identify and assign necessary roles in advance and who will fill each. Examples include a scribe to keep a log of the entire exercise, a coordinator to keep the teams organized and a facilitator to run the exercise and ensure the timeline is followed. Objectives should always be stated up front. By taking care of these administrative details in advance, you’ll have maximum time to focus on the exercise itself.
2. Review best practices for simulations.
A review of best practices will help your exercise run more smoothly. Make sure you:
- Test your presentation platform in advance.
- Ensure you have sufficient time for the scenario.
- Organize and prepare any necessary materials.
- Leverage your CEM system within the exercise.
- Clearly state the reasons for the exercise, its objectives and the definition of success.
3. Select realistic scenarios.
The scenario you select should always be relevant to your geographic location, your industry and your specific operations. Make sure to consider historical data and trends, as well as potential worst-case scenarios. The scale of your operations will also come into play, along with your status as a private versus government entity. Finally, make sure the scenario includes any potential agencies you may require for support, such as police, fire and EMS.
4. Get creative.
This is another way to keep up engagement and make the exercise feel more life-like. Consider how people most often hear of incoming severe weather. A mock news reel is a realistic way to cue the participants, convey a sense of urgency and get them thinking about how to prepare. Social media is another outlet to include. Given the volume of information posted and how quickly it spreads, participants should be encouraged to consider the sources and determine the validity of the information presented.
5. Ask discussion questions.
Pose thought-provoking questions at every phase of the exercise. It’s important for participants to consider real-life factors, try different tactics and experience the consequences within the safety of the model. This can help them understand that sometimes you have to try a course of action and then adjust accordingly. You also want to get everyone thinking about and discussing immediate versus long-term implications. The discussion questions should drive an active exchange that considers both safety and business continuity.
6. Assess the impact across the organization.
As the simulation progresses, keep everyone in sync with the timeline and focused on their actions at each point in the event cycle. Because it’s simulating real life, new information and developments will play out at an unpredictable speed and frequency. Participants will need to reconsider what constitutes a priority at each phase. To do so effectively, they’ll have to continuously assess impact across the organization. Property damage, employee safety, supply chain, customers and vendors are all factors.
7. Consider communications as a continuum.
Participants should get a sense of the challenges to keeping everyone informed during a real-life disaster, as well as how CEM technology can ease the process. How will you communicate with all stakeholders throughout the event? Determine which groups will need updates and at what frequency. Staff, their family and customers may all be impacted. A reliable means of sending critical communications keeps people safe and informed in a dynamic environment.
8. Be diligent in your debrief.
Make sure you leave enough time to debrief. What were the first actions taken? When did you decide to activate your crisis plan? Make sure to capture everyone’s feedback while it’s fresh in their minds, particularly in regard to the effectiveness of the CEM technology. Take a look back at the overall goals stated at the outset: Did the technology support them? The debrief should always include both what went wrong and what went right.
9. Create an After Actions Report (AAR).
Your AAR will be based on the debrief. A review of everyone’s feedback alongside the actions log provided by the CEM platform will provide a snapshot of your organization’s current level of preparedness for a tornado. After documenting the process, you should have an idea of where to focus for improvement. Create an executive summary outlining your key findings and specific recommendations for a remediation plan. This report will form the basis for training prior to the next tabletop exercise.
These nine tips will help you conduct an effective tabletop exercise, but for a closer look at tornado simulation training, watch the on-demand webinar: Spring Storms: A Simulation Exercise for Tornado Preparedness.