COMING TO THE TABLE: THREE KEY TAKEAWAYS FROM TEACHING GRADUATE STUDENTS TO DESIGN AND USE A TABLETOP EXERCISE
Tammy Chapman is a Senior Managing Associate in Hagerty Consulting’s Preparedness Division. Tammy’s work with Hagerty Consulting has focused on planning and preparedness for multiple hazards, including public health events and active threat incidents, and she has supported clients nationwide. In addition to her project work for the firm, Tammy recently returned as an independent instructor to her alma mater, the Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey (MIIS) in Monterey, California, to co-teach a course with Ray Zilinskas, the Director of MIIS’s Chemical and Biological Weapons Nonproliferation Program. The course focused on the design and implementation of tabletop exercises (TTXs) built around emergency simulations and leveraged Tammy’s decade of experience working in emergency preparedness, planning, and developing training and exercises for both public and private sector clients.
Disaster Discourse recently caught up with Tammy to learn more about the course, as well as key takeaways that can be taken from the world of emergency preparedness and applied more broadly.
Can you tell us a little more about MIIS’s Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program?
The Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program is a part of the James Martin Center for Nonproliferation Studies. The center was formed to combat the spread of weapons of mass destruction by training the next generation of nonproliferation specialists and disseminating timely information and analysis. For many years now, the Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program has been involved in public health preparedness, which has led to activities in the emergency management field.
What was the focus of your course?
The course was focused on the development of TTXs. A TTX is a structured meeting of stakeholders that will play a role in an emergency response. The TTX is used to discuss a simulated emergency scenario and evaluate the effectiveness of existing emergency response and recovery plans. To initiate a TTX, stakeholders review a scripted simulation of an emergency with discussion following to identify the actions they would take in that scenario. This enables for emergency managers, law enforcement, public safety and other stakeholders to understand their roles and responsibilities as outlined in existing plans in an informal, low-stress environment. A TTX can be used to clarify those roles and responsibilities, identify additional preparedness needs, and highlight operational gaps in a plan. Oftentimes, the TTX results in lessons learned that can be applied for continuous improvement of emergency plans.
How was the course structured?
We had a lot of interest in the class; 30 graduate students, many from the Chemical and Biological Nonproliferation Program, enrolled. The course consisted of two components, which had students assuming roles as members of an exercise planning team and as role-players in a TTX activity.
During the course’s first component, students were introduced to the National Incident Management System (NIMS) and the Incident Command System (ICS), as well as other related preparedness concepts. The course then shifted to an in-depth focus on the important elements of a properly conducted TTX, including how to develop a realistic scenario, the application of effective facilitation to maximize interactions between TTX players, and effective evaluation. My goal was to teach that a TTX can be used for policy analysis in general, even outside of emergency management.
During the second component, the students role-played various MIIS staff members as they participated in a TTX demonstration activity built around an active shooter event on campus. To prepare for this activity, students interviewed MIIS staff members who would have some role in the response to and/or the recovery from an active shooter incident. Additionally, we invited guest speakers from local law enforcement, university emergency management, the FBI, as well as a forensic psychologist to prime students with subject matter knowledge.
As a practitioner and an educator, what are the key things that you think people both inside and outside of the emergency management community should know about a TTX?
I tried to leave my students with three key takeaways from the course. These takeaways are:
- The TTX can be Used as a Tool for Policy Simulation – The utility of a TTX is not limited to the emergency management community. A TTX can be used to take theoretical policy analysis to the next level by having stakeholders walk through how policy or procedure would hold up against concrete scenarios. It takes the analysis from “Would this policy or procedure work?” to “Does this work if x and y happen? How about if z happens, too?”
- The TTX Concept Can Be Applied in Both Public and Private Sector Scenarios – TTXs are used frequently in the emergency management field to plan response for public sector agencies. However, the principles related to emergency preparedness – such as business continuity and risk management – are found everywhere. Think your job doesn’t have anything to do with emergency preparedness? You’re probably wrong! The TTX can be applied in fields from finance to manufacturing to help test plans to continue operations through disruptions to normal operations.
- A Hands-on Approach is the Best Way to Learn How to Implement a TTX – The most effective way to teach students how to develop and run a TTX is to role-play. When sufficient background information is provided to student role-players, they can be informed and come to the table to discuss the policies and procedures being addressed by the TTX. In fact, the role players often bring a fresh perspective that results in actual recommendations for future improvements to those policies and procedures.
Tammy Chapman is a Senior Managing Associate in Hagerty Consulting’s Preparedness Division. Tammy graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a Bachelor of Science degree in Biology from the University of California, Santa Cruz; a Master of Arts in International Policy Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies; a Certificate in Nonproliferation Studies from the Monterey Institute of International Studies, and a Diploma in Chinese Mandarin from the Defense Language Institute. A veteran, Tammy was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army, having served as a Voice Interceptor with Top Secret security clearance at Schofield Barracks (Kunia), Hawaii.