A tabletop exercise (TTX) is a disaster preparation activity that guides participants through a simulated catastrophe scenario. A TTX is a discussion-based session that not only helps participants become acquainted with the response process but also allows administrators to assess the success of the organization’s emergency response methods.
Typically, a facilitator leads participants through the exercise, walking them through a specific story and outlining the next actions. Natural disaster and pandemic response scenarios are possible for tabletop exercises. However, they may vary based on the organization’s geography and industry. Tabletop exercises may usually be finished in a few hours.
Cybersecurity tabletop exercises
Tabletop exercises aren’t just for cybersecurity; any business that needs to deal with possible crises and disasters may benefit from them. For example, the state of Oregon utilized tabletop exercises to game-plan potential reactions to coronavirus pandemic changes in 2020.
Tabletop exercises, on the other hand, are particularly suited to—and necessary in—cybersecurity contexts. They’re intended to highlight flaws in organizational structures and ensure that employees follow rules and best practices that appear to be theoretical most of the time. After all, even the best-laid plans frequently fail when put into action by real-world humans. While there are several methods for testing the technical parts of your cyber defences, a tabletop exercise evaluates the human and organizational variables that are equally crucial in cybersecurity.
Considerations for a tabletop exercise
The first thing you should consider is whether a tabletop exercise is acceptable for your business. It’s only worthwhile to begin the procedure if you already have a plan in place for the scenario you’ll be going through. Tabletop exercises are helpful for testing strategies, but they don’t tell you anything if everyone engaged is just improvising. You’ll also need institutional buy-in for the process: there’s no use in doing the exercise if management refuses to allow you to adjust plans and policies based on the outcomes.
The advantages of performing tabletop testing
If you’re on the fence about doing your tabletop test, consider the following advantages.
1. Tabletop tests in genuine event situations stimulate and develop your team’s critical thinking abilities.
Team members, frequently supervisors, from various departments such as accounting, legal, marketing, communications, human resources, and facilities management, participate in tabletop testing. It is also critical to include a member of the executive team in the activity.
During the tabletop exercise, you assist these unique and generally autonomous section leaders in learning to think and work together toward the shared objective of bringing a crisis scenario to a successful conclusion for everyone involved. It is considerably simpler to learn how to work together in a controlled context, using a plan as a template, than it is to try to come together during a real emergency crisis.
2. Tabletop exercises are beneficial to your company’s reputation.
Maintaining a healthy business and a strong reputation in your sector requires a Disaster Recovery Plan for Business Continuity. If you have a huge calamity and lose your data, or worse, important employees, your company’s reputation will surely suffer. You may readily demonstrate diligence and dedication to the preservation of human life, data, and other resources if you have written proof that you took the initiative to conduct tabletop exercises.
3. Tabletop drills aid you in coordinating the appropriate individuals and organizations to assist in an emergency, both within and outside your business.
During an emergency, you will almost certainly need the assistance of outside resources such as law police, firemen, EMS workers, and the media. It is a good idea to identify each entity to your team during your tabletop exercise. It is also beneficial if these outside entities may join in on your tabletop exercises, allowing your team to connect with these specialists realistically and effectively.
4. Tabletop testing produces high-impact outcomes at a low cost to your company.
Aside from the time spent doing the exercise, the resources required to conduct a tabletop test are low, especially when contrasted to the possible consequences of entering a crisis scenario without such extensive preparation.
5. Tabletop testing might be required.
Regulations mandate continuity, disaster recovery, and incident response strategies in several sectors. Customer contracts in other industries, particularly if downstream businesses offer key services or supplies, may necessitate active planning that includes testing requirements. Some businesses face duties from both the regulator and the client.
Planning for a tabletop exercise
Many of the concerns are addressed by Jack Eisenhauer of the Nexight Group in his approach to organizing a tabletop exercise. He divides the process into three phases, each with three main actions. These correlate to the times before, during, and after the workout, but you’ll need to prepare ahead of time to ensure that each phase is carried out correctly in practice.
Clarify the aims and outcomes, deciding what you expect to achieve and how you intend to use the results when the exercise is completed.
Select your participant team, which should include important decision-makers and maybe executives who can utilize their influence to put an after-report into action.
Create a plausible situation and fitness plan that will spark conversation.
Create an engaging, no-fault environment in which individuals are encouraged to ask questions and make errors.
Pose probing questions to the participants while adhering to a script but being open to improvisation.
Use visual tools and a timeline to capture challenges and lessons as you go—don’t rely on note-takers.
Prepare an after-action report that contains exercise documentation as well as areas for future improvement.
Based on the findings of the exercise, develop a precise near-term plan.
Provide learning tools and guidelines, as well as resources that meet the needs highlighted by the exercise’s results.
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