Back to basics: Why should we exercise our emergency plans?

Phil Emonson, Lead for Flood Resilience, reflects on the Emergency Planning Society Welsh Branch annual conference, which he presented at last week.

Why should we exercise our emergency plans? A pertinent question posed to the assembled delegates at the Metropole Hotel in Llandrindod Wells, and one which supported the overall conference theme of “Back to Basics.”

A range of experienced emergency planning officers from Local Authorities, Natural Resources Wales, and other responders, were in attendance. All of whom brought experiences in designing, delivering or participating in emergency planning training and exercises. Over the two days we heard engaging presentations, with a focus on many case studies, which explored the different types of flood exercise, their standards and validation and how flood exercises can go wrong.

What we learnt

When attending conferences, I often find it’s the questions asked, based on the real-life experiences of the delegates, which can provide most insight. So, I wanted to reflect on a number of those, whilst also including my own thoughts and experiences.

1. How can we achieve realism in our flood exercises?

Training and exercises need to be realistic to achieve buy-in from those participating.  Whilst scenarios and injects can be prepared and designed by reviewing past events, there is no substitute for involving subject matter experts and those with real-life experience in responding in the flood exercise planning team.

2. How soon after the end of a flood exercise should we run a debrief?

As soon as possible! The hot debrief, either conducted as a questionnaire or a collective discussion forum, is aimed at capturing the raw emotion and initial thoughts of those involved immediately after the end of the flood exercises. The scenarios are fresh in people’s minds, and points for improvement can be captured. A cold debrief should also be scheduled for the few days following the flood exercise, allowing time for participants to reflect and gather in a more structured discussion forum.

3. Should we run no-notice flood exercises?

No-notice exercises can help to rehearse elements such as rostering and staffing levels, business continuity, welfare and Health & Safety, which may not otherwise be tested in flood exercises which are scheduled. However, these can often expose responding duty staff to additional pressures and stresses, which whilst realistic, need to be considered. A no-notice flood exercise should be seen as a validation exercise, a means to measure the effectiveness of training and competence and confidence of responding staff.

4. Given constant change in our responding organisations (and communities), can we ever claim to be ‘resilient’?

Resilience is all about preparedness, and our ability to respond and recover effectively.  It’s a constant process which can absorb the changes in our responding organisations and communities. Emergency plans can be embedded with ongoing and incremental training, rehearsed through validation exercises, with debriefs and evaluations identifying how those plans can
be improved.  Flood Preparedness Cycle

Our experienced emergency planning team includes those who bring real-life experience of responding to major flooding and environmental incidents, as well as extensive experience in planning, designing and delivering training and flood exercising for a range of Category 1 and 2 responders.

Want to know more?

To find out how we can help you plan and prepare, please email Phil Emonson or call him on 01392 904040 for further information.

You can also visit our Flood Emergency Planning web page to find out more about our work in Flood Resilience.

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