Suzanne Davis, Kelsey Museum of Archaeology
Do you remember playing pretend as a kid? Last month, my Kelsey Museum colleagues and I gathered for a unique game of pretend – a tabletop disaster drill. While I can’t say it was fun, exactly, to be locked in a room enacting a pretend response to a make-believe disaster, it was a totally worthwhile way to spend a morning.
Our Museum’s emergency response plans have been in pretty good shape for a while, and we also have the advantage of a lot of organizational assistance from the University of Michigan, but this was the first time we’d put our plans to the test. Our exercise was organized and led by Michael Kennedy, an emergency management specialist here at the U. Mike and his colleagues used a situation manual template from the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) to create a custom tabletop exercise for us. Because the scenarios drilled and the responses observed can reveal weaknesses, participants aren’t allowed to share specifics of the exercise. But I’ll tell you this – it was very instructive.
The emergency scenario changed, very realistically, over the course of the 3 hour exercise and evaluation. Having to imagine each step we needed to take as the situation altered made it all feel surprisingly real. During our drill, we had two official observers from the U’s Division of Public Safety and Security, and they took notes on how well we responded and how well our plans worked in action. I’m happy to say that, while it was rather depressing to imagine a disaster striking our beloved museum, we performed well overall and were able to quickly self-identify needed improvements.
If your museum or institution has never conducted a tabletop exercise like this, I *highly* recommend it. Ideally you should update your emergency response plans every year and conduct a tabletop exercise every other year. I can’t imagine that any institution ever responds perfectly to a disaster, but here’s hoping practice helps.
Foreground – my conservation colleague Carrie’s placard during the exercise; center background – Mike Kennedy, the exercise leader. Photo by Alexander Zwinak.