Severe weather is one of the biggest disruptors in business operations, no matter your location. In 2020 alone, severe weather in the U.S. accounted for $99 billion in economic losses, with a record number of ‘billion-dollar weather events.’ At StormGeo, we work with businesses all over the world, in all different industries, to help them stay safe and if possible, operational, before, during and after natural disasters. And while each of these businesses’ needs vary greatly, one key tool we recommend to them all is the tabletop drill.
A tabletop drill or exercise requires staff work together to run through their response to a hypothetical event or incident. It’s a great way to evaluate a company’s emergency preparedness—identifying any major gaps or areas that can be improved upon. The experience gained from running a tabletop drill is the best way to prepare teams to respond effectively in real-life emergencies.
Severe weather such as hurricanes or major freeze events often incorporate a time-phased response with multiple steps and decision points to help a business safely shut down or dial back operations to protect personnel and assets. Tabletop drills familiarize personnel with these severe weather procedures, enhancing their knowledge of existing plans and allowing them to improve their own performance by identifying opportunities where they can improve their response to events.
There are many different types of exercises that can help evaluate the strength of business continuity plans and procedures. Tabletop drills are discussion-based, where team members meet in an informal setting to discuss their roles and response in a particular emergency scenario. Other types of exercises include walkthroughs/workshops, functional and full-scale exercises.
Walkthroughs/workshops are designed to familiarize team members with the principles of emergency preparedness and response, as well as how the business continuity plan outlines their role. Functional and full-scale exercises allow personnel to test their readiness and validate procedures by performing in a simulated operational environment, sometimes on location, to create a scenario that is as close to real-life as possible. In any exercise, an exercise facilitator, often the incident commander, guides staff through the exercise scenario and leads the discussion.
If you think your business could benefit from tabletop drills, the first step is establishing what your objectives are and any ground rules for the drill. Next, review your staff’s roles and responsibilities with them so that each team member is aware of expectations. During the drill, you’ll be walking through the decision-making process throughout the hypothetical event. Make sure someone is tasked with taking good notes—it’s easier to think of things to do in peace times than it is in the middle of an actual event. Lastly, incorporate any action items and plan improvements after the exercise to strengthen procedures and implement corrective actions.
When organizing a drill, a company must create an internal Incident Management Team (IMT). This team is made up of the incident commander, typically a senior member with decision-making authority, supporting command staff, including a safety officer, public information officer and liaison officer, and general staff, including an operations section chief, planning section chief, finance/administration and logistics section chief. Executive management serve alongside the incident commander and report to executive leadership, however, primary authority over the incident is given to the incident commander.
It’s important to consider the timing of activating your response before a weather event. Initiating a response too early can result in unnecessary downtime if the event doesn’t yet affect operations. Alternatively, responding too late can put personnel and assets at risk if necessary actions are not completed in time.
The best way to determine which types of weather to prepare for is to conduct a Risk Assessment to identify potential hazards and vulnerabilities. Climatological studies such as determining the frequency of hurricanes, tornadoes, flash flooding, winter weather and hard freezes can help organizations better understand the risks in their area.
Having a hardened facility designed to withstand catastrophic events and power interruption as a backup may be necessary if your business cannot tolerate downtime. Due to the ongoing pandemic, the general workforce is much more dispersed, meaning organizations must be flexible in their preparedness planning. No matter where a business, or its employees are located, crisis drills are an important step in mitigating loss and ensuring that all key employees know how to respond to severe weather.
Alison Svrcek is Managing Director and Global Director of Client Services for StormGeo, a 24/7 provider of weather intelligence and alerts. Alison also serves as Incident Commander during severe weather threats managing the continuity of the StormGeo Houston to maintain the highest level of service delivery to all clients.
Published in the Disaster Recovery Journal