3 Key Benefits of Performing Tabletop Exercises in Incident Management

Crisis management academic, Patrick Lagadec, once wrote:

The ability to deal with a crisis situation is largely dependent on the structures that have been developed before chaos arrives. The event can in some ways be considered as an abrupt and brutal audit: at a moment's notice, everything that was left unprepared becomes a complex problem, and every weakness comes rushing to the forefront.

One way to help yourself pass such an "audit" is to perform a tabletop exercise, which is to take significant types of crisis – for example, cyber-attacks, natural disasters or acts of terrorism – and evaluate how your organisation would respond to them.

They are discussion-based sessions where staff meet in an informal, classroom setting to discuss their roles during an emergency and their responses to a particular crisis. A facilitator guides participants through one or more scenarios, outlining key information and areas of focus.

For example, the scenario might be to consider the impact that a phishing email would have on a business. Key stakeholders meet and walk through how it might get reported (such as by phone or to a phishing mailbox) and the steps that the analyst would take.

From here, the floor can be opened to discussion about best practices and what steps should be taken, in what order, to best manage the situation.

A Stress Test for Crisis Response

Tabletop exercises highlight any weaknesses that might exist in your crisis response systems, especially when the scenario is unusual or extreme. By pushing your team and resources to their limits with a difficult, ever-changing scenario, you can get a good idea of your level of preparedness and validate how successful training has been across a variety of different situations and conditions. 

And because the situation is not real, participants have the luxury of being able to make mistakes and test out different approaches.

Different Department Leaders are Brought Together

In a typical business, the head of HR might have some interaction with the head of IT, just as sales leaders might have occasional dealings with those in the legal function. But, for the most part, their time will be dedicated to managing their own department and time spent working together on a joint effort will be minimal or non-existent.

When an organisation conducts a scenario exercise, it ensures that when an actual crisis occurs, teams know how to work together rather than trying it out for the first time. Roles and responsibilities have been clarified, lines of communication established, and the business has the best possible chance of minimising disruption.

High Return on Investment

Tabletop exercises require a relatively low amount of time, cost, and resources, but have high business value. The quicker an organisation can recover after a disaster and start to operate as normal, the lower the overall cost of the crisis.

After all, a study by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) discovered that more than 40% of businesses never reopen after a disaster, and for those that do, only 29% were still operating after two years.

By reducing risk levels, tabletop exercises protect the company, shareholders, and its brand, helping to safeguard its future.   

Final Thoughts

By performing tabletop exercises, you can gain a better understanding of:

  • How much responses vary – will staff respond consistently or will it depend on the individual?
  • The level of expertise you have in-house.
  • Whether proper checks, communication channels, safeguards, and processes are in place.
  • The overall impact the incident would have in real-life – will your business cope well or is chaos likely to ensue?

They're also one of the best ways to test your contingency plan and keep it up-to-date, making sure it's treated as a living, breathing document. 

If you’d like to learn more about what your contingency plan should contain, including a step-by-step guide to preparation, content, and implementation, download our free e-guide now.

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By Jamie Milligan

Jamie is leading the Business Development efforts for One Voice International. Although he is new to the industry, he has a wealth of experience across the sales function; for the last 5 years he has been working in the translation and localisation industry building and developing complex language solutions for the E-Commerce, Finance and Manufacturing industries. Jamie has a degree in Sports Development from Leeds Metropolitan University and in his spare time enjoys playing Hockey and Golf and exploring different foods of the world.

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