Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Going Virtual: How Hagerty Leverages Online Platforms for Training and Exercises

Most government and private sector organizations rely upon exercises as essential events to test and validate their emergency preparedness plans, policies, and procedures – often they are also a requirement to meet legal, regulatory, or grant mandates. Unfortunately, in the wake of COVID-19 most exercise programs came to a grinding halt as the traditional method of physically gathering stakeholders in one place and putting them together for extended periods of time would have put many individuals’ health and safety at risk.

As in-person gatherings ceased, this circumstance gave organizations the opportunity to test their resiliency and adaptability. Organizations were challenged to transition work streams online using platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, WebEx, Zoom, and Adobe ConnectAs organizations met this challenge head on, Hagerty also stepped up to support clients with their training and exercises by leveraging the very same systems. While social distancing remains necessary, the need to train and exercise persists.  

Virtual Training and Exercise 

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, virtual exercises were a great way to connect different operations centers, allow meaningful collaboration between distant groups, and provide an opportunity to practice with tools and techniques needed for continuity of operations (COOP). In fact, functional exercises with the objective of testing information sharing and communication mechanisms are perfectly suited for the online environment.  

Functional Exercise (FE)*: FEs are operations-based and designed to test and evaluate capabilities and functions while in a realistic, real-time environment; however, the movement of resources is usually simulated. A FE could be the perfect solution for an information sharing scenario that focuses on concepts such as a virtual Emergency Operations Center (EOC) or Joint Information System (JIS).  

Hagerty achieved the delivery of a Joint Information Systems exercise through Zoom by combining it with our EMSocialSimulation Software, which simulates social media interactions. With so many organizations leveraging technology to practice social distancing or work remotelythis is an optimal time to test and refine the tools and techniques that will be needed when the next emergency happens.  

While Zoom was used to simulate plenary and breakout groups for the sake of exercise discussion, the functional exercise tested tools that would be utilized in a real-world situation: email distribution lists, mass notification systems, and social media. The combination of using virtual tools and a simulated environment allowed Hagerty to create and deliver a successful exercise for our client.

Tabletop Exercise (TTX)*: TTXs are discussion-based and utilize a scenario to focus on plans and generate a dialogue regarding various issues, facilitate a conceptual understanding, and ultimately identify strengths and areas for improvement. A virtual tabletop exercise (VTTX) can accomplish the same objectives as an in-person TTX while offering some additional advantages. Hagerty has delivered several VTTXs in recent months with many more on the horizon.  

Whether you are using one facilitator or multiple and whether people will join from their individual computers or as small groups in different facilities, Hagerty’s professionals will design and deliver a VTTX that meets your needs by incorporating many of the same tried and true techniques used for in-person eventsThese techniques include plenary discussions, small group discussions, live document or map collaboration, live polling, and more. Conducting a VTTX will give your organization the ability to connect people or agencies from anywhere in the virtual environment, saving on travel costs and increasing the productivity of your emergency preparedness program by reliably allowing your exercises to continue during uncertain times.  

Hagerty can develop a VTTX on several platforms and will coordinate with the client on the best platform for them.  

Workshop*: Workshops are often used to develop or refine policies, plans, or procedures. Hagerty has found the virtual environment to be a successful method of conducting workshops. Hagerty can leverage a variety of tools and techniques to collaborate in large or small group settings while making live edits to documents.  

A great example of this is a series of virtual workshops that Hagerty conducted through a customized Adobe Connect setting to validate regional plans for managing complex coordinated terrorist attacks (CCTA) in the St Louis region. These plans were the result of a multi-year effort that was interrupted by COVID-19 just before the final validation process. The virtual workshops were the perfect solution and received extremely positive feedback from community stakeholders, ranging from fatality management to emergency management.  

Seminar*: Designed to provide an overview of authorities, strategies, plans, policies, procedures, protocols, resources, concepts, and ideas; seminars often include a variety of presenters and are well suited for the virtual environment. Hagerty can incorporate a variety of interactive tools to enhance live feedback while the audience attends from the safety and convenience of their home or office. Zoom has been a popular platform for seminars in recent months due to ease of use and capacity. However, many additional platforms could be used. Hagerty can also assist with managing the presentation so speakers can focus on their roles without needing to learn how to navigate the controls. Hagerty takes care of all the virtual logistics so that clients can focus on achieving objectives. 

Training: Many training opportunities are well-suited for online or hybrid environments and can be recorded by most platforms for future use and greater efficiency. Hagerty can help develop computer based training courses or training events that are interactive and engaging experience using live polling, surveys, collaboration tools, and more. This is a great option for classes, continuing education, or just-in-time training that cannot be held in person or must be limited in size due to social distancing.  

*Exercises are defined by the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP). 

Stay tuned! 

In the coming weeks, we will provide case studies examining how Hagerty has leveraged specific online platforms to execute successful training and exercises as part of a Virtual Exercise Series. 

Hagerty Can Help 

As we help your organization find the right exercise solution to meet your needs, it is important to note that these exercises are not limited to solely in-person or solely virtual conduct. A myriad of hybrid options also exist that can benefit your organization. Hagerty will work with you to determine the best exercise solution given your desired objectives, outcomes, and resources.  

Conducting all or part of your exercise in a virtual format can be an effective, safe, and reliable way to conduct your events, avoid costly cancellations or postponements, and maintain your organization’s appropriate level of preparedness during uncertain times. 

Hagerty’s team can help assess how an exercise might translate into a virtual environment for your organization and provide a highly productive experience. To learn more about Hagerty’s services and how we can support your exercise needs with a customized approach, please reach out to development@hagertyconsulting.com. 

Additional Resources 

The following exercise and training resources are intended to support your organization in the search for a new normal. 

Exercise Planning Team 

Amanda Wightis the Lead for Hagerty’s Exercise Portfolio and Lead for Hagerty’s Active Threat Portfolio. Amanda has supported communities nationwide on developing, delivering, and assessing exercises on a wide range of subject mattersHaving conducted more than 35 exercises in the past five years that varying in size and complexity, she has expertise in the development and execution of large, multi-site, multi-jurisdictional, multi-discipline exercises. 

Jim McIntosh is the Deputy Lead for Hagerty’s Exercise service line and supports the Infrastructure service line with a special focus on Transit preparedness. Jim brings more than 20 years of industry experience having served as a first responder and emergency manager for both county and transit agencies, and as an emergency management consultant that has supported local, state, federal and private sector clients.  

Sam Currie is an Associate with Hagerty Consulting who supports the Active Threat and Exercise Portfolios. Sam has supported clients across the country in building and the execution of multiple exercises for active threat and transit clients. He has a wide range of experience with discussion based and operational exercises, all varying in size and subject matters.   

Althea Avice de Guzman manages the St. Louis Regional Portfolio, including projects such as the St. Louis CCTA Program and providing preparedness and response support to Barnes-Jewish Hospital, as well as other hospitals around the country. The portfolio focuses on a campaign of continuous planning, training, and exercises activities, which she has successfully translated into an online environmentAlthea is the Lead of Hagerty’s Intelligence and Information Sharing Service Line, committed to strengthening whole community stakeholder engagement and regional collaboration.