The Benefits of Conducting Tabletop Exercises in Hospitals

Ballad Health has opted for doing tabletop exercises rather than full-scale emergency exercises. Here’s why they did it and the results of this new approach.

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Campus Safety Voices, available on Spotify and Apple streaming platforms, features timely conversations on a wide range of topics affecting K-12 schools, institutions of higher education, and healthcare facilities.

A healthcare organization can have great emergency response plans, but if they aren’t tested, how can you tell if the plans actually work? Also, how can you determine if your officers, staff members, nurses and doctors will respond appropriately under stress? You can’t.

That’s why it’s so important for a hospital to conduct emergency drills and exercises. However, full scale emergency exercises can be challenging to conduct in healthcare settings.

One viable alternative to full-scale exercises is tabletop exercises, and Ballad Health has adopted this approach.

In this interview, Ballad Health corporate director and chief security officer Ken Harr – who is also one of this year’s Campus Safety Director of the Year Finalists – describes his organization’s tabletop exercises, why they adopted this strategy and the results of this program.

The emergencies that these tabletop exercises cover include active shooter attacks, mass opioid overdoses, severe weather, mass casualty events and more.

He also provides advice to other hospital security executives on these types of practice drills.

One challenge Ballad Health discovered was with their access control systems.

“One of the things we learned, especially with the active shooter tabletop, is with law enforcement,” said Harr. “In healthcare settings we have a lot of access control that prohibits people from gaining entry into a lot of areas. As we were going through the exercise, we noticed that law enforcement would not be able to get to a lot of locations because of the access control.”

Harr and his team came up with two options to address this issue: 1. They made go-bags that are at designated locations with access control cards, radios, blueprints of the facility and other important supplies, so police can grab those bags and get around the facilities. 2. Some law enforcement agencies were provided access control cards for each of their patrol vehicles.

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About the Author

robin hattersley headshot

Robin has been covering the security and campus law enforcement industries since 1998 and is a specialist in school, university and hospital security, public safety and emergency management, as well as emerging technologies and systems integration. She joined CS in 2005 and has authored award-winning editorial on campus law enforcement and security funding, officer recruitment and retention, access control, IP video, network integration, event management, crime trends, the Clery Act, Title IX compliance, sexual assault, dating abuse, emergency communications, incident management software and more. Robin has been featured on national and local media outlets and was formerly associate editor for the trade publication Security Sales & Integration. She obtained her undergraduate degree in history from California State University, Long Beach.

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