Preparing for an emergency

Fire & Safety Australia

By Steve McLeod*, Non-Executive Chairman and Founder, Fire & Safety Australia
Monday, 08 October, 2018

Preparing for an emergency

A paper about how to engage your personnel and conduct realistic emergency preparedness initiatives was recently presented by Steve McLeod at the NSCA Foundation National Safety conference, part of SAFETYconnect. This article includes a summary of his presentation.

There are three 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 organisation’s emergency response and/or WHS 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, 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.

Table 1 shows the seven steps that will help to ensure you prepare for the training and provide a continual feedback loop to encourage constant improvement in all emergency management training initiatives.

Table 1.

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

  • understand the specific safety and emergency response procedures relevant to the organisation’s workplace;
  • wherever practicable conduct training and exercises on site, using organisational equipment;
  • base the training on risks and emergencies that the learners will be exposed to on site;
  • not take shortcuts on the level of training;
  • make it real — realistic emergency management training occurs in realistic emergency management conditions.

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 organisation’s 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 organisation’s site, you are preparing them with a variety of experiences which can be used in the future when responding to a real emergency.

Six-step training framework

When teaching new skills to learners, the following suggested six-step framework can help to incorporate multiple scenarios over time and allow learners to build up skills, knowledge, competence and the confidence required to effectively respond to on-site emergencies.

  1. 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 walk-arounds 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 (eg, learners respond to an incident via radio, set up emergency exercise with no knowledge, and act as incident controller and safety officer with limited information and briefings from the trainer).

NOTE: In advanced scenarios, the trainer moves to the role of a coach/mentor to assist learners.

Step 3: Ensure that advanced scenarios are realistic and build confidence and competence over multiple scenarios

Some considerations for trainers to ensure that you are building the confidence and competency of your learners over multiple scenarios include:

  • Ask learners “What on-site emergency are you most worried about?”. Then 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 among 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 halfway 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 — an unfinished exercise can shatter confidence.
  • Over time, graduate to advanced exercises and move from trainer to mentor/coach.
  • Give feedback. Go around the group of learners and ask for ‘wins’ (areas that the team performed in) and ‘learns’ (areas that would be done differently next time, or new skills/knowledge that was learned).
  • Summarise the learnings from the trainer’s 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 and use the entire site;
  • vary the scenarios (make them different and unusual, never use 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 in advanced scenarios for increased realism, with appropriate safety measures in place. Often during rescue training, rescue mannequins are mistreated and not given the same care that a human casualty would be given;
  • not interrupt exercises unless there is a safety issue — sometimes we learn more from mistakes than from 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.

*11 years ago, Steve McLeod founded Fire & Safety Australia. The company has trained more than 200,000 people in emergency response and safety training.

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