Exercising plans and procedures
Exercising is also a vital tool for testing emergency plans and procedures to prove that they are functional, and to make sure that multi agency collaboration and coordination is in place.
Emergency response is unique in its high levels of non-routine events, uncertainty, complex problem solving, and requirements for urgent action. It is therefore not only important that staff are trained to a high level but that the systems and procedures in place are fit for purpose. It is necessary to test these, both for normal operation and unexpected emergency events or abnormal situations to correctly reflect challenges that such systems must cope with (Skryabina et al. 2017).
In the UK, although training and exercise are seen as two distinct type of learning process, exercise is also recognised as a type of training. It is however argued that participants should be trained (which may include some form of practical excising) before taking part in exercises that are designed to test plans and procedures.
In this context it is important to understand that exercises can serve several functions which differ from basic skills training:
After participating in skill training exercising provides an opportunity for those competent to integrate their roles in relation to the plans and procedures. This may include co-ordination with staff from other organisations.
Exercises can be viewed as final opportunities for staff, and those responsible, to assess whether or not they are familiar enough with roles, responsibilities plans and procedures in as close to a real-life situation as possible. The results of such evaluations identify potential gaps in training.
To validate plans: in particular, examining the details of the emergency or business continuity plans. It also assesses the decision making process and considers the relevant stakeholders in the process.
They test both new and well-established procedures. During the process of testing plans and competencies, gaps and weaknesses of current plans and procedures are found. Through lessons identified, it is possible to enhance the plans and procedures. These are not static documents and it is only through exercising them that fresh weaknesses can be identified.
(Cabinet Office 2013)
In the UK it is a legal requirement through the Civil Contingencies Act that Category 1 responders carry out exercises to test emergency plans and business continuity plans. These responders include the typical emergency service organisations as well as local authorities, NHS England and The Environment Agency.
It not only stipulates that the exercising should determine the effectiveness of planning but that they should involve all levels of personnel, up to senior ranks. Alongside this, exercise regimes should take into account wider bodies such as voluntary organisations in their design, ensuring the testing of links between organisations (Cabinet Office 2013).
The Health and Safety Executive also recognises the importance of exercises. Organisations should carry out regular exercises to ensure staff and public safety, such as fire drills. (HSE 1999).
Humanitarian sector exercising
Humanitarian organisations also recognise the usefulness of exercises. For example the International Humanitarian Partnership network has started to use multi national exercises to test governmental and NGO capacity to respond to humanitarian crises (IHP ND).
Watch the following video that describes a large humanitarian exercise carried out by the International Humanitarian Partnership. Please note that the video involves some initial scenes of a natural disaster which may be disturbing.
This is an additional video, hosted on YouTube.
What elements of emergency plans and procedures are best tested by exercises on this scale?
Does the inclusion of local voluntary organisations have a role in exercising for humanitarian disasters? How could this best be achieved?
In 2016, a second Triplex exercise was carried out. You can find further details on this event in the following video.
Cabinet Office (2013) Emergency Planning and Preparedness: Exercises and Training [online]. available from https://www.gov.uk/guidance/emergency-planning-and-preparedness-exercises-and-training [27 April 2020]
HSE (1999) Emergency Planning for Major Accidents [online]. available from http://www.hse.gov.uk/pUbns/priced/hsg191.pdf [27 April 2020]
IHP (ND) IHP Training and Exercises [online]. available from http://IHP.NU/training [27 April 2020]
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