Blue Line


July 7, 2014  By Chris Collins

Like most law enforcement personnel, I have taken part in table-top exercises. Some were very engaging learning adventures while others were just “filler.” The exercise learning format, planning, instructor engagement and the people participating are what made the difference.

With a little preparation and planning, every table top exercise will be an opportunity to get 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 increase comprehension.

There are several formats to delivering table-top exercises; I’ll give one “how-to” option.


You have been tasked with preventing theft and/or sabotage at a high security site. Your staff of para-military trained and equipped individuals are at the ready. A team of adversaries intent on defeating your objective have been training and are prepared to begin an assault. Is your organization ready?

You are not gaining operational experience similar to police warrant executions or military training/operations. First hand field training via Situation Approach to Training (SAT) is the best way to prepare you and your staff for a critical operation. This includes integration via table-top û war gaming.


Table top platform: The exercise can be conducted simply by drawing on a white or black board, or with a scale model, if you’re lucky enough to own one. It’s important for it to be large enough for all participants to see.

If you’re using a model, each person, adversary and security element will have a marker of some fashion. This can range from store bought figurines to simple water bottle caps û the placement and movement are what is important.

A simple symbol with number/name identifies the personnel if you’re using a white board. You will also need something to indicate vehicles.

You can easily build a relative scale model of your facility. Using your ingenuity and easily acquired, low cost items, the model can be very professional.

Scale Model
Capture 1

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 or black board or even a video projector linked with a PC or laptop.

Adversary team: Participants will be divided into two groups. One will serve as an adversary team û challenged with defeating/infiltrating the ground and/or structure to accomplish their mission. Assign a team leader (TL).

Pro force team: Their mission should already be established, “To prevent the of __ from/at facility/area.” The team will choose a team leader.

Facilitator: This person should ideally be a trainer or skilled in being able to deliver the intent of the tabletop. As a subject matter expert (SME), he/she should have the skills to enable learning from a guiding position vs. instructing. The debrief of the event is where some instruction may be given/received.

The facilitator is in charge of the exercise, establishing the tempo and bring it back on track if deviation occurs.

Controller: Functions as the judge when called upon. This skilled individual will be a SME in their own right. Essential skills depend on the exercise. If in a law enforcement, military or similar scenario, they will need to know ballistics, use of force applications, understand the geography of the site and even the demographics if it is part of scenario û active killer for instance.

Scribe: The facilitator or controller may assume this role, depending on available personnel. If your program has an incident command element, this will afford scribes/note takers some practice. The scribe will be responsible for capturing actions taken, time lines and key milestone actions.

Time Line Capture
Capture 2

Planning Phase

Adversary team: Having divided the group into adversary and pro-force, the facilitator 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 û planning, organizing, leadership etc.

Before they go to begin their 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 use û vehicles (including air), firearms, use of force options, explosives etc. If you do not define the scope, the team may introduce an unrealistic outside of scope device or mechanism into the exercise.

Remember to assign a team leader and hold the team to the expected time line.

As the adversary team departs, 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 randomly generated snap shots in time to assign the starting positions based on past staffing levels for both day and night operations. This will control where personnel are starting from and be realistic.

If not controlled, the pro-force team will place personnel in key tactical positions. This will defeat some learning aspects, especially for commanders, who may experience some anxiety over letting their personnel engage in “relaxing” moments.

{Deployment phase}

Once the adversary team has returned, their staffing and equipment matrix will be posted, including 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 their entering the planning phase.

The controller also determines the number of adversaries and equipment prior to the team’s departure. The allowable equipment should be realistic û what you would expect to encounter.

Adversary Matrix
Capture 3

The adversary team TL will give context to time of scenario û day/night, weather and other areas under their control.

Based on this information, the facilitator will deploy proforce personnel on the table top platform and, once established, the action phase will be initiated.

Action phase

The step’s for this sequence:

  1. Facilitator will ensure all players can view the applicable data, including the names of the facilitator, controller and scribe, time of action, weather condition and adversary matrix

  2. In populating the adversary matrix, the facilitator should consider populating the identified positions as noted in Capture #3 via adversary A,B, C… (substitute specific names of those participating in exercise).

Facilitator should consider noting participant’s names for the pro-force contingent as noted in Capture #4.

Screen shot of Adversary listing and Pro-force
Capture 4

  1. Facilitator will then list the adversary force and their division in squads (team leader will relay this information), the pro-force team and place them in their starting positions through the snap shot.

  2. The facilitator will go sequentially down the list asking for each adversary member for their first move. The move is for the first time segment. Example Capture 2 – adversary squad 1 is in NW position at T0. Adversary squad 2 is in SE at T0, etc.

First move for 30 second time frame is for squad 1 moving to fence.

  1. 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 û advises pro-force, trips an alarm, etc.


  1. If moves have no effect on detection, etc, there will be no change to pro-force, as noted in Capture 4.

  2. 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.

Capture 5

In this capture, we note that the adversary team has conducted various moves, up to and including T + 4. At this time line, they took an action to engage pro-force “4/5”. This causes a reaction and notification across the net to other supporting units. This particular action involved firearm use.

The facilitator will ask for controller evaluation to ascertain the effectiveness of the use of force. Controller will assess, distance, weaponry, protection etc., rule on the application and decide in favour of one team. This ruling will be captured.

  1. Actions will continue along with control over the time lines. If the facilitator feels the action requires two segments (60 seconds, in our example) that action will be noted on the time line. If challenged, the controller will be the deciding factor.

  2. 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. Incident commanders will also play a role. In this Capture 6 we see that an action by the incident commander to notify DRPS and other agencies. Did the action capture all notifications, ambulance, fire, etc?

Capture 6

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 weakness. Should chaos present itself real-time, this platform should prepare those who enter the “fog of war”.


Print this page


Stories continue below