I spent a large part of today sitting in on a table-top exercise designed to see how London’s police and other services and agencies would respond to a developing emergency on the streets of London.  It would be inappropriate to go into more details. However, it did bring home to me the importance and value of such exercises.

I will readily admit to once having been something of a cynic about such “war-gaming”.  The idea of bringing together quite a large group of people to act out how they would do their jobs in an imaginary set of circumstances at first sight could appear rather absurd.  Yet the evidence from de-briefs after real emergencies convinced me long ago that these sorts of exercises and practices have a real benefit.  Organisations or parts of organisations that only work together occasionally or only do so under normally fairly clearly-defined situations need to understand each other’s capabilities and practices in the very different circumstances that would apply in a major emergency.  Exercises mean that key individuals get to know each other, procedures are tested and worked through and – most importantly – potential problems are identified and can be resolved.

Although some of the reports from the inquest into the deaths of those killed in the July 2005 bombings have inevitably focused on those things that did not work as well as they might have done, much of what the witnesses have described has demonstrated how well London’s emergency services performed under the terrible circumstances of that day.  I know from those I have spoken to who were intimately involved how important previous exercises had been in planning for what unfolded five years ago and improving the collective response of the emergency services.

I am sure today’s exercise will have been similarly valuable, even though one hopes that the procedures tested never have to be carried out for real.  Several issues emerged where it was clear existing plans were inadequate or required further consideration.  And it has to be better to discover such problems in an exercise than in the middle of a full-scale emergency.

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