Why are tabletop exercises important to my credit union DR/BCP?

The Importance of Tabletop Exercises

by. Mark Komnik

A tabletop exercise is an exercise designed to test the theoretical ability of a group to respond to a situation.  In a tabletop exercise, a hypothetical disaster scenario, such as a fire, major weather event, or pandemic, is provided by the facilitator, and the participants “act out” their reactions by following their business continuity plans and discussing the necessary steps to be taken as if the event was actually happening.  Executive attendance is a must, and at least one representative from each functional area of the credit union should also attend.  The facilitator may add additional challenges based on developments as they occur, and may also force decisions to cover responses with the steps already in place today.  It minimizes the risk of deviation into planning.  Next to a full scale, live-action exercise, tabletops are a “necessary evil” and one of the best tools in a credit union’s Business Continuity Program (BCP).

One of my co-workers showed me her favorite quote by Confucius – “I hear and I forget.  I see and I remember.  I do and I understand.”  She likes to show this in her introduction presentation when facilitating an exercise, as it is very applicable to the purpose of tabletops.  What Confucius is expressing is that we have to experience something ourselves in order to really understand it.  A tabletop exercise does just that.  It promotes cooperative thinking and allows staff to work together when practicing their response plans.  Exercising your program on a regular basis will better prepare your credit union for WHEN an actual event occurs.

But acting through a disaster scenario is only half of the exercise. While it’s a best practice to debrief after an exercise to discuss the lessons learned during the tabletop exercise, the true value of the exercise is finding the weak areas or missing steps (gaps) in your incident response plans.  These gaps should be documented during the exercise and developed into “next action steps” for plan improvement.  Each gap you identify, address, and correct will only make your response plans and BCP stronger.

In addition to being used by credit unions to test disaster readiness, tabletop exercises can also be utilized by schools and even families so that people know what to do during a crisis situation.   Schools may hold tabletop exercises for teachers to prepare them in the event of a school lock-down or a family may hold an exercise so they are familiar with where to go or what to do in the event of a tornado or evacuation.

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