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What Is a Tabletop Exercise?

June 3, 2021

What Is a Tabletop Exercise? Beginner’s Guide

Developing a comprehensive emergency preparedness plan is crucial for any successful college or university. Higher education institutions that have put thought and time into such plans are better equipped to weather any storms–literal or figurative– that may come their way and adapt to the changes of the modern age.

If your institution is seeking ways to enhance your business continuity plan or emergency preparedness strategy, tabletop exercises can help.

So, what is a tabletop exercise? And what are the benefits?

What Is a Tabletop Exercise?

A tabletop exercise is an interactive training exercise that helps organizations test the strength and effectiveness of their emergency response strategies. They’re a low-cost solution that allows faculty members and other participants to run through procedures that will occur in a real emergency. The exercise provides an opportunity to familiarize staff with the plan,  ask questions, identify flaws in the plan, and seek ways to improve the plan.

Benefits of Tabletop Exercises

There are many reasons why so many colleges and universities opt to conduct tabletop exercises as they develop and maintain an emergency preparedness or business continuity plan.

First and foremost, tabletop exercises require little cost and resources yet remain a highly effective way of improving emergency preparedness strategies. These exercises are also adaptable to the needs of the institution. They could be held for just one hour or over several days.

Tabletop exercises increase peace of mind and instill confidence in the entire staff, helping them know their role and feel prepared for any given emergency.

How to Conduct Successful Tabletop Exercises

For tabletop exercises to be the most effective, it’s important to plan and set goals about what you want to accomplish during the exercise. Here are a few key tips on how to conduct successful tabletop exercises.

1. Identify Participants and Their Roles

Every tabletop exercise should include participants, a facilitator, an evaluator, and an observer. Each participant should approach the exercise differently, depending on their designated role. 

For example, participants should follow the facilitator’s guidelines, engage in conversation, and be ready to offer helpful feedback. On the other hand, the facilitator should control the pace of the exercise and come prepared with ways to spark a meaningful discussion.

2. Consider the Limitations of the Exercise

Though tabletop exercises are an effective way of evaluating the strengths and weaknesses of an emergency plan, they do have their limitations. Remembering these confines will allow you to make the most of the exercise and be better prepared in a real emergency.

Keep in mind that the exercise only provides an overarching review of the plan and is not a valid test of operations. The timeline is not realistic, and other factors (like the weather in a natural disaster) could inhibit the plan from playing out smoothly.

3. Share the Scenario Ahead of Time

The most successful tabletop exercises are those in which all participants have time to prepare in advance. For this reason, it’s best to share the emergency scenario with all of your participants at least a few days in advance, allowing them to prepare for the discussion and look for ways to provide meaningful feedback.

Enhance Your Resilience with Kuali Ready

Tabletop exercises are a great way of evaluating and improving your plan—but they’re not the only solution. Further strengthen your strategy with Kuali Ready, a business continuity planning software designed specifically for higher education that helps your institution become more resilient in any situation.

Check out our webinar to learn how Kuali Ready has helped higher education institutions like yours be better prepared for emergencies.

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