As part of the events hosted for National Public Health Week, SORT sponsored an evening presentation (Wednesday, April 3, 2013) for all public health students to learn more about Table Top Exercises and their use in preparedness. Twenty-four students from across the public health departments attended the event. Emily Frant, MPH (From Emory) and member of the CDC International Emergency Preparedness Team, presented the background of Table Top Exercises.
The general purpose of a Table Top exercise is to appraise the knowledge or skills of a particular group of people with regard to their preparedness for a selection of realistic emergent events. Often, the exercises are used to assess the utility and comprehensiveness of a preparedness plan. As the name implies, the exercise takes place with participants seated around a table (generally a U-shaped table to facilitate engagement of all participants). The facilitator presents the participants with an emergency scenario and then leads the group through carefully selected questions to assess knowledge of the preparedness plan, as well as the comprehensiveness of the plan for addressing the needs in the selected emergency scenarios.
After discussing the intent of the exercise, Ms. Frant presented participants with a scenario involving an internally displaced persons (IDP) camp and a drought that was causing people living in the countryside to move into the camp for better access to resources. Four groups (health action; water, sanitation, and hygiene; nutrition; and shelter), were established to assess the evolving needs of the camp, and to make recommendations to address those needs. The Sphere standards handbook (a set of international standards for refugee and IDP camps) was used as the reference plan to guide the groups in establishing the priorities for each area of need.
Ms. Frant explained that as an emergency situation unfolds, there are often additional issues that arise to complicate the initial scenario, but nevertheless require a quick response. Students were presented with these “injects,” including the theft of incoming supplies, civil unrest, and tainting of the local water supply. After thoughtful discussion regarding the challenges faced by those in the camps, the exercise ended with the “hotwash.” This debriefing process allows the facilitator to process the performance of the group, as well as to highlight unexpected responses that could be informative to revising the preparedness plan.
SORT appreciates the time Ms. Frant, and Ms. Lise Martel, both from the IEPT, took to share their experiences with the Rollins students this week. The lively discussion showed the value of bringing the right people together at the right time, and how a well-planned exercise can help inform preparedness efforts without ever leaving the table.