Practise responding to realistic scenarios for continuous improvements
All exercises are typically scenario-based; if you have a scenario, make it a realistic one.
Make sure that the people who will be running an actual incident are in those roles for an exercise. Senior leaders often duck the exercise due to business or worries about loss of face if they make mistakes. Where those people make time, ensure they are fully versed in their role and are not afraid of feedback.
In the SIMCELL – it is essential to ensure key role players such as the vessel master or an OIM are played by those who have been in those roles or are still in them. It's such a technical role and so demanding in terms of the knowledge base that it's challenging to get it right. It makes such a difference to the exercise delegates to speak to somebody reacting as they would in real life.
You can also use the exercise to contact external stakeholders such as contractors, as it helps to bring a sense of realism about how long it will take to sign contracts, validate contact and mobilisation details and what the various blockers will be. It is important to be clear that it's an exercise.
One additional consideration. Role players don't always have to be in the SIMCELL. It depends on your objectives. We've seen SIMCELLs, which involved government entities in the past, and they worked well. However, the organisation was sufficiently mature in terms of its capability, so they felt it was okay to make a few mistakes in front of the regulator. It's maybe something you wouldn't perhaps do if you are beginning the road to building capability.
Field deployments are another way to add realism, either simultaneously or separately to the main exercise. Both have advantages and disadvantages. If you are still developing teams, separating the offshore exercise and running it beforehand is probably best. That way, you can give relative feedback on any incorrect assumptions, like "it'll be there in 5 minutes" or "yes, that piece of kit was maintained last week and is running smoothly".
Use actual data wherever possible — today's weather, freight availability, equipment readiness, and other relevant factors. The temptation to 'cheat' in an exercise can sometimes be overwhelming, but these are all constraints you will find in a real-world incident, so play them for real here. Note that one exception may be weather and currents if the exercise is to test a particular scenario in your plan.
Staging a press conference is fantastic for focusing the mind. It helps to drive the exercise when people know they will be fronting up to the cameras very shortly. It can help if the press conference is the very last session of the day because people are usually mentally exhausted by the end of it. Recording this session can help as it gives helpful material during feedback later, particularly if exercising your media management is an exercise objective.
Plan it well but don't share the plan
Exercise designers will try to weave several considerations into play. Elements to consider include:
- Check the capability.
- Are teams ready for the test phase?
- What are the priorities?
- Any complimentary activities?
- Mandatory/regulatory exercises?
- Rota issues? Ensure equal experiences?
- Onboard new team members?
Critical to a good exercise is a dedicated team running the exercise, who have planned it well and have injects ready to feed in to keep the pace high is critical. However, there is no need for those participating, including those at a senior level, to know that plan in advance.
Don't be afraid to have time jumps but use them carefully
Most incidents generate a tremendous amount of information and require several discussions and decisions. This quantity is hard to replicate in an exercise if you include a time jump. There is the potential for the exercise to become confusing. People may struggle to determine the decisions made and the current state of the 'incident'.
Whether an exercise has a time jump depends on the objective and the parts of the plan you need to exercise. It may be necessary to have some time jumps in your drill. If a time jump is required, use time jumps wisely and don't use them to magically solve an unresolved issue from earlier in the exercise.
There's no such thing as a bad exercise, just bad follow-up
There's no getting away from the fact that there's very little point in testing the system if the organisation fails to learn and repeats the same mistake.
Keep the debrief reasonably short. People are usually tired after the exercise and their brains can be frazzled. The tried and tested system of "three good points and three points for improvement" seems to work well.
Capturing the real-time feedback points on a screen can save much time and minimise misunderstanding as everybody gets to see the feedback as it's written, which can then go into the main report. If you can - hold a post-exercise workshop to develop and endorse an action plan.
Testing the ‘Hearts and Minds’ approach can bring huge rewards
Community liaison and engagement have always been important. It is critical to get the local community on your side, work collaboratively with them, communicate with them, and, most significantly, reassure them that you are conducting the pollution response responsibly.
Leaving an indelible positive mark on the community is crucial to your response. The 'hearts and minds' approach may sound contrived, but it's as critical to a successful response as a clean beach. It is essential to factor this into your exercise planning and testing.
Discovering the ‘Unknowns’
To quote Donald Rumsfeld, "We know, there are known knowns; there are things we know we know. We also know there are known unknowns; that is to say, we know there are some things we do not know."
Donald Rumsfeld's very famous quote about unknowns is significant in exercises. There are lots of unknown issues which may challenge us during a response; sometimes known and sometimes unknown. Identifying these unknowns could mean the difference between doing it right and wrong, as our following example shows.
'Unknown unknowns' came up during an offshore exercise in Libya. The exercise objective was to test the team's ability to deploy the containment and recovery equipment. This activity was something the offshore team had done for years without any problems. They had gone without a hitch, but for one key reason – the exercises were just for show and didn’t test the whole system. Once the team changed their approach, they found lots of issues that would have caused real issues during an incident, vessels were too small, hoses were too short, and connectors didn’t connect!
The team made a few recommendations, and the next time they attended the deployment, they had fixed the issues, meaning they were much more able to contain and recover the oil effectively.
Throughout exercises, you should always ask yourself: