International Safety and Security Conference

The Disaster Experience Exercise Raises Awareness of Safety and Security Experts

International Safety and Security Conference

Attainium Corp of Gainesville, Virginia, presented its interactive training program, The Disaster Experience™, in a session at the 2007 International Safety and Security Conference (ISSC), which is a program of the EmergencyCorps™ and the United Nations Development Programme. The annual conference brings together security professionals from corporations, the military, all levels of government, and healthcare organizations and educational institutions.

The EmergencyCorps™ program is a national education and training outreach that works to empower American businesses and their employees to prepare for, respond to and recover from emergencies of any kind. “The Disaster Experience, which is a series of tabletop exercises designed to give participants hands-on experience in dealing with unexpected crisis and disruption, was a good fit for this group,” said Bob Mellinger, Attainium president and CEO. “Participants enhance their crisis communications and decision-making skills while gaining the knowledge to improve their own continuity planning and response capabilities.”

“The greatest value of the session is that it raises people’s awareness of the need for a mechanism to make decisions during an emergency,” said Greg Shaw, senior research scientist at the George Washington University’s Institute for Crisis, Disaster and Risk Management. “It shows that you have to practice more than once… group dynamics differ for every group, and even good managers may fail in a crisis. The exercise helps people see their blind spots.”

Shaw, who has worked with Mellinger at GWU institute, asked to go along to ISSC to view the program outside of an educational setting. “I think the program has the right intensity level, so that people fee they have accomplished something. It’s designed to be challenging but not to let participants fail, so it’s enjoyable and rewarding rather than punishing.”

“This session was enough of a challenge to stimulate dialogue… to get the wheels in motion,” said participant Karl Hagstrom, the director of special projects for Michael Stapleton Associates in Manhattan. “The tabletops that fail are overambitious, too complicated, and get people strung out.

“I usually have low expectations… often tabletops are terrible, but this was terrific. The material was good and the scenarios were well presented,” Hagstrom said. “The human factor made the session… moving it forward, but not too fast. I saw value in the session because of the knowledge of the presenters, their presentation skills and personality, and the realistic building of the scenario.”

“Many of the participants liked the fact that they could ask questions of us (the facilitators),” said Bob Mellinger, Attainium president and CEO. “It’s something they hadn’t seen before in an exercise. Normally, acting under the stress of the situation, people want to have more information than they have and to get more direction, so there are a lot of questions as the tension in the groups increases.”

“The entire session had a terrific learning level,” Shaw said. “Bob has developed extremely realistic scenarios with a lot of attention to detail; a lot of people don’t pay that much attention to the details. Participants learned about information flow in an emergency (not very exact) and the fact that you don’t have what you wished you had. Also, each team eventually figured out that someone needs to be in charge… the training really drives home this concept.”

The Disaster Experience™ is an interactive session designed to give the participants hands-on experience in dealing with unexpected crisis and disruption. It is conducted in a unique role-play simulation format that enables participants enhance their crisis communications and decision-making skills while taking away the knowledge to improve their own disaster planning and response capabilities. The session continues to be very popular with those who have "survived."

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