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Instruct-online is the exclusive partner of Simulation Education Services (SES) for Desktop Drills. A SES Desktop ExerciseTM is a hybrid of a "decentralized" tabletop exercise combined with elements of a functional exercise that uses an innovative new approach to meeting disaster preparedness exercise and assessment needs. Instead of bringing all participants together into one physical location, as in traditional "tabletop" drills, SES uses internet conferencing technology to hold a virtual event which participants can attend from their organization's Emergency Operations Center (EOC), their office, conference room, or any location as long as they have access to a phone and an internet connected computer.

SES utilizes internet conferencing technology which works with virtually any computer connected to the internet, regardless of its configuration or internet connection speed. This technology requires no special software (just a standard web browser), no special skills to operate, and works effectively at dial up connection speeds as low as 14.4-19.2Kbs. This means that virtually anyone anywhere can participate in an SES exercise at any time.

Here's how it works - each participant uses a regular phone line to join a telephone conference call by dialing an 800 number and giving a pass code to an operator. At the same time, they are directed to the Instruct-online web site, where they access the visual portion of the event by entering an event-specific password. When the event begins, voice communications occur via the conference call, while visuals are automatically presented to the participants on their computers. In addition to the verbal discussions, participants can submit questions and periodically respond to questions and "injects" from the exercise facilitator via their computer.

Exercise scenarios cover as much as a week or more in time, but unfold in an accelerated format over the course of 2 to 3 hours. Each exercise involves up to 10-12 organizations actively engaged and responding to events as they unfold. Often these organizations gather their local disaster response teams in an EOC or conference room with a speakerphone and computer screen projection capabilities. As scenario events typically trigger extensive team discussions, each active organization mutes its phone when not interacting with the exercise facilitator or other active exercise participants. Participants are able to functionally interact with other agencies, organizations and facilities to assess communications, mobilization of resources and response plans.

In addition, other individuals or organizations can audit the exercise in a "listen-only" mode. These "listen-only" participants see and hear the entire event, but do not actively contribute responses to the scenario events. "Listen-only" participants can be temporarily included in the audio conference to share an important question or other contribution as needed, as well as submit written questions and survey responses.

SES DeskTop ExerciseTM scenarios are custom designed with the client by subject matter experts based on the disaster potentials (hazard vulnerabilities) in your industry and geographical area as well as the overall goals, objectives and deliverables related to the exercise. The scenarios simulate real events involving local/regional players and facilities. Events unfold to give participating organizations the opportunity to operate under realistic conditions. Supporting visual presentations are constructed with real images of local facilities, landmarks, and appropriate images to further enhance a sense of realism during the event.

Exercises are led by highly experienced and respected facilitators. Often the same person that designs the scenarios serves as the Exercise Facilitator. This individual possesses both the expert topical knowledge and dynamic situational experience necessary to lead participants through the exercise by revealing topical intricacies and complications that facilitate deep and telling discussions. The Facilitator guides discussion through relevant issues by posing questions and inserting "injects" which challenge participants to make time-sensitive decisions based on information at hand and/or interactions with other participants in the exercise.

The other leader engaged in the exercise is called the Moderator, who leverages special training and experience in the web-based conferencing modality to manage the dynamics and flow of the DeskTop ExerciseTM. The Moderator works to insure an engaging level of energy and realism for all participants while adhering to the constraints of time and equal participation. The Moderator also manages the submission and injection of participant questions which can be submitted in electronically written form during the exercise.

Upon conclusion of the exercise event, the Facilitator and Moderator lead a detailed "hot wash" discussion during which all participants review the group's performance during the exercise and identify opportunities for improvement. Shortly after the exercise is completed, SES distributes surveys to all involved participants via email seeking their thoughts and feedback on the conduct and content of the exercise in written form. Participants are also asked to identify their specific lessons learned and action items they came away with from the exercise.

Objective Performance Assessment and After Action Report

In addition to the information gathered above, SES will also provide an independent and objective assessment of participant performance during DeskTop ExercisesTM. To do this, nationally recognized assessment consultants work with the client throughout the scenario design process to establish meaningful evaluation criteria relative to the objectives of the exercise, and then audit and score participant performance during the exercise against those criteria. The assessment criteria are cross-walked with major standards and guidelines including HSPD-8, HSEEP, TCL, UTL, national planning scenarios, and Joint Commission Standards to support organization's satisfaction of federal and industry regulatory and accreditation requirements. In instances where the same scenario is utilized to exercise multiple groups of participants, the assessment results provide a sound metric of comparison and benchmarking as a deliverable, SES provides an After Action Report which includes:
  • Description of the exercise's planning, objectives, and execution
  • Detailed assimilation and presentation of the results from the hot wash session and written survey responses, including identified areas of opportunity for improvement
  • Detailed results of the formal performance assessment which may include recommendations of potential best practices, training, etc. that may be beneficial in addressing any opportunity areas identified