Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey

Workshop Trains Students in Designing Emergency Simulations

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Emergency simulation

Students in the Middlebury Institute’s recent four-day Tabletop Exercise Design and Operation workshop discuss an emergency simulation.

March 13, 2017

How would you react in a life-threatening emergency at your school or workplace, such as a bomb threat or an active shooter? Of the many lessons students took from a recent two-weekend workshop offered through the Institute’s Nonproliferation and Terrorism Studies program, the biggest one may be the value of preparation.  

Thirty students, led by instructors Ray Zilinskas and Tammy Chapman MAIPS ’07, devoted the past two weekends to a workshop in Tabletop Exercise Design and Operation. Tabletop exercises (TTX) allow participants to role-play through a simulated situation, reacting in real time to new information while testing established processes and protocols against realistic scenarios.

“The whole exercise was very interesting, especially when we began to come together to figure out what each department has prepared for that scenario, and how they all work together,” said Cristina Garcia MANPTS ’17.

By the end of the four-day course, participants had heard lectures on TTX development and execution, worked on a variety of aspects of planning in small groups, and participated in a full-day tabletop exercise of their own, including role-playing during a simulated emergency (active shooter on campus) and through a full debrief and “after-action” discussion afterwards.

The class also had the opportunity to interact inside and outside the classroom with members of the Institute’s Emergency Management Team. “It’s almost impossible to over-prepare for these kinds of situations,” suggested one EMT member. “The more you can do in terms of both thinking through and practicing roles ahead of time, the more timely and effective your response will hopefully be in a real emergency.”

Beyond the inherent drama of role-playing through a simulation, students appreciated the practical lessons the course offered. “I plan on working in the emergency management field after graduation and think that the skills I've learned on how to conduct and participate in a tabletop exercise will be very useful,” said Garcia.

The students’ work over the past two weekends will in fact have lasting value beyond the classroom for all involved, as the questions raised and lessons learned will be shared with the Institute’s Emergency Management Team and used to further refine the EMT’s emergency planning and protocols.