If you’ve been around the Invictus blog for a while, you know that we are serious about schools, companies, and organizations drilling their emergency plans on a regular basis. Today we want to talk about how to expand your drills to make them more effective.
First, we should clarify that the term “drill” is actually a very specific type of exercise. We tend to use this term to generally mean practicing any part of an emergency plan, but a “drill” actually tests a specific operation or function. For example, teachers may drill how to lock their doors during a lockdown scenario.
There is an established step-wise progression for expanding your exercise program to effectively track progress and make changes where necessary. A brief explanation and example for each follows:
Step 1: Seminar
This should be the beginning of your exercise program. It is a discussion-based step that is basically an orientation to the emergency plan. Here participants listen to a speaker introduce the plan with the goal of creating a common framework of understanding amongst administration/executives and employees. [Example: school administration speak to the faculty about their new emergency operations plan and give the faculty a copy of the plan.]
Step 2: Workshop
After a seminar, your exercise program should move on to workshops. These are also discussion-based, but workshops are more interactive than seminars and may include break-out groups discussing ideas or coming up with ways to improve the plan. The goal here is to improve your plan or create new facets of the plan. [Example: school administration, faculty, and staff meet together to work on the lockdown portion of the emergency operations plan and have break-out groups to discuss how it would look for each classroom and how to improve the process.]
Step 3: Tabletop Exercise
A tabletop exercise is also a discussion-based step in your exercise program. In this step, participants process through and problem solve a hypothetical situation. The goal here is identify strengths and weaknesses in the plan before conducting live exercises. [Example: school administration and faculty/staff that are part of the Emergency Response Team sit down to problem solve through an active shooter on campus.]
Step 4: Drill
This is the first operation-based step in an exercise program; the three prior steps are all conducted in a meeting room sitting down discussing ideas while this step involves players physically going through an exercise. As noted above, a true “drill” only practices one specific operation or function, like learning how to use new equipment or practicing skills. The goal here is to prepare participants for a more detailed exercise. [Example: teachers learn how to use the new door stops which will be used during a lockdown.]
Step 5: Functional Exercise
This step is the one most people associate with doing a safety drill. This step is operations-based and, unlike a drill, involve multiple operations or functions. The goal here is to simulate an emergency and have participants practice the emergency plan. [Example: faculty and students practice an entire lockdown procedure.]
Step 6: Full-Scale Exercise
This final step is similar to the previous one but includes cooperation of responding agencies, deployment of actual resources, and more realistically simulates an emergency. The goal here is to see how things progress if an actual incident takes place. [Example: school administration, faculty, staff, students, and local police and fire engage in an active shooter exercise with a simulated active shooter on premises, deployment of fire and police responders, and deployment of mass notification.]
It’s important to note that an exercise program is a multi-year endeavor where you build upon past exercises and learn from your successes and failures. It’s okay to keep using the word “drill” in your place of employment or even your home as you practice fire evacuation with your children. The terminology is not essential; what is essential is that you practice your emergency plans, both via discussions and action-based exercises. What is also essential is that you learn from your exercises; don’t just go through the motions and check off the box that the drill has been done for the year. Over time improve your exercises, improve your performance, and change your plan as necessary.