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The Value of Exercises

​SCENARIO-DRIVEN exercises continue to prove their worth as a way to test plans internally and among organizations that will have to coordinate their actions in a crisis.

Jay Kurtz, who runs the consulting firm Kappa West, Inc., helps companies run tabletop exercises to identify threats and test plans.

Once the company gathers the participants, who should run the gamut from executives to lower level employees, Kurtz will assign roles. For example, someone may be told to play a competitor or disgruntled employee; they will be asked to think of how to disrupt operations.

The next step is to narrow the focus with a probability impact grid (PIG). “You build a group consensus of what’s the real probability that this particular threat would occur under what circumstances, what would drive it, and what would its potential impact be,” Kurtz says. The impact may range from, “‘oh it would be a little itch but we could easily handle it,’ ... to devastating.”

Role-playing is what distinguishes tabletop exercises from a run-of-the-mill discussion, says Hal Kempfer, founder and head of Knowledge & Intelligence Program Professionals (KIPP), a business consultancy.

By developing a rational exercise, “you allow them to test the plan in a way that’s realistic, not just talk about it in terms of notional ideas,” Kempfer says.

Kempfer’s exercises range in time from a few hours to several days. Sometimes they involve multiple companies. For example, he worked with the Center for Asymmetric Warfare on a tabletop exercise for members of the Los Angeles Infragard Alliance—made up of representatives from business, local law enforcement, and the FBI.

The goal of the scenario-driven exercise was to discover what agencies would do and what type of intelligence they would need if they received warning of a terrorist attack, says Tom Netzer, senior exercise manager at the Center for Asymmetric Warfare.

Having all these different companies and agencies work on the tabletop exercise together was especially helpful, says Netzer, because the groups thought not only about their own reaction to receiving the intelligence but also about how they would interact with other agencies.

“Each individual agency has got a plan for what they’re going to do, but they don’t always know how their plan relates to anybody else’s plan and whether or not things are going to flow together,” says Netzer. “Having these type of exercises where you get people together to talk to each other is always a good thing.”

Netzer advises companies to keep the exercises focused.

“You want to make sure you have your objectives in mind and you don’t do anything that doesn’t ... advance that objective,” he says. “It’s easy to get your exercise so spread out that you don’t really accomplish anything.”