Our biggest challenge when working with clients is to inspire them toflat-design-characters-doing-time-management_23-2148274068 make drills and tabletop exercises a part of their company culture: something that’s built into the company calendar with the regularity of Thanksgiving and Christmas, something that everyone respects and feels a responsibility to participate in, a practice where everyone from the top leadership to the most jaded employee walks the talk. This is the most important thing I can accomplish with an organization because it will have more impact than any amount of planning or one-time training.make-it-happen-300×82

No one thinks clearly during an emergency. People make terrible decisions during emergencies if they are trying to figure out what to do for the first time. Every firefighter will tell you: if you have to stop and think it through, you will not have time to survive. How to get to safety has to be in every employee’s muscle memory.

Doing drills and exercises is really easy to slack on. Drills are disruptive. They may feel like a waste of time. Here is why you need to do them anyway:

unnamed (1)Rick Rescorla, a retired military officer, was the head of security for Morgan Stanley, beginning in the late 1980s. Morgan Stanley was the largest tenant in the World Trade Center. In 1990, Rescorla wrote a report to the Port Authority insisting that it upgrade the security in the underground parking garage. That would have cost money, and his report was ignored. In 1993, a terrorist drove a truck full of explosives into that parking garage. The explosion killed seven people and injured over 1,000.

The bombing gave Rescorla credibility with the Morgan Stanley leadership. He started running the entire company through frequent, surprise fire drills. Remember, Morgan Stanley is an investment bank. Millionaire, high-performance bankers on the 73rd floor chafed at Rescorla’s evacuation regimen. They did not appreciate interrupting high-net-worth-clients in the middle of a meeting. Each drill, which pulled the firm’s brokers off their phones and away from their computers, cost the company money. But Rescorla did it anyway. He didn’t care if he was popular. His military training had taught him a simple rule of human nature: the best way to get the brain to perform under extreme stress is to repeatedly run it through rehearsals beforehand.close-up-hand-choose-wooden-blocks-stacked-with-safety-first-icons_101448-1317

After the first few drills, Rescorla chastised employees for moving too slowly in the stairwell. He started timing them with a stopwatch and they got faster. He did not grant exceptions. When guests visited Morgan Stanley for training, Rescorla made sure they all knew how to get out, too. Even though the chances were slim, he wanted them ready for an evacuation. He understood that they would need help more than anyone else.

His drills went on for eight years, even as the memory of the 1993 bombings faded. He was serious about making everyone come out to the drills. One executive remembers, “We used to say, ‘Well, it’s the sergeant doing the drills again. It was kind of repetitive. You’d make fun of the marshals: ‘Oh you got your hat? Where’s your vest?’ But in retrospect, thank God.”

wooded-blocks-stacking-with-fire-escape-icon-safety-concept_101448-531The morning of 9/11, Rescorla heard an explosion and saw the North Tower burning from his office window. A Port Authority official came over the public address system and urged everyone to remain at their desks. But Rescorla grabbed his bull horn, walkie-talkie, and cell phone and began systematically ordering Morgan Stanley employees to get out. They already knew what to do, even the 250 visitors who were there taking a class and had already been shown the nearest stairway. One executive said, “Knowing where to go was the most important thing. Because your brain just shuts down. When that happens, you need to know what to do next. One thing you don’t ever want to have to do is to think in a disaster.”

While the Morgan Stanley employees were evacuating, the second plane hit their tower. It took out the 77th through 85th floors. Morgan Stanley’s offices went from the 44th to the 74th floors. Rescorla led 2,687 Morgan Stanley employees safely out of the building. When the tower collapsed, only 13 Morgan Stanley employees were inside. Five of them were Rescorla and his security officers, who went back in when they heard that a few Morgan Stanley employees might have been left behind.

The skills you learn in a training are perishable. It’s like playing an instrument or a sport – you get better by practicing. The single most important thing an organization can do to be ready for the next emergency is to follow a drills and exercises calendar and keep practicing how to respond. Then when the next real emergency comes around, you and your colleagues will be able to give each other a knowing look and say, “We got this.” 

Drills matter.


Rick Rescorla story as told by Amanda Ripley in The Unthinkable: Who Survives When Disaster Strikes – And Why. I cannot recommend this book highly enough.

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The post DRILLS: THEY’RE DISRUPTIVE. THEY’RE REPETITIVE. THEY WILL SAVE YOUR LIFE. appeared first on Make It Happen Preparedness Services.