Developing Tabletop Exercises

How do I Identify Gaps in my Emergency Management Plan?

The planning cycle includes four phases. The first one is Plan for Emergency Response. You must write an initial plan that is based on a template and your water system. Now you have a plan that is waiting for an emergency.

PWS Planning Cycle

In order to exercise the plan you should simulate an emergency incident. By doing so you will be able to:

  1. Test the plan for ease-of-use. Can you grab it and quickly identify the proper response to an emergency?
  2. Simulate contact with agencies that you may need in an emergency.  You may have to work with police officers, fire fighters, emergency managers, hospital officials, lab personnel, and state regulators during an emergency  Do all of these partners know to whom they should communicate?
  3. Begin training your people in the Incident Command System and the National Incident Management System. These are nationwide protocols for setting up emergency response at any location in the United States. Using these methods will maximize effectiveness of emergency response by using a common language and cooperating with the emergency response community.

You do not want to test your plan during an actual emergency. Completing a Tabletop Exercise will test your plan before the emergency happens.

What is a Tabletop Exercise?

FEMA defines a tabletop exercise as a facilitated analysis of an emergency situation in an informal, relatively stress-free environment.  This type of exercise is designed to elicit constructive discussion as participants examine and resolve problems based on existing operational plans and identify where those plans need to be refined.  Tabletop exercises will typically involve many people representing a number of different organizations.

The Public Water Supply Section has developed a state-wide protocol for holding tabletop exercises that are water system specific.  These exercises simulate an event within a water system and bring outside agencies into the meeting, so that they can gain a greater appreciation for their role in maintaining the water system as a critical component of the infrastructure of the community.

What Support Can the Public Water Supply Section Offer?

The Public Water Supply Section will work with you to create and conduct a tabletop exercise specific to your water system. Specific tabletop templates will be made available to your organization, so that you do not have to create the scenario. This will reduce the amount of planning and preparation needed to set up a tabletop exercise. The storylines have been developed; a timeline established; and all handouts are readily available.

Additional guidance on tabletop exercises:

Initiating an Exercise

If you are ready to check your emergency management plan, contact your Public Water Supply Section regional office or e-mail Rebecca Sadosky, Security and Emergency Planning Engineer. The PWS Section's staff will meet with you to ensure that all preparations have been made. The staff will guide you through the entire process, and provide you with the materials to make the exercise a success for you and your local emergency response community.