Is your cabinet prepared for the next COVID-19 emergency?

Expert Insight

Is your cabinet prepared for the next COVID-19 emergency?

From a cyber attack that effectively stops all instruction in its tracks, to the sudden loss of beloved members of the campus community, college and university presidents are being forced to confront new and unprecedented challenges in a matter of weeks. In light of the Covid-19 pandemic leaders are now asking how they can be ready for the next wave of outbreak-related crises. Public health agencies, cities, and the military prepare for potential emergencies by conducting tabletop exercises that simulate how their leaders would react in the event of a crisis.

EAB is now launching Emergency Response Tabletop Exercises specifically designed for colleges and universities. Created for cabinet leadership, these exercises help leaders anticipate potential crises, accelerate decision-making, and identify critical vulnerabilities in their existing policies. They also provide the space and materials for charting a course of action if and when a crisis occurs. To ensure partners get the most from this experience, EAB senior experts stand at the ready to virtually facilitate Emergency Response Tabletop Exercises for cabinets and other senior leadership teams.

This initial installment of tabletop exercises includes three distinct situations for leadership teams to simulate in a tabletop exercise. All are events that may emerge in April and May 2020 in the response to COVID-19. Leaders can choose to complete any number of combination of the three exercises. As events unfold across the country, and among our partners, we’ll continue to add to our Emergency Response Situation library, to ensure partners are prepared for whatever lies ahead.

Here’s how it works:

  1. A facilitator—either a senior EAB expert or an institutional leader—presents an emergency for discussion, then poses questions to evaluate the response.
  2. Then, the facilitator introduces new information to evolve the emergency to a new phase or to tweak a condition, which requires reevaluation of decision-making.
  3. At the end, participants identify lessons learned and takeaways to improve readiness in the event of the emergency actually happens in the near future.
  4. Finally, an after-action report is completed to document and remedy any challenges that surface during the exercise in an efficient, accountable manner.

Each tabletop exercise will specify the suggested participants. In addition, you’ll want one facilitator to help run the exercise and at least one observer who is taking notes on points of contention or uncertainty to troubleshoot later.

A substantive tabletop exercise typically takes at least one hour.

See “Leading an Emergency Response Tabletop Exercise: Guide for Facilitators and Observers” for more information.

Don’t we already have a plan in place?

Tabletops are valuable even when institutions already have plans clearly outlined because they:

Raise novel questions that existing protocols on paper do not address (even where policy partially speaks to an issue, leaders can compare notes to see if they share the same understanding, assumptions, and expectations –often, they do not)

Explore how a team might react in a low-stress environment now to a high-stakes situation later, building muscle memory and sharpening collective problem-solving skills

Vet if departments really have the readiness and capability to do what will be asked of them and accelerate decision-making about who “owns” what (any coordinated effort will require contributions of staff, resources, or expertise from multiple departments)

Determine if existing policies have been well-communicated, are practical or sufficient, or are overly reliant on resources or individuals that may not always be available

What happens afterwards?

Tabletop exercises are learning events. In a post-session debrief sometimes called a “hot wash,” it is common to compile lessons, discrepancies, and takeaways in an “after-action” report, which might also suggest policy revisions, training investments, clarification in division of responsibility, or other corrective changes or investigations moving forward. That way, the institution is prepared should that emergency become a reality.

Contact your Strategic Leader today to have a Senior EAB expert facilitate your team’s Tabletop Exercise.

Want to learn more? Click here to visit the Emergency Response Tabletop Exercise Resource Center.

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