Training and Exercising – not the whole story

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Guest contributor Dr David Rubens is CEO of Deltar Training and Deltar Consultants and Executive Director of the Institute of Strategic Risk Management

Training and Exercising – not the whole story

For any organisation that wants to develop effective capability, training and exercising is a critical component in that process. Training and exercising becomes more important as the skills being learned become more complex. That is true within any operational environment, and is especially true when dealing with the shock, confusion and chaos associated with emergency and crisis management.

However, it is also true that when we speak about training and exercising, that is only one link in a long chain of the capability development process, and if an organisation is to develop a truly effective training and exercising programme, then they will need to have a clear understanding of what exactly it is that they wish to achieve, as well as have an understanding of what is required in order to achieve it.

Training and exercising can range from the simplest of functions, associated with basic individual activities, and up to the most complex, that test the capabilities of every aspect of the organisation in the face of the highest level of high-impact threats.  As one would expect, the more complex the training and exercising becomes the more players are involved, the higher up the authority ladder the chain of command needs to go, and the more preparation that is needed in terms of time, personnel and resources in order to create effective and realistic training and exercising programmes.

“The purpose of the exercising is to test the training, so the training in turn becomes the foundation on which the exercising is developed”

As you will have noticed, I have used the words ‘training and exercising’ as though it is one single phrase, and that is because training and exercising are so inter-linked that actually one without the other has little sense. The purpose of the exercising is to test the training, so the training in turn becomes the foundation on which the exercising is developed. If you want to produce an exercise, and want to know what it should include, what skills it should test, what sort of scenarios it should cover and what the outcomes should be, then the first thing that you would do is look at the training manual. The training manual in turn will be based on the risk assessment documents, which will identify what particular scenarios need to be trained and exercised by the people involved in that particular area of activity. It might be security personnel checking passes at the main entrance, the closure of a building because of a suspected gas leak, or the extended loss of business activities because of flooding. It therefore becomes clear that the threat assessments, the training and the exercising create a triangle of inter-connected activities that should give guidance as to how and why the exercising programmes should be developed.

Exercising is expensive. As well as the cost that goes into the preparation of the exercise in terms of time, money, personnel and resources, the main cost is of getting everyone in the same room at the same time as part of the exercise day. It is absolutely vital that the actual exercise itself is focused on using the opportunity to bring everyone together in order to achieve the objectives of the exercise, rather than to spend it in ensuring that the people participating have the necessary skills and understanding to play a full role within whatever happens during the course of the exercise period.

If people turn up and are not sure how to use the communication equipment, or do not know how they will interact with other people, are not aware of the possible escalation options or do not understand what the assumptions underlying the exercise are, then valuable time is lost in bringing them up to speed. It is quite possible that such issues will then be used to decide that actually the investment that has been put into supporting the training and exercising programme has been ineffective, because a significant number of the players either didn’t know what to do, or if they did know what to do, they had to sit around waiting whilst the people who didn’t know what to do were brought up to speed.

It is also important to distinguish between exercising and testing. Exercising is by definition a part of the learning process. It should be done in slow time, with the opportunity to review and discuss, to repeat, to try different options with different people. It is part of the exploration and development of the skills that wil later be tested in more realistic conditions.

The testing part is the stage at which it is checked as to whether the skills that are supposed to have been learned are actually realizable, and can be used in a variety of ways and in the face of challenges that push the capabilities of both the individuals and the teams involved. However, there is no benefit in simply testing the capabilities to failure. That is an easy thing to achievement, and in certain circumstances might be part of the overall learning process, but for people to be involved in testing events, the feeling that they are being set up to fail can in itself lead to disillusionment and demotivation, and  is almost certainly likely to be counter-productive.

The final stage is validation, where it is accepted that the individuals and teams have actually acquired the capabilities that were the objective of the overall programme, and can now be trusted to deliver those services in a way that is compatible with the risk environment that they are operating in.

However, just as when someone gets a driving license, that doesn’t mean that they are a good driver.  They now have to gain the confidence and ability to adapt to various environments that can only come about through operating in a wide range of realistic contexts. For a new driver, that would be the first time they go out on their own, or drive at night, or in the rush hour, or in the rain, or on a motorway.

All of those experiences are part of forging the wide range of skills that allows them to be considered as a safe and competent driver. That does not mean that they can be a rally driver or fast response blue-light driver, but it is appropriate to the level of training that they have received and the range of events that they are supposed to be able to deal with.

Rather than simply ‘training and exercising’, we need to be thinking more of ‘capability development’, whether at an individual, team or organisational level.

For an organisation to invest in training and exercising, and then not to embed the skills acquired and the lessons learned into the normal operating procedures of the organisation is equivalent to investing in driving lessons and passing the test, and then not driving at all until called upon to respond to an emergency. The certainty is that not only will such attempts fail, but will themselves become part of the multiple failure points that will be identified in the post-event review as to why the training and development program had not produced the required results when tested in reality.

Few things in life are certain, but the fact that investing in a well-structured and well-managed capability development programme will have future benefits is one of them.


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