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Table-top exercises

Most security and law enforcement personnel have experienced and participated in various table-top exercises during their careers, writes Chris Collins of Canadian utility Ontario Power Generation.

I like most of you have had the pleasure of participating in some very engaged learning adventures as well as others that were ‘filler’. What made the difference was the exercise learning format, planning, engagement of the instructor-facilitator and personnel participating. With a little preparation and planning, every table top exercise will be an opportunity for you to offer full engagement from your personnel and afford them the opportunity for full participation and cognitive processing.

This disciplined, formatted role-playing training will test scenarios, more in line with real events and have each participant apply cognitive thinking. The built in time pressures and after action results will be definite learning. There are several formats to delivering table-top exercises; I’ll give one “how-to” option.

Table Top Platform

The exercise can be conducted by a simple drawing on a white board, black board, or scale model if you are lucky to own. This will be the playing platform for all involved. What is important is for it to be large enough for all participants to see. If using a model, each person, adversary and security element will own a marker of some fashion. The marker can range from store bought figurines to simple water bottle caps or other – again the placement and movement is what is important. In using the white board, a simply symbol with number/name identifies the personnel. Vehicles if being used should be captured through some medium as well. Again, your ingenuity will establish what you use. A relative scale model can be easily built of the facility that you work at. Again, using some ingenuity and easily acquired low cost items, the model can be very professional.

White Board

As the developed scenario begins to unfold, you have the option of controlling the time line and should capture events as they unfold. This is easily accomplished through a white board, black board or even an overhead projector linked with PC or laptop.

Adversary Team

The participants will be divided into two groups. One group will serve as an adversary team – the team challenged will defeating/infiltrating the ground and/or structure to accomplish their mission. Team will assign a Team Leader from their personnel – TL.

Pro Force Team

Other group will serve at the Pro-Force team. Their mission should already be established, “To prevent the ____ of ______ from/at facility/area.” Team will assign a Team Leader from their personnel – TL


This person should ideally be a trainer or a person skilled in being able to deliver the intent of the tabletop. This Subject Matter Expert – SME should have the skills to facilitate the learning from a guiding position versus instructing. The debrief of the event is where some instruction may be given/received. The facilitator is in charge of the exercise. They establish the tempo and bring the exercise back on track if deviation occurs.


The Controller will be the judge when called upon. This skilled individual will be a SME in their own right. Essential skills are dependent on the exercise. If in a law enforcement, military or similar scenario, this individual will need to know ballistics, use of force applications, understanding of the geographic of site and even the demographics if it is part of scenario – active killer for instance.


This role may be assumed by the Facilitator or Controller pending personnel who are available. If your program has an Incident Command element in its bag of tools, this will afford scribes/note takers a practice element. The scribe will be responsible for capturing actions taken along time lines along with key milestone actions.

Planning phase

Adversary Team

The facilitator having divided the group into the two elements – Adversary and Pro-Force, he/she will assign a designated time for the adversary team to find a suitable location to plan their mission. This team building exercise alone involves learning platforms in it – planning, organising, leadership etc.

Prior to this element departing for the planning, the facilitator will supply them with a pre-populated list of items that they can use for their mission. This will give a term of reference and scope to what they can and cannot use – vehicles including air, firearms, use of force options, explosives etc. If you do not define the scope, the team will may introduce an unrealistic outside of scope device, mechanism into the exercise.
Remember to assign a Team Leader (TL). Hold the team to the expected time line.

ProForce Team

As the Adversary team departs, the facilitator will assign the Pro-Force team their starting positions based on whether the Adversary team is performing a day or night operation. The Facilitator will use snap shots in time for assigning the starting positions.
These snap shots in time are generated randomly looking at past staffing levels for both day and night operations. This will control where personnel are starting from and be realistic. Again, if not controlled, the Pro-Force team will place their personnel in the key tactical positions. This will defeat some learning aspects especially for the commanders of the group. They may now experience some anxiety over letting their personnel have “relaxing” moments.

Deployment phase

Once the Adversary Team has returned, their staffing and equipment matrix will be shared via noting on white board or other. The Adversary name, vehicle association if any, Use of Force (UOF) options on person and additional notes. This matrix although developed by the Adversary team is ultimately guided by the Controller prior to them entering planning phase. The controller has determined the number of adversaries and equipment prior to them departing for their planning phase. The allowable equipment should be realistic to what you expect to encounter such as through the Design Basis Threat or other.

The TL of the Adversary Team will give context to time of scenario – day/night, weather, and other areas under their control. The Facilitator based on this information will then deploy ProForce personnel on Table Top platform – model, diagram etc. Once established the Action Phase will be initiated.

Action phase

The steps for this sequence:

1. Facilitator will ensure all applicable data is viewable to all players:
a. Facilitator name
b. Controller name
c. Scribe name (if staffed)
d. Time of Action
e. Weather conditions
f. Time of action
g. Adversary matrix.

2. Facilitator in populating the Adversary matrix should consider populating the identified positions and substitute specific names of those participating in exercise.
Facilitator should give same consideration in noting participant names for the Pro-Force contingent.

3. Facilitator will then list Adversary Force and their division in squads as decided upon (Team Leader will relay this information). Facilitator will also list Pro-Force team and through the snap shot, place them in their starting positions.

4. Facilitator using the list will go sequentially down the list asking for each member of the Adversary or squad if still grouped together for their first move. The move is for the first time segment. First move for 30 second time frame is for Squad 1 moving to Fence

5. Pending the action, detection, delay, patrol and other variables, the Controller will decide if called upon by the facilitator to decide if the action warrants any significant impact – advises Pro-Force, trips an alarm, etc.

6. If moves have no effect on detection etc, there will be no change to Pro-Force.

7. Next sequence of events is conducted and each move is captured on the time line. This will progress until some significant action causes Pro-Force action/response.

8. Actions will continue along with control over the Time Lines. If Facilitator feels the action requires two segments (60 seconds in our example) he will note the action on the time line. If challenged, the Controller will be the deciding factor.

9. The sequence is followed until the mission is completed by either the Adversary or Pro-Force. As white board space becomes limited, capture what is noted via photograph and then transfer for de-briefing purposes.

Debrief will go over lessons learned, positioning etc. Those people who are in a position of incident command will also play a role.

No matter how much planning and preparation has been done, it will inevitably be challenged and not follow the plan. This is a fact of life and real events. Better to challenge it in this forum than real-time.

The desirable outcome is not about winning or losing, but about learning and understanding. Each person participates, and learns via doing. It challenges people to be lateral thinkers, understanding strength and weaknesses. Should chaos present itself real-time, this platform will prepare or should prepare those who enter the “fog of war”.

Design basis threat

A fundamental principle of physical protection is that it should be based on the current evaluation of the threat. This evaluation is formalised through a Threat Assessment process. A DBT is derived from this threat assessment. Visit

Provincial, federal and municipal governments and Ontario Power Generation (OPG) are running Exercise Unified Response, a mock emergency drill from May 26-28. See also:


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