Use of tabletop exercises for disaster preparedness training
Background. In public health preparedness, disaster preparedness refers to the strategic planning of responses to all types of disasters. Preparation and training for disaster response can be conducted using different teaching modalities, ranging from discussion-based programs such as seminars, drills and tabletop exercises to more complex operation-based programs such as functional exercises and full-scale exercises. Each method of instruction has its advantages and disadvantages. Tabletop exercises are facilitated discussions designed to evaluate programs, policies, and procedures; they are usually conducted in a classroom, often with tabletop props (e.g. models, maps or diagrams).
Objective. The overall goal of this project was to determine whether tabletop exercises are effective teaching modalities for disaster preparedness, with an emphasis on intentional chemical exposure.
Method. The target audience for the exercise was the Medical Reserve Brigade of the Texas State Guard, a group of volunteer healthcare providers and first responders who prepare for response to local disasters. A new tabletop exercise was designed to provide information on the complex, interrelated organizations within the national disaster preparedness program that this group would interact with in the event of a local disaster. This educational intervention consisted of a four hour multipart program that included a pretest of knowledge, lecture series, an interactive group discussion using a mock disaster scenario, a posttest of knowledge, and a course evaluation.
Results. Approximately 40 volunteers attended the intervention session; roughly half (n=21) had previously participated in a full scale drill. There was an 11% improvement in fund of knowledge between the pre- and post-test scores (p=0.002). Overall, the tabletop exercise was well received by those with and without prior training, with no significant differences found between these two groups in terms of relevance and appropriateness of content. However, the separate components of the tabletop exercise were variably effective, as gauged by written text comments on the questionnaire.
Conclusions. Tabletop exercises can be a useful training modality in disaster preparedness, as evidenced by improvement in knowledge and qualitative feedback on its value. Future offerings could incorporate recordings of participant responses during the drill, so that better feedback can be provided to them. Additional research should be conducted, using the same or similar design, in different populations that are stakeholders in disaster preparedness, so that the generalizability of these findings can be determined.