For utility companies, training exercise injects are sort of like virtual reality – like, say, The Matrix. You know, the movie where humankind is enslaved in an interactive virtual reality environment? In the movie’s implausible scenario, the few people that have figured out what is going on have learned how to use The Matrix to download any skill needed, becoming instant experts at anything.
The good news is that we’re not living in The Matrix (at least I don’t think so but hey, who can really tell?). The bad news is that it’s still an imperfect world, and very few things in life come easy. You can download plans, policies and processes, but you can’t download skills. That takes hours of personal engagement, work, experience, trial and error, testing. It takes practice.
Some get to practice their skills fairly frequently, especially those on the business end of repairing lines, mains and other facilities. But what about those who have to be recruited into filling roles they don’t have during “blue sky” days – i.e., second roles? They need a chance to sharpen skills they only occasionally use. How can we be sure they can perform when called upon?
The same way you get to Carnegie Hall: Practice. In this case, frequent immersion in realistic drills and exercises. This is why the concept of injects is so important. The more realistic the inject, the better the test of your skills.
Scenarios and Exercise Injects
Emergency drills and exercises typically use scenarios depicting large-scale events like hurricanes, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, fires – you get the idea. The impact of the scenario usually involves widespread service outages, extensive travel restrictions, resource scarcity, and intense pressure from customers, regulators and other stakeholders. An overview of the scenario as well as the extent of the damage left in its wake is usually presented to participants at the beginning of the session.
The exercise scenario is then broken down into individual “injects,” each of which simulates a realistic problem that needs to be addressed. Some exercise injects may be pitched like curve balls, introduced to complicate a situation and cause people to think on their feet to come up with a proper course of action. Or sometimes, an inject may be something very mundane, even boring, to help simulate volume and test the tools and processes that exist to handle such situations as efficiently as possible.
In any case, realistic injects pressure test the effectiveness of emergency response plans, as well as the participants themselves, so they have a better understanding of how they are to function in an actual emergency situation.
Injects are generally delivered by exercise moderators to participants via phone, email, or by handing out a hard copy. Oftentimes, participants need to communicate or interact with other team members and then reply back to the exercise moderator with the desired reaction. These responses are logged and analyzed to determine if the expected action was taken. After the exercise is completed, these logs help identify process and training gaps.
Injects should be challenging, yet realistic. It’s a fine line, but it can be done. Here are a few examples (and yes, all of these have actually happened!):
- The local news station is running a story about a wave of recent Facebook Live videos showing homeowners trying to clear debris in front of their homes to support the restoration efforts. One homeowner was shown with a chainsaw cutting a tree near downed utility wires.
- There have been a number of requests from employees who have pre-scheduled vacation time. They want to know if the company will reimburse them for their trips if they are required to work supporting the restoration efforts. Many have confirmed reservations that are not refundable.
- A high-ranking state official called a company executive stating that his niece’s wedding is in two days but the reception hall is still without power. Many of the guests will be arriving tomorrow from out of state. The high-ranking state official is demanding a priority restoration for the reception hall.
Being online 24/7/365 requires skills that can deal with both Blue Sky conditions and extreme, sometimes forecasted, sometimes suddenly disruptive events. Blue Sky or not, knowing that the skills your people need are there when you need them takes practice, both real and simulated. Injects, commonplace and unusual, are what make exercises and drills work.
In the hundreds of exercises that we’ve conducted in our 15+ years, perhaps the most commonplace complaint we hear from participants is about exercise injects “that could never happen here.” Yet every exercise we’ve ever conducted includes only situations and events that have happened somewhere, sometime. Being truly prepared means being ready for anything.