Fortunately, many of our camps will never experience a true emergency — serious accident or fatality, financial collapse, program crippling property damage, or mission threatening negative publicity. A clean record does not guarantee a smooth future. Recent events like multiple swimmers drowning, abuse allegations, vehicle accidents, and wildfires remind us of the importance of having an emergency response plan. The best way to test your plan and crisis team is to conduct an emergency response drill.
Types of Drills
Emergency response drills are categorized by complexity. Drill types include a plan walk-through, tabletop exercise, event simulation, or full deployment drill (Kamer 2003). As complexity increases the drill length, stress on participants, necessary resources, and duration increase. Pick a drill type based on organization knowledge, experience, and resources.
A tabletop is a communication exercise and can have varying degrees of intensity and duration depending on the organization's needs. Allow several hours for execution and debriefing improvements to the plan and assessing team function.
Full Deployment Drill
A full deployment drill is as real as possible. They are typically used in law enforcement, aviation, or health-care settings to prepare for situations like bioterrorism, plane crashes, or hostage rescue where the incident could last for days. The duration simulates the fatigue, staff changes, and planning cycles that occur in a long incident (Kamer 2003).
A full deployment drill requires extensive planning and a major commitment of time and resources. It is unlikely a camp would independently respond to a full-scale disaster. More realistically, you would be one of many affected by a hurricane, wildfire, or bioterrorism incident. Contact your local Red Cross, emergency management officials, law enforcement agencies, or health-care providers to participate in a regional emergency prevention and response program. Maybe your facility could become a treatment area or evacuation site during a natural disaster, like the 2003 California wildfires.
Conducting an Emergency Response Drill
To start planning, ask yourself, "What is our worst-case scenario?" Script how that situation could unfold, identify parties involved, and set goals for the drill. Phases of conducting a drill include:
Emergency response drills are an excellent way to improve emergency planning and communication. If you do not have an emergency response plan, you need one. Test the plan every year. Conduct a plan walk-through when new administrative staff are hired or for major program changes. An annual tabletop exercise keeps your plan relevant and the team sharp. Unlike a real emergency, drills can be fun, but they are also stressful. Reward your team with a meal or social opportunity afterwards. Practice for the thing that keeps you awake at night and you may start to sleep better.
Greg Friese and Associates LLC helps clients prepare for, respond to, and recover from extraordinary circumstances, emergencies, and disasters. Realistic and context-appropriate simulations, from a tabletop exercise to a full deployment disaster exercise, prepare your organization to prevent and respond to an emergency. Contact the author via e-mail, firstname.lastname@example.org , or call 715-321-1800.
Originally published in the 2004 May/June issue of Camping Magazine.