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Cover Story

Preparing For the Worst

Elevate your agency's response to emergencies with real-time exercises that test your capabilities.

March 01, 2007  |  by - Also by this author

When you think that a variety of incidents could occur in any of these locations, it becomes mind boggling how many exercises you could conduct. "For example, take a crowd control response used to test new equipment such as gas masks or PPEs that have to be fitted vs. a mid-air commercial airline crash," says King. "They're different responses."

But it doesn't have to be overly complicated. Establish which exercise you most need to conduct and hash it out.

"You sit down and you begin to develop your priorities, you understand what you're trying to accomplish, and then you write it backwards," says King. "Write it backwards from what you want to accomplish to how it gets started."

Sending Out Invitations

Once you've decided on your goal for the exercise, you must decide which agencies you'll ask to join you. This will depend on the type of incident and what type of response assistance you'll require.

"The most important thing you can do is to recognize and list what assets you would anticipate needing in any situation," says Capper, "and then knowing who has what and how quickly they can get it to you."

If you don't already have this information, contact all of the agencies that might ever respond to an incident in your jurisdiction and collect it now. You'll depend on this data when you require assistance. Don't skimp.

Lakewood PD also tries to expand its list beyond the usual suspects. "The Ocean County Office of the Fire Marshal is primarily charged with arson investigation, but they often help us with information such as building capacity," says Capper. "They also have some command facilities that would be available to us. In our particular area, that might be a resource that not many people are aware of."

You might find some valuable assets in places you don't normally look for assistance. But be careful to not let the guest list get out of hand. Remember, you need to make sure you can still reach your agency's goals with this exercise.

"Each agency will use the exercise to its advantage," warns King. "So if Torrance PD is bringing a new emergency trailer, they may want to set up the command post for you.

"It's left up to each agency who they want to send and what role they want to play. That's why it's important to make sure it doesn't grow beyond the capacity that you want."

There are some tricks for making the physical guest list smaller without leaving important agencies out of the exercise. And it doesn't have to compromise the training.

"You don't even have to have the people with those resources attend," confides King. "You can say they're on their way or you can call them the day of to see if they want to respond to the exercise. The FBI is really good at this. You can call them up and...they'll tell you how they'd respond."

No matter how big it gets, don't let the planning and execution of the exercise overwhelm you.

"The difference between a small exercise and a multi-agency exercise is just the size of the exercise," says King. "You're still going to get emergency responders to a location, identify and assess what that emergency is, and then mitigate the emergency."

The Almost Real Deal

Just because this is practice doesn't mean it shouldn't be as realistic as possible. Unless you face the challenges you would in the field, it won't be a successful exercise.

"The tabletop exercise is an excellent learning tool, but I don't think you can substitute for actually being out on the street and doing the event as close to real time as you possibly can," says Capper. "You have weather and traffic variables that you can't really play out too well on a tabletop. And if you're not familiar with the site there are things like terrain problems you wouldn't know unless you were out there."

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