Natural Disasters Prevention: A Tabletop Exercise

Week 5 Tabletop


Disasters lead to disruptions in society, which can result in long-term and short-term impacts. Two types of disasters have been discussed in this paper, which are hurricanes and sinkholes. A sinkhole is a depression in the ground that occurs in areas where physical and chemical events lead to weakening of some regions of the earth. Hurricanes are caused by strong winds and are often associated with thunderstorms. This paper has discussed several aspects with respect to a tabletop exercise. Specifically, it highlights a justification for the exercise, its objectives, scope and participants, components, and resource requirements and timing. The exercise is based on the HSEEP discussion model.

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Keywords: Disasters, hurricanes, sinkholes, and tabletop exercise.


A tabletop exercise is a form of disaster analysis that is conducted in a stress-free environment (Dausey, Buehler & Lurie, 2007). It is adopted to “enable participants to conduct discussions that go a long way in examining and resolving issues that are based on operational plans” (Renda-Tanali & Rubin, 2006, p. 129). It has been shown that the success of a tabletop exercise is greatly determined by the extent to which members of a group identify problem areas (Seo & Cho, 2012). It is worth to note that the exercise does not involve the utilization of equipment and time pressures do not negatively impact it (Dausey et al., 2007). However, it requires thorough planning, preparation, and coordination. If a tabletop exercise “involves high levels of enhancements, then it can be viewed as a simulated interactive project that helps firms to test their capabilities to act in response to simulated events” (Renda-Tanali & Rubin, 2006, p. 129, p. 134). A hurricane is a “form of severe tropical storms that occur in the Gulf of Mexico and the southern Atlantic Ocean, among other places” (Smith, 2013, p.34). Many hurricanes are accompanied by thunderstorms. A sinkhole is a depression in the ground that results from the collapse of some layers of the earth. Karst processes, for example, suffusion events, are responsible for the formation of a significant number of sinkholes across the world. This paper aims at giving justifications, objectives, components, and resource requirements and timing of a tabletop exercise, which focuses on the application of the HSEEP-based exercise model.

Justification for the exercise

The Homeland Security Presidential Directive-8 (HSPD-8) gave the Department of Homeland Security a mandate to establish a standardized policy and methodology that would be applied in simulating disasters and creating approaches to preventing them in the future (Dausey et al., 2007). Hurricanes have shown to disrupt international shipping and, in some cases, they result in shipwrecks. On land, “strong winds that form hurricanes lead to destruction of vehicles, bridges, buildings, and other outside objects, turning loose debris into deadly flying projectiles” (Smith, 2013, p. 98). It is estimated that, over the past two centuries, about 1.9 million deaths have been caused by hurricanes across the world. The disasters lead to flooding of water that facilitates breeding of disease vectors, contributing to high rates of infections, for example, malaria and bilharzias. It is also noted that “evacuees crowd in shelters that increase the probability of disease propagation” (Smith, 2013, p. 130). Tropical cyclones lead to disruptions of infrastructure that are estimated to cost $5 billion on an annual basis. The huge losses imply that organizations budget for unseen events in the future (Seo & Cho, 2012). However, if proper methods are adopted to prevent the negative impacts of hurricanes, then the money would be utilized in implementing new projects that would culminate in relatively high levels of development. In addition, it has been demonstrated that some hurricanes “may bring about toxins and acids to the shore when they make landfall”(Smith, 2013, p. 56). The toxins may negatively impact human and animal populations in areas where they are transferred. By altering the conditions of the surroundings in coastal habitats, strong winds bring about a cascade of ecological reactions that many have long-term and short-term impacts on the environment. It is worth to note that the impacts of a hurricane are determined by “its speed, size, intensity, and the amount of precipitation” (Renda-Tanali & Rubin, 2006, p. 87).

People will continue to encounter sinkholes due to the fact that the earth’s surface is changing at constant rates. The changes are caused by natural events and human activities. Although sinkholes mainly impact local structural features, they lead to far-reaching effects on other systems, such as ground water resources. A sinkhole can negatively impact streams and lakes by altering water chemistry and speeds at which the water systems are recharged (Dausey et al., 2007). On land, sinkholes lead to alterations of the general topography and diversion of streams of underground water systems. When they form at relatively high rates in areas that are typified by high human population, they lead to loss of human lives and damage to property. The loss of lives and damage to property are associated with other long-term impacts, such as children being taken to orphanages and stagnated paces of development in nations and organizations across the world. A sinkhole can significantly increase the risk of a foundation of a building collapsing. Harmful chemicals in the ground come up and pollute the water on the surface of the earth. For example, in Florida, sinkholes are frequently formed and are associated with carbonate rocks, which affect the water on the surface of the earth. In fact, the water is not safe for human and animal consumption.

Thus, it is evident that there is a need to engage in a tabletop exercise that would equip participants with knowledge and skills for dealing with the two disasters in the future, i.e., sinkholes and hurricanes.

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Objectives of the exercise

Over the years, the importance of tabletop exercises with respect to the overall preparedness model cannot be overemphasized. The exercise will aim at making members of the team read, listen, and learn from various speakers and resources. Participants will be given a chance to engage in debates on the topic, which will go a long way in improving thought processes. The exercise will focus on equipping members with the abilities to solve problems prior to the real event. During a disaster, people react to it differently due to the fact that they have different information about reactions to catastrophes. Thus, the exercise will provide members with the best approaches to communicating, testing various plans for the first time, and asking questions that would increase levels of knowledge about disaster preparedness and management. The proposed tabletop exercise will aim at providing excellent decision-making training. It will help specialists to connect theoretical perspectives with situations in the real world. At the end of the training, it is anticipated that participants will have acquired skills vis-à-vis planning, conducting, and evaluating individual exercises in the future. However, the extent to which members will execute individual exercises will be determined by the implementation of five phases. The phases are “foundation, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning” (Renda-Tanali & Rubin, 2006, p. 65). The exercise will be utilized to determine weak points in the preparedness and responses to hurricanes and sinkholes that can be addressed so that various agencies can be ready to prepare for and respond to the two types of disasters in the future. The final objective of the exercise is to make stakeholders appreciate the fact that catastrophes cannot be avoided. Thus, it would be important for all persons to be prepared on how to handle disasters. In fact, since the advent of Katrina, there has been a realization that continuous planning, training, and exercising are required due to the fact that catastrophes might happen anytime in the future (Cohen et al., 2013).

Scope and participants

The scope of the tabletop exercise will be the identification of roles of stakeholders, teambuilding, determination of duplications, and the provision of training with respect to regulations, equipment, and procedures. It is envisaged that the project will incorporate guidelines derived from federal directives to ensure that it is conducted within the framework of established standards. Some sections in the document containing the requirements for the entire exercise may be deleted or enhanced with the goal of increasing the probability of attaining the desired objectives. In order to meet requirements, team members may include persons from the following:

  • Emergency department
  • Homeland security
  • Law enforcement
  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI)
  • Special operations
  • Public health department
  • Poison control
  • Environmental quality
  • Volunteer organizations, such as American Red Cross

An exercise manager will ensure that the project will be planned, conducted, and evaluated in a timely manner. In addition, he or she will be responsible for analyzing the entire exercise. A technical lead will be responsible for the design, development, implementation, and follow-up of the tabletop exercise. “Staff members will be important in providing support for the design, development, and implementation of the project” (Renda-Tanali & Rubin, 2006, p. 87). The exercise manager and technical lead will assign the activities. Finally, the “sponsoring organization (my company) will host the scenario development group during meetings, and it will ensure that adequate resources will be provided to support the design and implementation of the exercise” (Renda-Tanali & Rubin, 2006, p. 87).

Exercise components

The main components of the tabletop exercise will be event planning, operations, exercise documentation, evaluation, logistics, administration, and finance. The components are summarized in the following table:

A table summarizing components of the tabletop exercise
Figure 1. A table summarizing components of the tabletop exercise.

Leaders in the project will focus on ensuring that the exercise succeeds by adopting all the components in an effective manner.

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Resource requirements and timing

Resources are important in the planning, designing, implementation, and evaluation of all projects across the world (Dausey et al., 2007; Cohen et al., 2013). Human and financial resources will be required in the project. The human resources are highlighted in the scope and participants section of this paper. Financial resources will be used to cater for the expenses of various activities. In total, $10,000 will be required. With regard to timeliness, timeframes for completing tabletop exercises vary on the basis of their complexities. Since the event will not be a full-scale tabletop exercise, it is expected that it will take about three months to be completed.


Cohen, D., Sevdalis, N., Taylor, D., Kerr, K., Heys, M., Willett, K.,… & Darzi, A. (2013). Emergency preparedness in the 21st century: Training and preparation modules in virtual environments. Resuscitation, 84(1), 78-84.

Dausey, D. J., Buehler, J. W., & Lurie, N. (2007). Designing and conducting tabletop exercises to assess public health preparedness for manmade and naturally occurring biological threats. BMC public health, 7(1), 92-101.

Renda-Tanali, I., & Rubin, C. (2006). Catastrophic event prevention planning. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Custom Publishing.

Seo, J. P., & Cho, W. C. (2012). A Study on the Revitalization of Disaster Prevention Education Programs. Journal of Korean society of hazard mitigation, 12(2), 95-105.

Smith, K. (2013). Environmental hazards: assessing risk and reducing disaster. London, United Kingdom: Routledge.

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