Art of Facilitating a Large Scale Mock Disaster Exercise


The Art of Facilitating a Large Scale Mock Disaster Exercise

By: Michael Herrera 

We (my brother, who is a Fire Chief at NASA, and I) recently facilitated a large-scale mock disaster exercise that included 60-plus participants and over 10 observers.  Participants included multiple public/private schools (elementary and middle), school administration, emergency services (Police, Fire, EMS, etc.) and external observers such as Homeland Security. From a school and community based perspective it was one of our largest exercises to date.

The art of facilitating an exercise of this size and complexity is a daunting task. Even if the exercise has been designed perfectly, if you can’t lead it properly, it will fail miserably. How many of us have fallen asleep or been bored to death in an exercise?

 So, what do I consider key criteria for being a good exercise facilitator?

  • Dress the Part (Have Command Presence)
  • Smile, Smile, Smile
  • Be Charismatic and Enthusiastic
  • Know Your Exercise Scenario Inside and Out
  • Be Knowledgeable of the Personalities and Capabilities of Key Participants
  • Follow the Agenda, but Go Outside the Box When Needed
  • Know How to Engage the Participants and Ensure Cross Communications
  • Engage Humor to Keep Everyone Lighthearted
  • Look for When Participants Need Breaks
  • Permit Extended Discussions When Merited; Cut Off if of No Value
  • Keep the End Goal in Mind

I could say I have never been nervous facilitating a mock disaster exercise, but I would be lying. I use my nervousness to make me more mindful and focused on my facilitating. I look at the facilitating of a mock disaster exercise like being a storyteller; you are leading the execution of the event from its beginning to its end.

Facilitating a mock disaster exercise is a great opportunity to shine in front of many key people in your organization. Use it to your advantage.



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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