PAXsims

Conflict simulation, peacebuilding, and development

Review: King, It Could Happen Tomorrow

Russell King, It Could Happen Tomorrow! Emergency Planning Exercises for the Health Services and Business. John Curry, ed. History of Wargaming Project, 2015. 152pp. £14.95 pb.

rkitcouldhappencoverRussell King has worked in a  variety of senior managerial positions in the National Health Service (England), and for some years now has specialized in emergency planning and training. In this volume he draws upon this extensive experience to offer valuable insight into planning and implementing emergency planning exercises.

It Could Happen Tomorrow starts with an overview of exercise methodology, as well as a broader discussion of how hospitals plan for disasters. King emphasizes the importance of training exercises that can be undertaken with low marginal cost, and without significantly interference in the regular daily clinical practice of a hospital or other health institution.

The volume then devotes considerable attention to what the author terms the “Autumn Leaves methodology,” based on major exercises he has run. This approach consists of a series of linked desk-top exercises, reflecting the structure of the organization where the exercise is being held, conducted in or near the actual workplace. Established institutional metrics, feedback sessions, and peer review are essential to assessing performance, learning lessons, and enhancing preparedness.

Most of the remaining chapters examine particular preparedness exercises: coping with an outbreak of pandemic disease; preparing for a wide-area event (in this case, stages of the Tour de France); shortages of key supplies; discharge of patients to free up hospital capacity for a mass casualty incident; dealing with a VIP visit; and small scenarios and problems that can be used as the basis for quick “what-if?” discussions. The latter run the gamut from the sudden appearance of the media (for unknown reasons) to reports of an armed man dressed as a cowboy in the staff canteen. Many of these “staff college” problems are drawn from the author’s experiences as a hospital administrator, although he sadly gives no indication of whether the cowboy incident is based on real events.

Finally, King discusses how institutions and managers can best learn from preparedness exercises, and how creativity might be most effectively promoted. This chapter in particular can be usefully read in conjunction with the Emergency Capacity-Building Project’s work (2004-13) on effective use of simulations to address disaster planning and humanitarian assistance, which also investigates the challenge of individual and institutional learning.

Overall, this volume offers a range of instructive examples, procedures, and helpful advice, and is well worth reading for those interested in preparedness exercises. It also marks something of a new phase in John Curry’s History of Wargaming Project, which has now begun to address non-military serious game topics too.

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