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In today’s bulletin, Charlie explains how he creates excellent exercises for organisations to use and play out using verisimilitude. Learn how to engage your employees and create memorable business continuity exercises.

This week I have been running a SIMEX exercise, and over the past three days, I have been producing collateral, injects and simulated media and social media posts as inputs into the exercise.

Part of the scenario is a protest outside the organisation’s office which starts off as a peaceful protest and turns into an all-out riot. During the riot, the organisation is targeted and the mob start to attack their office. As this happens a security guard from inside the building comes out and attacks the rioters. The first person he attacks is a pregnant woman who he kicks to the ground and injures badly enough for her to go to the hospital. The storyline from this scenario is that someone films the event and the story goes viral, with the organisation severely criticised. My inspiration for this was the pictures of Dr. David Dao being dragged off a United Airlines plane in April 2017 which went viral.

I had to find a way of creating a still or video which could be part of the story, it had to be shocking, show the woman as pregnant and have a link back to the organisation that is taking part in the video. Due to travel restrictions, I couldn’t go to the organisation’s building and create a video there therefore, I looked on YouTube to find an appropriate clip but all the clips I could find were too obvious, either from outside the UK or had an obvious background which the organisation may label as fake.

This is where verisimilitude came in. It is defined as ‘the appearance of being true or real’. The video didn’t need to be real, but it did need to be real enough that those partaking in the exercise would believe it. I have used this verisimilitude principle in a number of exercises to make the exercise work better and those playing in the exercise have gone along with the item of the inject. This has included:

1. Using paper handwritten emails. This is because if real emails are used, there is the possibility of them being sent to the wrong people and them thinking there has been a real incident. The email was handwritten, given to the exercise team by a runner and then a handwritten reply was physically taken back to the role players by the runner.

2. Taking a picture of a building and then adding a plume of smoke coming out of the roof. I have 2-3 different plumes which I just cut and paste onto the photo. It’s not CGI but it gives enough context for the team to understand what was happening.

3. Running an exercise with live play outside. In the scenario, we had a police person and a fireperson come along and give instructions and updates to the players. To play this role, we bought a police officer’s and firefighter’s hat from a costume shop, so when the role player turned up wearing the police officer’s hat the participants were happy that they were taking instructions from the police. As long as the role player played the role seriously and didn’t do a comedy act, the illusion worked and verisimilitude was achieved.

Coming back to the video, I decided the best way to make a video of the protestor saying she had been assaulted by a security guard was by hiring an actress. I found a local who after some persuading agreed to do the role. We made her up by smearing a bit of mud on her face, putting fake blood (red wine) on her clothing and making her hold a bloody towel to her head. A towel up her shirt gave the illusion of being pregnant. The video was set against a white wall so you couldn’t tell where it was taken. The script was as goes;

“Janet, what happened?”

She replied “I was peacefully protesting outside (organisation) when the security guard came out of the building and attacked me. He punched me and then kicked me to the ground, he went berserk, I am only alive after he was pulled off me by some other protesters. I am sitting here waiting for an ambulance to take me to hospital”.

This was used as a key part of the exercise and participants were made aware that the video was seen by millions of people and mentioned across all media channels.

We also make use of verisimilitude in our low-level training, where we get a team of junior managers to respond to a small scenario actually on site. A simple scene can be made up using a dummy, a tipped container labelled as containing a dangerous liquid and coloured water on the floor, and you instantly have a rescue scenario for the team to respond to!

So do make sure you use verisimilitude in your exercises, it adds realism and provides a more immersive and perhaps memorable experience for those taking part. It also helps you set up your exercise quicker, plus you don’t need to spend lots of money on realistic props. Why buy a police uniform when a hat will do! One of the things we want to build through exercises is ‘muscle memory’, and having an immersive and memorable exercise will help in this.

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