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Emergency Management — how to engage your personnel with realistic emergency preparedness initiatives

Recently I spoke at the NSCA Foundation 2018 Safety Connect conference about how to conduct realistic emergency preparedness initiatives. Over the last 11 years, Fire and Safety Australia the company I founded has trained more than 200,000 people in emergency response and safety training. After reflecting on my own career in training thousands of personnel in emergency response, I wanted to provide you with 3 important steps to ensure that any emergency response training and exercises held at your workplace, are realistic and achieve the desired outcomes.

STEP 1 – Thoroughly understand and prepare for the desired outcome

Realistic emergency response training and exercises can only occur with thorough preparation by the trainer and the organisations Emergency Response and/or WH&S manager. Thorough preparation will ensure that the desired outcome from the training is known and that the trainer can contextualise the training content for the benefit of the learners. Always start by clearly defining the outcome of the training first, including the knowledge and skills that you want the learners to receive from the training. By thoroughly understanding the outcome that the organisation wants to achieve from its training, it will help you to prepare and plan for a successful training course.

Below are the 7 steps to ensuring that you prepare for the training to be held and provide a continual feedback loop to encourage constant improvement in all emergency management training initiatives.

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When planning emergency management training sessions and exercises, always try to:

  • Understand the specific safety and emergency response procedures relevant to the organisations workplace
  • Wherever practicable conduct training and exercises on-site, using organisational equipment and based on risks and emergencies that the learners will be exposed to on-site
  • Realistic Emergency Management Training occurs in realistic emergency management conditions. Do not take shortcuts on the level of training…make it real!

STEP 2 – Build learner confidence using a scaled approach to learning a new skill

Emergency management training should involve more than just the classroom. Training should be completed across various locations on your organisations’ site to expose learners to various scenarios that they may encounter in future emergency responses. By having your personnel move to different site locations, train with different site equipment, and talk about various emergencies across your organisations’ site – you are preparing them with a variety of experiences for them to utilise in the future when responding to a real emergency.

When teaching new skills to learners for the first time, I’ve found that the 6-step framework below allows for learners to build-up skills and knowledge over time by ensuring that multiple scenarios are used to build up skills, competence, and the confidence required to effectively respond to on-site emergencies.

A suggested training framework for new skills acquisition:-

  1. The theory explained by the trainer
  2. Practical demonstration completed by the trainer
  3. Learners practise the skills with trainer guidance in a safe environment
  4. Learners are taken to an on-site area to conduct walkarounds and planning to get participants thinking about how the new skills would be applied in an emergency scenario
  5. Commence instructor-led basic scenarios (basic scenarios should include a thorough briefing for learners prior to them responding to an emergency exercise).
  6. Only once basic scenarios are mastered, commence advanced learner led emergency response scenarios (e.g. respond learners to an incident via radio, set up emergency exercise with no learner knowledge, learners act as Incident Controller and Safety Officer with limited information and briefings from the trainer).

*NOTE: In advanced scenarios, the trainer becomes more of a coach/mentor than a trainer to assist learners

STEP 3 – Ensure that advanced scenarios are realistic and build confidence and competence over multiple scenarios

Here are some considerations for trainers to ensure that you are building the confidence and competency of your learners over multiple scenarios.

  • Ask ‘What emergency on-site are you most worried about’ – train the hardest potential scenario on-site to build confidence (as the trainer, lead the way and demonstrate an effective response to the toughest on-site emergency response scenarios to build confidence and competence amongst the learners.
  • Rotate team leaders. Never have the same team leaders in group scenario exercises over and over. By regularly rotating team leaders, you will build on the emergency response leadership skills required and grow the overall emergency management knowledge and experience of the team.
  • After a few basic exercises, place new ‘rookie’ team members in as scenario observers so that they can see how the entire scenario comes together and develop emergency management leadership skills.
  • Never stop an exercise half way unless there is a safety issue or a real emergency. Do not stop an exercise for technique, allow learners to make supervised mistakes so that they will figure out the solution with their team.
  • Always ensure that the team completes the exercise. Unfinished exercise can shatter confidence.
  • Over time, graduate to advanced exercises and move from trainer to ‘mentor/coach’
  • Giving feedback. Go around the group of learners and ask for ‘Wins’ (areas that the team performed well in), and ‘learns’ (areas that would be done differently next time, or new skills/knowledge that was learned).
  • Summarise the learnings from the trainers view with feedback given to the organisation to proactively prepare for future training sessions and learner improvement.


To have engaging and realistic emergency management training and exercises, trainers and organisations should:

  • Thoroughly prepare for the training/exercise
  • Train on-site wherever practicable with equipment and locations that the personnel will respond to during a real emergency
  • Get out of the classroom! Use the entire site
  • Vary the scenarios (make it different and unusual, never the exact same scenario twice)
  • Vary the team leader
  • Push the boundaries with harder scenarios over time; remember confidence is gained from harder exercises (train hard=fight easy)
  • Consider real life human casualties for advanced scenarios for increased realism with appropriate safety measures in place. Often during rescue training, rescue mannikins are mistreated and not given the same care that a human casualty would be given.
  • Don’t interrupt exercises unless there is a safety issue…sometimes we learn more from the mistakes that we make where we fail…than corrections made by a trainer.
  • Move from trainer to mentor/coach as the learners develop
  • Training outcomes can be directly linked to your passion, enthusiasm, and your desire to help people to grow!

I wish you every success with your emergency management training and emergency management exercises!

An article by:
Steve McLeod
Non-Executive Chairman/Founder
Fire and Safety Australia Pty Ltd