Table Top Exercises Revisited

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As North America moves into the heart of its 2010 air show season, many members are considering whether or not to conduct an emergency preparedness table top exercise in advance of their air shows. ICAS strongly recommends that you decide right now that this will be a part of your preparation, not just this year, but every year. 

Even the best emergency response plan is just a static reference document until it is brought to life with a well-planned table top planning exercise or, God forbid, an actual emergency. These exercises are called table tops because they are emergency simulations conducted with all of the key players around a table top (as opposed to a real emergency which is managed on the ramp, infield, runway or parking area). 

Table top exercises are to air show emergency planning what simulator time is to airline and military pilots…a chance to confront specific emergency situations in a simulated, controlled environment. They give event organizers an opportunity to “test drive” their emergency response plan. Ideally, a table top exercise allows everybody to respond to a simulated emergency as they would respond to a real emergency. A well-executed table top exercise uncovers problems with communications, internal contradictions within the plan, and aspects of the proposed emergency response that need changes or refinement. 

Perhaps just as importantly, table top exercises are both inexpensive and easy to execute. Come up with two or three emergency situations and role play as you sit around the table. 

A fire erupts in the north hangar. The fire truck on the north side of the airport is on the flight line. How does it get from Point A to Point B? How will it quickly turn around and navigate the crowds on the ramp? Does the show go on while the fired is managed? Will there be another vehicle to respond to an aircraft accident? Etc. 

You should also plan for a worst case scenario level accident: an aircraft crashes in the crowd area with spectator fatalities and dozens of serious injuries or something similarly horrific. It is unlikely that you will ever encounter that kind of accident, but planning for it is important and will give your emergency response personnel confidence that they will be up to the challenge if the need arises. 

Three or four weeks before your event, schedule two or three hours during a weekday evening. Invite all of the key players involved in emergency response to participate in your table top exercise. Role play your way through two or three specific accident scenarios. It’s an easy planning exercise that could pay off with huge dividends in the event of an actual emergency.

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The International Council of Air Shows (ICAS) is a trade association dedicated to building and sustaining a vibrant air show industry to support its membership. To achieve this goal, ICAS demands its members operate their air show business at only the highest levels of safety, professionalism, and integrity.