“Table top” emergency exercise

Smoke from the Ranch Fire looms over Potter Valley, CA in 2018.

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These exercises are intended as preparatory training to help identify important resources, response procedures, and gaps in your emergency plan, and are used by emergency response professionals to brainstorm and practice identifying risks and available strategies in your area. You can identify different goals, such as onboarding new team members or identifying additional resources you might need when you plan the exercise.

Someone should be chosen to identify different customized scenarios for the exercise and serve as a facilitator. Participants should not be aware of the scenarios in advance, to simulate an unexpected situation. The exercise should be based on discussion, with “no wrong answers,” and participants should be encouraged to brainstorm worst-case scenarios or identify gaps or needs in strategies, policies, or resources.

Notes from the exercises should be recorded, and later important takeaways and priorities from the exercise should be shared and incorporated as needed into your newsroom’s emergency reporting plan.

This exercise should be repeated at least annually to update your emergency plan and train your organization.

  1. Identify multiple potential emergency scenarios in your area, and pick one or two people with knowledge of the area and newsroom in your organization to customize these scenarios and act as facilitators. The exact scenarios should not be shared with participants in advance.
    1. If possible, base the scenarios on the risks identified in your local emergency plan, or work with a local emergency response professional to help identify the specific exercises you will use.
    2. Pick specific goals for each exercise.
  2. Schedule a time for an organization-wide meeting to go through the different scenarios. Plan for at least several hours or consider devoting a day to newsroom safety exercises.
    1. Identify a note taker to document the discussion and important conclusions. 
  3. Once you have completed the exercises, review what you have learned and designate the appropriate staff to incorporate relevant updates to your emergency plan.

For each situation, consider:

  1. Who should be involved and what role will they play?
  2. What are the audiences we want to reach?
  3. How we will get and verify information?
  4. How we will share information?
  5. What operational strategies, resources, and revenue do we need?
  6. What collaborators or sources will we need to report during this event?
  1. An unexpected event where the newsroom or key staff are impacted directly, such as evacuations or losing power without advanced warning
  2. An event where emergency notifications arrive in advance of the event in the vicinity of the newsroom or coverage area that could have cascading impacts, such as a toxic spill leading to water contamination and road closures, or a fire leading to power and communications outages
  3. An event in a neighboring community – adjacent to your coverage area
  4. Additional exercises:
    1. specific exercise with weather-related disaster
    2. specific exercise with industrial or environmental health disaster
    3. specific exercise with multiple simultaneous disasters
    4. one of the above exercises with active source of misinformation

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