Herding Cats – A planner’s guide



We’re currently planning a large-scale emergency scenario exercise.  It is coming up in two weeks, so it’s getting close to cruch time for the planning team. Luckily, it’s not the first time at this rodeo for our team, in fact we typically conduct a “live” exercise once a year. Often ran by different members of the team, and in different ways to suit their personal approach.

Our most recent exercise was a train crash, in which we had over 150 people involved playing the part of disgruntled passengers alongside numerous emergeny responders. On reflection, it was a very successful exercise, with great learning but also proof that the training that had already been implemented and was working well.

So, why herding cats?  Well, to be honest, that’s the feeling most planners get when they are putting these exercises together. Much like an old clock, there are many different cogs moving, and if one isn’t functioning, then it could spell disaster. You can try and plan for every eventuality, but there is a typically stark realisation that no matter how much work and preplanning you put into it, there will be elements that are outside of your control.

The first tip in our guide is; Separation. Break the components down, don’t let there be any single point of failure. (Or to continue our cat analogy, separate the cats into groups.)

The second tip in our guide is; Flexibility. You have to be flexible in your approach to managing. Of course we can round-up the problems and try to tie them down (not suggesting this for actual cats).This is why for most exercises we establish an “Ex Con” (Exercise Control), I like to think of this as a professional crisis management team that can dynamically create solutions on the day, to problems we didn’t know we would have.

The third and final tip in our guide is; Planning. For our upcoming exercise, we have already had our share of hurdles which we (our team and our partners) have overcome in an impressive fashion.

However there is so much work that goes into creating even the smallest of exercises; almost an infinite list that includes creating injects, liaising with partners, talking to the media and many more. That’s why, and you should know by now, that we like mnemonics, the 6 P’s are great.

“Proper planning prevents pitifully poor performance.”

(Ok sometimes the 4th P is slightly different)

So keep an eye out for Exercise Sahara, and remember this is all to help prepare and train Category 1 and 2 responders across Warwickshire in the event of an emergency.


By Josh Adams