Electronic Tabletop Training is the Next Revolution in Preparing for Disasters and Emergencies.

By Lt. Joseph Pangaro CPM, CSO

A flood, an active shooter, a tornado, civil unrest or a hurricane are all disasters no matter their origin; man created, or nature created. The danger these situations bring is counted in lives lost and millions of dollars in property and infrastructure damage. In a world where risk is something we try to manage we have to ask ourselves- “How can I prepare my community to respond to an emergency event so we can we reduce or eliminate the loss of life or damage to property”.

It has been said that experience is the greatest teacher. Once we do something or in the case of a disaster, once we live through something there are always lessons to be learned to help us the next time. We can conduct a review after an event and look for mistakes and gaps in our plans, in how we prepared for or handled an emergency and then update our protocols, so we are better prepared in the future.

In the calm light of day this seems like a reasonable course of action. Unfortunately, what’s missing from that course of action is the reality that experiencing a disaster comes with it the pain that the loss of life, any life, and the destruction of infrastructure can be devastating to a community. And while its great to learn lessons from the event you survive, it would be much better to pro-actively, and realistically prepare for a disaster by conducting high value training that can help you define your responses, develop your people and create emergency plans that will work in the real world.

This is where the “Tabletop” training concept has come in handy for many organizations, including municipal government agencies. Tabletop training for those who aren’t familiar with it works like this:

You create a scenario you are concerned about such as a flood, earthquake, terror attack or anything else that might take place in your community. Then your response team gets together to discuss ways to address the crisis and deal with the possibilities that could arise during the event.

This type of training has great value because it allows all the members of your team to pool their brainpower and experience to come up with options they could use during the emergency, this makes them more prepared to face the real thing without putting them in any real danger. Your team can refer to your emergency plan, if you have one, to help guide their decision-making process and bring the scenario to a successful conclusion.

The downside to this type of training is that it doesn’t provide any realism, stress, or timeline for your team to make decisions. If they hit a roadblock in the scenario they can take as long as they need to talk out a course of action and make a decision.

While this is great if your goal is to come to a consensus on how to respond to a problem, or add a new protocol to your plan, it doesn’t actually prepare or train your people to act in the real world, under the stress and pressure of a real event.  Until now that kind of training, realistic training, was only available by working a real event.

This is where technology comes into the story. There is now “Electronic Tabletop training software” that has taken emergency response planning and training to the next level, it has changed the game.

Electronic Tabletop training software does this by taking your scenario and digitizing it and combining a real simulated ticking timeline to your training exercise as well as including multimedia injects such as news clips, radio reports, phone calls, emails, texts and other communications into the training that creates a sense of reality for the people in the exercise. The timeline moves as a real event does, with situations popping up as they would in real life, this challenges your team to make real time decisions as the scenario progresses. They can’t wait to discuss options for endless amounts of time, they must act in time with the unfolding events. This adds the element of stress to the training that makes it feel real and provides real value.

The addition of built-in analytics that examine your plans as well as your expected responses and actual responses before and after the scenario exercise, provides you with an unbelievable amount of information you might not have available any other way that can help to update, modify or change our existing plans.  

Some of the things the analytics look at includes:

  • Before the scenario begins the analytics reviews your plans and plots out the expected responses of your team members to emergencies, no matter what the emergency and creates a graphical display of the stress each member of your team will be under based on your existing plan. This allows you to see if your plan is actually viable, because what looks good on paper, may not work in the real world. Seeing a team member will be overwhelmed with responsibilities can help you update your plan to address this problem.  After the exercise, a display will show you how much stress each team member actually experienced. This can help you adjust responsibilities, so no one is overwhelmed during a real event.   
  • Graphic Displays also make clear who is expected to be the driving force of your plan. This may be the mayor, police chief, or OEM coordinator. But after the scenario runs the analytics shows you who actually ran the response. This information can help you decide if that is appropriate or not, if the person with the most influence is not who you expected it to be, then you can update your plans or change the responsibilities of your team to reflect how you want the response authority to operate.
  • A Word map shows what your responders were talking about by highlighting the most commonly used words during the exercise. This can help you focus you plans and response on this area of concern.
  • A Pop-Up questionnaire feature allows pre-placed questions to pop up during the scenario exercise at specific points that the team members answer in real time. This allows you to understand your teams thought processes, understanding of policy or protocol, or decision-making processes. A real time graphic display charts everyone response to the questions so you can see what each member answered, this can help you focus training or clear up a policy or protocol misunderstanding.
  • Since many organizations don’t have formal emergency plans for every situation, you can run a scenario and then, based on how the team responded to the action, you can create a policy by understanding the strengths and weaknesses of the team’s response. 

Electronic Tabletop training software provides high-value, realistic, training that engages and challenges your team and makes them better. I have been teaching about emergency response for over 20 years, this training is exactly what every organization needs to improve their planning and response. Old fashioned Tabletop talk training has its place, but Electronic Tabletop training software is the future of emergency response training.

As community leaders we must all do what we can to provide our emergency responder teams with the best practices, equipment, and training so they can keep our communities safe. Moving into the future, using technology, and being proactive is what saves lives.

If you have questions about this kind of training let me know, I would be happy to provide further information and guidance.              

-Lt. Joseph Pangaro


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