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A horrific image in the news this week was that of the Egyptian balloon which caught fire and plunged to the ground killing 19 of its passengers, only the pilot and one passenger survived.

This week I have been on site with a client; we have been running a series of exercises and have been thinking about the benefits and downsides as a means of preparing those who role is to respond to an incident. I thought I might share some thoughts with you on whether exercising the plan is the best way for members of the incident team to be prepared to manage an incident. The link with the balloon crash is that pilots have to spend time in a simulator practicing their response to potential crash situations. If they fail their simulator exercises they may not be able to fly. Should we have better training for our staff that may be called on to manage an emergency?

Those of you who have observed many exercises may recognise this response by those who are being exercised. They turn up to the exercise with or without their plan, but claim to have read it. As soon as they get the scenario and start the exercise they ignore the plan in front of them and all the hard work which has gone into developing the strategies. They then make up the recovery strategy and response out of the top of their heads. They do a bit of communication, solve the inputs on the main events relevant to them and after 3 hours go home with a warm glow thinking they are prepared for a real event.

If an exercise is run like this, what benefit is there for those who have taken part? Or does it just give them a false sense of their level of competence. They have not learned anything about the plan or the pre-agreed recovery strategy! The business continuity lifecycle does not state implicitly that there should be training before exercises. The lifecycle goes from “Developing and implementing a BCM response” to “Exercising, maintaining and reviewing”. I have recently come to the conclusion that in terms of preparation it would be better to do more incident management training, and do this first before getting those within the incident team to take part in an exercise.

I think between the development of the plans and the exercise, part of the lifecycle should have a training element. This training should be built up in a step by step basis, so that those who have a role in the incident teams are aware of their role, know what is in the plan and understand the recovery strategy. They should also been taught to use the agendas and checklists within the plan. Only once when they have been thoroughly trained in their role should they take part in an exercise.

When I was in the army, training to be an infantry officer they didn’t let us take part in a major exercise with no training, but they built up the training from the lowest level. Two people doing fire and maneuver and then overtime to section, platoon and company training. Only when we were ready did they let us take part in a major exercise.

So if you are due to exercise a plan, consider this – train to walk people through the plan so that your people are familiar with their role and the detail within the plan before letting them loose as part of a major exercise. I think you may find that their response to the incident will greatly improve and that all the hard work you have put into the plan will not lie unopened on the incident room table!

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