What are Table-top Exercises (TTXs)?
Table-top exercises (TTXs) are a systematic approach to simulate different scenarios, in order to test and evaluate plans. They are often used in the crisis management domain in order to simulate crisis situations in order to practice, test, train and evaluate response capabilities.
The STRATEGY project uses TTXs to simulate crisis scenarios, in order to test and evaluate the different standards that have been selected. STRATEGY will then recommend that the standards that are successful in these scenarios be formalized at the EU level.
What are the aims of TTXs?
The aim of TTXs is to help organisations achieve a high level of disaster preparedness. The most common Disaster Management Cycle (DMC) comprises four stages: pre-incident Mitigation and Preparedness and post-incident Response and Recovery.
Several activities may be undertaken to achieve a high level of Preparedness. One key instrument that organisations (locally, nationally or regionally) may use to prepare for disaster response are Exercises, such as Table-top Exercises. These are controlled activity where a crisis situation is simulated in order to practice, test, train and evaluate response capabilities.
Exercises allow us, among other things, to:
- Test and evaluate plans, procedures and tasks (e.g., operational guidelines and standard operating procedures);
- Clarify roles and responsibilities, namely those related to chain of command, as participants perform their tasks and decision-making in simulated environment;
- Develop knowledge and skills due to inter-agency work and challenging staff to perform new duties;
- Improve coordination and build relationships and networks with other agencies and countries;
- Identify gaps and reveal response plans’ failures and shortcomings, as well as highlight what works well;
- Enable a process of continuous development (e.g., through Lessons Learned Process)
Exercises are particularly important assets in the Crisis Management domain, as integrated multi-agency, and sometimes trans-national, operations are usually required to guarantee a rapid, well-coordinated and efficient response, that can only be developed through practice.
Type of exercises
There are four main types of exercises which can be split into two categories:
|Discussion-based||Tabletop exercises (TTX)||A tabletop exercise is a mediated discussion, usually informal, in a low-stress environment which promotes a constructive debate to address specific issues.|
|Operations-based||Drills (DR)||A drill is an exercise intended to execute a single specific task or procedure in an operational context, which should be as realistic as possible, including the operation of all the adequate material and equipment. It aims to improve, test and perfect a procedure which is part of a broader response plan.|
|Functional exercises (FX)||A functional exercise tests, in a complete and simulated scenario, an organization’s capability to respond to an incident, by practicing several task and procedures. Participants are challenged to perform their duties and responsibilities in a time-pressured situation, where the organization coordination, integration, and interaction are put to test.|
|Full-scale exercises (FSX)||In a full-scale exercise an event is, as close to reality as possible, set up to test and evaluate the management and response to such incident, at operational, tactical and strategic levels. All the necessary resources, both human and material, are deployed and put into action in a realistic high-stressful environment. Response plans are intended to be tested as globally as possible, which means several agencies and stakeholders take part in a FSX.|
Why are TTXs important in the STRATEGY project?
TTXs are important for the STRATEGY project because they allow first responders and crisis management experts to test and validate selected standards in order to ensure their efficacy before they are implemented.
Generally, in the crisis management domain, first responders are not involved in the standardisation process. This means that crisis management standards often have not been tested or validated by end-users before they are put into practice. As a result, they do not always facilitate efficient and effective disaster response.
This is why the STRATEGY project involves end users throughout the project. One of the first steps taken in STRATEGY was mapping the crisis management standardization landscape. Several gaps were identified for each of the 8 project streams: Search and Rescue, Critical Infrastructure Protection, Response Planning, Command and Control, Early Warning and Rapid Damage Assessment, CBRN-E, Training and Symbology and Terminology. The gaps were identified based on previously acknowledged end-users needs and existing standards. Those gaps in the standardisation landscape will be analysed and addressed throughout the project.
STRATEGY will then use TTXs to validate the efficacy of selected standards. The project will carry out one TTX per stream, and one Full-scale Exercise (FSX). The TTX will be organized and hosted by different STRATEGY partners. In those exercises all the consortium’s practitioners and tech providers will participate in collaborative Crisis Management scenarios. Moreover, end-users will also participate in scenario and use cases development to put together realistic test environments. Therefore, through TTX, first responders and other key players in Crisis Management will be able to test and validate pre-standards and pre-standardisation activities developed under STRATEGY framework and important data will be collected to develop a complex and realistic FSX.
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Author: Luís Miguel Carvalho, Unidade Militar Laboratorial de Defesa Biológica e Química – Exército Português