Testing Emergency Response through Tabletop Exercises

Client: U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS), Office of Infrastructure Protection
emergency vehicles scenario slide at a tabletop exercise facilitating a tabletop exercise group small group discussion at a tabletop exercise After-Action Report covers

Project Overview

Nexight Group designed, facilitated, and documented more than 45 tabletop exercises that help critical infrastructure owners and operators respond to a simulated active shooter or vehicle-borne improvised explosive device (VBIED) event in coordination with local emergency responders.

Need

Facility owners face new and emerging threats that many are ill-equipped to respond to. Whether the threat is a workplace shooting or a car bomb, training alone cannot fully address the dynamic nature of each situation or the characteristics of each facility. DHS asked Nexight to help develop two exercise scenarios—active shooter and VBIED—and use them to facilitate interactive training and exercises customized for chemical, commercial facilities, and multi-sector audiences across the country.

Our Solution

We teamed up with recognized security experts to design and deliver an eight-hour training session that combines expert instruction with our interactive, scenario-based tabletop exercise design. Each three-hour exercise engages facility managers and personnel in a facilitated discussion with local emergency responders on their actions and decisions as the scenario unfolds. Each scenario simulates an emergency incident using more than a dozen time stops—points in which a Nexight facilitator introduces new information and facilitates large-group and concentrated table discussions. Security experts interject case studies and best practices at each point in the scenario. Throughout the exercise, Nexight captures participant responses and lessons learned in real time. We provide participants with a detailed After-Action Report within three weeks that synthesizes best practices and lessons learned they can immediately implement at their facility. DHS received overwhelming response from the private sector—more than 90% of participants rated exercise content and conduct as excellent or very good—and the exercise team expanded the program from one scenario specialized for the chemical sector, to multiple scenarios targeting multi-sector audiences. To meet rapidly growing demand, Nexight group adjusted its approach:

  • We redesigned the workshop to handle up to 300 participants (up from ~50)
  • We trained additional Nexight staff to accommodate an expanded schedule of 32 exercises per year (up from 6 per year)
  • We developed additional emergency scenarios and adjusted existing scenarios to address multiple critical infrastructure sectors and facility types

Impact

Nexight Group trained more than 5,000 individuals since 2010—and more than 95% indicated that they planned to update their company’s emergency response plans and procedures based on the training exercises. Early workshop success caused the DHS training program to grow by more than 400%.