The purpose of tabletop exercise scenarios for schools is to prepare those who might be involved in an emergency for simulation drills. Sometimes, however, there is no time for drills to take place before an emergency event occurs, so it is essential mechanisms are already in place to best protect staff and students.
Most schools conduct frequent simulation drills so staff and students know how to react in an emergency event. Different simulation drills should be conducted for different emergency events (fire, active shooter, severe weather, etc.), because different emergency events require different reactions.
Conducting five or six different types of simulation drills requires advanced planning. The failure to plan how each drill will be conducted can result in staff and students failing to learn from the simulations, and then being unnecessarily exposed to danger during a real-life emergency event.
Tabletop exercise scenarios for schools are the ideal way to plan in advance for simulation drills. They prepare everybody who might be involved in an emergency for the simulations, to ensure the maximum benefit is derived from the drills while creating the minimum amount of disruption to the school day.
However, there are right and wrong ways of conducting tabletop exercise scenarios for schools, and we have prepared a selection of best-practices to employ before and during a tabletop exercise to ensure its purpose is achieved. School resource officers (SROs) and Directors of School Safety are invited to use these best practices as the basis of their own tabletop exercise scenarios for schools.
Before Tabletop Exercise Scenarios for Schools Begin
Before tabletop exercise scenarios for schools begin, it is important to identify who should participate. All school employees must attend and, depending on the nature of the emergency exercise being conducted, either representatives from the local fire department, police department, or sheriff's office should also be involved. At least one non-participating person should be assigned the role of note-taker.
Prior to the start of the exercise, participants should each receive a copy of the emergency management plan relevant to the nature of the emergency. A script should be developed for the exercise that includes surprise elements not addressed in the emergency management plan, and there should be a timeline scheduled for the exercise to play out - plus additional time allowed to review the exercise.
Finally, because the purpose of tabletop exercise scenarios for schools is to encourage discussion and develop recognition of coordination and planning requirements, the environment in which the exercise is conducted should welcome interaction. Therefore, wherever possible, a tabletop exercise should be literally conducted on a tabletop around which every participant has a clear and equal view.
Best Practices to Ensure an Effective Tabletop Exercise
There are only four best practices to ensure effective tabletop scenarios for schools. The first is to schedule the end time of the exercise for later than you think it will be. You want to avoid the exercise over-running and the scenario of participants looking at their watches as the exercise proceeds so they miss key pieces of information that could jeopardize the effectiveness of a simulation drill.
Secondly, conduct the exercise using a map of the school campus, its grounds, and its access points laid across the table - not projected onto a screen. Participants will be able to better visualize their roles in a simulation drill and in a real-life emergency if they can absorb the likely sequence of events from above. If it is possible to conduct the exercise using a 3D model, so much the better.
Thirdly, include any technology solutions that will be put into use during an emergency in the tabletop exercise. Participants - particularly those with a responsibility for using them - need to be familiar with how these solutions work and how they should react when they see/hear/receive an emergency notification. This has the added benefit of bringing something interactive to the exercise.
Finally, after the exercise has finished, all participants should be asked to complete an evaluation of the exercise. This will give them an opportunity to make suggestions and comments they may have been unable to make during the exercise, and may provide some valuable insights into obstacles to be overcome before a simulation drill relating to a specific emergency event can be conducted.
What Technology Solutions are Best to Use in Tabletop Exercises?
The best technology solutions to use in tabletop exercise scenarios for schools are those that involve all participants. A flexible mobile panic button app is a perfect example of this, as when one member of staff activates the app, all participants are notified to the nature of the emergency and its location. Depending on the severity of the emergency, staff members can choose to directly notify 9-1-1 or just the appropriate on-site staff. This is a far more effective solution than a school-wide audio alarm.
The information provided by a panic button app enables staff to quickly put into action the emergency plan relevant to the emergency, rather than hearing an audio alarm and wondering what type of incident is taking place and whether they should evacuate or hide. The panic button app simultaneously alerts emergency personnel to the incident to accelerate emergency response.
To further accelerate emergency response, schools may want to implement elements of an online map of the school campus that includes valuable information to first responders such as access points, floor plans, utility information, and more. The effectiveness of an online facility profile can easily be demonstrated via a laptop placed alongside the tabletop map.
Transitioning from Tabletop Exercises to Simulations
The transition from tabletop exercises to simulations is not always smooth and, to cover this area of emergency preparedness, we have prepared a second article entitled “4 Back-to-School Tips to Optimize School Safety Plans”. This article covers such subjects as conducting drills with more than just school staff, sharing critical emergency details with local law enforcement, and providing a system of quick internal communication for any situation.
The article also includes a video of a simulation in action. This should be of interest to SROs and Directors of School Safety, who might not only want to conduct tabletop exercise scenarios for schools to prepare for a simulation drill, but also to review what went wrong and what went right during the simulation in order to adjust emergency plans for specific emergencies as necessary.
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