I participated in a training session on table-top exercises yesterday. It was basic training, but still very informative. The first lesson was that you have to set the ground rules and Rule Number One is that participants can’t challenge the scenario. You know, complain that a scenario wouldn’t possibly happen. As the instructor discussed the key points of scenarios and inputs, he stressed making them believable, no zombie invaders or blizzards in Southern California. Certainly a mass shooting a few blocks from a blood collection center would be believable, as would an overwhelming response by hundreds if not thousands of donors following the shooting. Set the scenario during the summer when the inventory historically dips, and while plausible, the exercise participants are beginning to squint at you. Next input, a massive international media response. But what about an exercise input that the blood bags you use are now under recall? Holy smokes, the participants are beginning to hate the designer of the exercise. They start complaining that that would never happen. You remind them of Rule Numero Uno.
What happened in Orlando a little over a week ago was not an exercise, and the leaders and staff of OneBlood faced just such a scenario. Their scenario was complicated even more by the challenges of Zika, the implementation of the Final Rule and the issue of male-to-male sex given that the target was an LGBT nightclub. OneBlood responded and they faced each challenge the way a well-prepared organization should, with a calm, measured response.
The Orlando tragedy will teach valuable lessons, as do all disasters. The most important lesson being that you need to have a plan and that plan has to be tested and updated at least annually. No one could have conceived of such a confluence of events occurring, but OneBlood was ready. They have the fortune, or misfortune, of living in a prime area for hurricanes and review their plans at the start of each hurricane season. They have activated their plan numerous times in the past 10 years. I am certain it is the regular activation of their plan that enabled them to meet the challenges that they have faced over the past two weeks.
No plan will ever identify all potential scenarios. I believe disaster plans are the template for what to do, but it is the practice of disaster drills that trains leaders how to respond. As with golf, the more you do it, the better you get. When was the last time your team truly exercised your disaster plans? Perhaps the time is now.
Ruth Sylvester; Director, Regulatory Services; firstname.lastname@example.org