Planning Your Next Mock Disaster Exercise

As BCM Practitioners we are often required to dream up, plan, implement and facilitate a mock disaster exercise for our Crisis Management teams. The planning process is crucial to developing an exercise that meets the needs of your organization.  Steps in planning a successful mock disaster exercise are:

  1. Consider the past list of scenarios you have presented to the team in the past.  Does a past exercise suffice or do we need to develop a brand new exercise?  A past exercise can be used if  significant gaps were exposed that require you to replay it to validate the teams response.  Always consider the maturity of the team.
  2. Review action items from previous exercises to make sure they have been resolved and do not cause gaps in the upcoming exercise.
  3. Identify the key objectives of the exercise; what are you trying to stress test and validate?  Focus on a core set of objectives that you would like the exercise to meet.  Less is more here.
  4. Based on the objectives, identify Subject Matter Experts who will aid you in building  the exercise.  These individuals can be internal and/or external personnel who will provide you with expertise to build your scenario.  These people typically do not participate in the exercise since they built it.
  5. Hold multiple brainstorming sessions with your Subject Matter Experts to build the exercise based on objectives you are trying to meet.  Typically, a couple of these sessions will build the framework that you can use to create the detail events.  Validate the exercise framework meets objectives.
  6. Build the detailed timeline and list of events to occur based on the framework you developed with the Subject Matter Experts.  Consider how long you have for the exercise,  give people time to address events and respond as needed.  I consider the maturity of the team in determining how long I give them to address and respond to events in the exercise.
  7. Validate the scenario, timeline and events with your Subject Matter Experts; ensure it makes sense and meets the objectives.  Identify gaps or areas that are confusing; you don’t want participants pointing at holes in your exercise that will derail it.
  8. Revise the scenario and you are ready.
  9. Make sure you have a good facilitator ready to lead the exercise.  This person must be prepared to lead the team from the beginning to the end of the exercise.  He or she must know the exercise in and out as well as assess how the team is doing.  If the exercise needs to be slowed down or sped up, the facilitator must address it.
  10. Have fun and enjoy the exercise.  It will never go as perfectly scripted but when does a disaster fit our plans?




Michael Herrera is the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of MHA. In his role, Michael provides global leadership to the entire set of industry practices and horizontal capabilities within MHA. Under his leadership, MHA has become a leading provider of Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery services to organizations on a global level. He is also the founder of BCMMETRICS, a leading cloud based tool designed to assess business continuity compliance and residual risk. Michael is a well-known and sought after speaker on Business Continuity issues at local and national contingency planner chapter meetings and conferences. Prior to founding MHA, he was a Regional VP for Bank of America, where he was responsible for Business Continuity across the southwest region.

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