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The most important thing is to remember who the audience is for the plan that you are writing. You’re not writing the plan for yourself, to satisfy an intellectual need, or to show how much you know about a subject (it’s a plan, not a dissertation). You are not writing it for your bosses, to show how much work you have put into it or to show how seriously your organisation takes emergency planning (it’s a plan of action, not a corporate policy).
Your audience is anybody who may have a role in the plan and a need to use it at 6 a.m. when the world is falling apart. That’s why 200 page plans are no good. Anybody can write 200 pages. I can write 200 pages in 2 days. But 20 pages is much better. Any plan over 40 pages won’t get used. It should take about 6 to 12 weeks spread over 3 to 9 months to write a good 20 to 40 page emergency plan. Produce user-friendly quality emergency plans, rather than heavy, padded out plans that might look impressive on a book shelf but which nobody will ever use in a crisis.
A lot of us provide ‘Strategic’ training sessions for strategic response staff and ‘Tactical’ training sessions for tactical response staff. Yet, one of the main elements of this type of training is to point out and clarify the difference between the two types of role.
Surely it is better to provide a joint training session for both groups where any potential misunderstandings or blurring of the roles can be clarified and both sets of staff have a shared mutual understanding of what they should be doing and what the other group should be doing.
A common complaint I hear in exercises and in responses to real incidents is: ‘Strategic keep trying to do ‘Tactical’s job’. This reflects the separation of the two strands of training. Joint training is the way forward. If teams with different roles train together and exercise together, then in a real emergency they will work better together.
Creating Exercises to Test Plans
Here’s a trick I use when I am writing scenarios which guarantees that I always have enough inspiration to write plenty of message injects. It’s a trick that I play on myself (no, I’m not a weirdo), which frees up my brain from what I call ‘shackled mind thinking’.
This is what I do:
More often than not I will already have a good idea who the exercise participants should be (both in terms of organisations and individuals within those organisations). But it is a mistake to start with thinking about your exercise audience straight away.
So, this is what I do.
First I decide what the main scenario is going to be for the exercise. So I will dream up one paragraph which answers the following six questions:
I will tell my brain to stop thinking that I am writing an exercise. I will ask my brain ‘if this incident happened for real, which organisations would be involved in the response, which individuals would be involved in the response, and which other organisations and individuals would be affected by the incident? In other words I want to see the whole picture of all of the people who might become involved in the incident.
I will then have four long lists of people who might be involved in a response: