The use of practice drills to sharpen emergency response and as a means to prepare for unexpected events has been around for many years. Recently, drills have become an integral part of an overall Emergency Management Plan. This paper is an attempt to define and put forward practical and tried methods to ensure a successful workplace emergency response drill. Its basis is the writer's experiences in producing drills in the rail transportation arena; however, the process can be used for any work environment. Post 911, emergency response drills have had a keener focus on responding to deliberate catastrophes - acts of terrorism. Much is available from the Department of Homeland Security on these types of drills and there is also a multitude of information available on-line. The recipe for successful emergency response drills presented here, can be used as a starting point to succeed in developing and producing a successful and safe drill exercise to prepare for real emergencies in the work place.
Responding to emergencies and catastrophic events requires planning on many levels to ensure the best response and recovery. Tabletop Drills and Field Exercises are one part of this preparation. They provide a controlled risk environment to train, practice and test response and recovery plans and methods. Drills validate procedures, plans, and equipment and test the working relationships of emergency response agencies and the property owner. Exercises also serve as a means to identify shortcomings in established emergency plans. They ensure that false assumptions are not relied upon when emergencies strike. Practicing responses to expected and unexpected emergencies enhances the capabilities of all who participate. Reductions in loss of life, injuries and property are all benefits of practicing and training for real and possible catastrophic events.
Emergency response drills are also held to fulfill regulatory requirements. Some of the agencies that require emergency response drills are: the Nuclear Regulatory Commission, the Federal Railroad Administration, and the Federal Transit Administration, among others. The value of testing and validating plans, policies, equipment, interagency cooperation and communications, in a controlled hazard free environment, cannot be overstated. Time and time again, when emergency responders are questioned about successful operations in response to disasters or calamity, their response almost always includes "successful and effective drills and training".
Several types of drills can be planned and developed to provide a variety of training experiences. Among these are: Facility / Equipment Familiarization Drill training, Tabletop Exercises, Tabletop Simulations, Tabletop Gaming and Field Exercises and Simulations.
The very first thing one needs to do to begin planning any type of drill is to identify and meet with those persons who will represent the emergency responders. The meeting should take place well in advance of the expected drill. Standing committees composed of emergency responders and company officials may already exist and could be used to begin the drill planning process. As an example, most public transit agencies and transportation operating companies meet regularly with emergency responders in Fire and Life Safety Committees.