Disaster Discourse: The Hagerty Blog

Going Virtual: Validating Plans and Policies through Online Workshops

Months into the new reality of working from home, professionals start each morning by booting up their device and logging in to the first meeting of the day. For many, the first click brings them to a collaboration sitevideo conference call, or virtual lobby to wait for their meeting to beginIn the span of a few months, physical working environments have transitioned online. Workers who once navigated meeting rooms in buildings now sift easily through their files to share their screens and collaborate on projects across the county. What initially seemed to be a technology training hurdle has now become the way of life. During this time, Hagerty has worked closely with clients to leverage various online platforms to continue their emergency preparedness efforts and achieve their planning, training, and exercise goals.  

COVID-19 has made preparing for the unexpected even more important. As a result, many organizations are re-examining the effectiveness of their existing plans and policies. Hagerty traditionally supports plan writing and, even in the virtual environment, is equipped to support organizations in validating and training these plans through online workshops.

A Successful Case Study: St. Louis CCTA Regional Response Guide 

Prior to the pandemic, Hagerty worked with over 2,300 stakeholders from the St. Louis Region in the Complex Coordinated Terrorist Attack (CCTA) Program – a comprehensive two-year planning, training, and exercise programPlanning activities included the development of 12 discipline-specific operational guides for the whole community to support critical functional areas in a response. Together, all the guides support interagency communications and decision-making during a complex event for the following disciplines: 

Five of the guides were successfully validated in-person prior to the pandemic in a progressive exercise series consisting of discussion-based exercises and large-scale operational response drills, including the largest special operations exercise in Missouri. 

These annexes were created to: 

  • Align jurisdictional strategies, plans, and tactics to enable regional coordination prior to, during, and after an active threat/CCTA; 
  • Promote a unity of effort across jurisdictions to enable the development of a common operating picture and to maintain situational awareness; 
  • Formalize ad-hoc or informal coordination mechanisms; and 
  • Integrate local, state, federal, and non-governmental resources and services to support survivors (e.g., reunification, mental health support, hotlines, victim services). 

When the pandemic arrived, seven of the 12 guides still needed stakeholder validation. The Hagerty Team was tasked to continue the significant progress made over the past two years. However, the challenge came in validating the guides virtually, instead of through a progressive in-person exercise series.  

After researching and testing various online platforms, Hagerty chose to utilize Adobe Connect. Hagerty designed a virtual workshop series to ensure the concepts accurately reflected the region’s response capabilities. The series included an area command briefing by a subject matter expert (SME) and facilitated discussions in breakout rooms by disciplinespecific SMEs. During the workshops, stakeholders reviewed, validated, and ultimately edited the guides in real-time. This live-editing process updated each guide to include the most relevant and useful information for each stakeholder group. On average, each workshop contained 27 participants which included various disciplines from across the region.  

Participant Feedback 

During any exercise, participant feedback contributes to important qualitative data, but measuring the effectiveness of exercises often requires additional sources of data. The features in Adobe Connect, ranging from advanced screen and file sharing to breakout rooms and live polling, were successfully leveraged to allow participants to actively engage with one another while validating the operational guides in a virtual environment. These activities kept the audience engaged, allowed for real time clarificationand helped to ensure the workshops were a success for the client. 

As with any system, there are always strengths and limitations to consider. Hagerty has found that testing platforms in advance helps to ensure compatibility and ease of use. Although the nation’s workforce is becoming increasingly accustomed to virtual collaboration, it is important to ensure all participants are provided with detailed instructions and given enough time to test connections, features, and downloads. Depending on your preferred platform, Hagerty can develop a dynamic virtual environment that directly aligns with in-person engagements: registration check-ins, lobby area, breakout rooms, plenary spaces, and even coffee breaks. 


While the virtual environment initially posed a new challenge, Hagerty’s exercise planning team was able to work with the client and successfully carry the momentum of the St. Louis CCTA Program forward by aligning in-person workshop components to available online platform capabilities.  

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. 

Stay tuned! 

In the coming weeks, we will provide additional case studies examining how Hagerty has leveraged additional online platforms to execute successful training and exercises as part of a Virtual Exercise Series, including conducting a functional exercise on Zoom. 

Hagerty Can Help 

Whether you are designing a new exercise or want to convert an existing one into a virtual environment our team at Hagerty looks forward to supporting your needs. Hagerty’s Exercise Planning Team is comprised of
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP)-certified personnel and Master Exercise Practitioners (MEPs) that understand the importance of a thorough planning process, including read-ahead and logistics handouts with instructions for navigating the event.
 Our team will work with you to determine the best exercise solution given your desired objectives, outcomes, and resources. 

 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. 

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 environment. Althea is the Lead of Hagerty’s Intelligence and Information Sharing Service Line, committed to strengthening whole community stakeholder engagement and regional collaboration. Althea graduated from and is affiliated with The University of Chicago, supporting emerging professionals to understand complex adaptive systems in emergency management and homeland security.