Get the most from a disaster tabletop


A tabletop exercise is a great way to get business continuity off the written page without the interruption of a full-scale drill. Rather than actually simulating a disaster, the crisis management group gathers for three hours to talk through a simulated disaster. Here are two test scenarios developed by those on the business continuity front lines:

The first supposed that a disgruntled employee starts a data centre fire. It is based on a suggestion by Rad Jones, academic specialist at Michigan State University’s School of Criminal Justice and former director of security and fire protection for Ford Motor Co.

Segment 1: A small fire begins just outside the data centre, setting off the alarm system. By the time the fire department arrives, the fire has been extinguished by the sprinkler system, but the building has been evacuated. Employees and people who work in nearby buildings want to know what has happened, as does the media. Then, as people begin to go back inside, the receptionist takes a call from someone who indicates that the fire is “only the beginning” because the company hasn’t treated him right.

Segment 2: An employee discovers a box in the lobby with a warning that it contains anthrax. Management decides to evacuate the building again. Calls come in from concerned family members, and local TV crews arrive.

Segment 3: A woman calls the newspaper claiming to be the wife of an employee who’s just been laid off and who has left printouts about anthrax scattered in his home office. The newspaper calls the company with this information. The health department is on scene. The company’s call centre (at another location) is swamped with calls from customers who can’t place orders at the Web site.

Segment 4: The police apprehend a suspect. The health department determines that the box did not contain anthrax and the building is safe. Some employees are afraid to come back to work.

The second scenario supposes an explosion at a nearby chemical plant which releases deadly toxins. Segment 1: An explosion occurs two miles from headquarters. Local news media are reporting that an undetermined number of the chemical company’s employees have been injured or killed, and officials are trying to determine to what extent deadly toxins have been released into the air. No one is sure what caused the blast.

Segment 2: Area hospitals are crowded with people reporting breathing difficulties, and public health officials are encouraging people all over the city to “shelter in place” as a precaution. Headquarters is currently upwind of the explosion.

Segment 3: The company tells employees not to leave the building, but many do anyway, saying that they don’t trust what they’re hearing and that they need to get home and take care of their families. The security guards at the front door also want to know what to tell people on the street who want to take shelter in the company’s lobby. The cafeteria reports that it has already sold out of lunches. Segment 4: The immediate danger passes, and authorities say the explosion was an accident. Several employees have been hospitalized, and others are upset that the company cafeteria did not have more supplies on hand. 072780