The Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security was dealing with a rapidly expanding pandemic that was threatening to shut down economies, overthrow governments, and kill hundreds of millions of people. Fortunately for all of us, it was a simulation. However, it was an incredibly realistic one. Terrorist threats, nationalization of health care was necessary, and the agencies debated incessantly over who was in charge. There is no better way to test your actual capabilities than simulations without going through the real thing. If you are not doing so with your business, you are effectively employing a strategy of luck.

A novel virus, moderately contagious and moderately lethal, has surfaced and is spreading rapidly around the globe. Outbreaks first appear in Frankfurt, Germany and Caracas, Venezuela. The virus is transmitted person-to-person, primarily by coughing. There are no effective antivirals or vaccines. American troops stationed abroad are infected. Now the first case to reach the United States had been identified on a small college campus in Massachusetts. So began a recent daylong exercise hosted by the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. The simulation mixed details of past disasters with fictional elements to force government officials and experts to make the kinds of key decisions they could face in a real pandemic.

The key to great simulations is that they could REALLY happen. They have characters, situations, and contingencies that are very real. The rules change. Information is imperfect. Things go wrong. This is how you pressure test strategies, evaluate performance, and debrief to help plan for the future (even if it is unpredictable).

Watch the video. It is very sobering to know that even the best at what they do are stumped when face with new circumstances. While our situations may not be as grave, are we prepared for what could go wrong? If not, start running dynamic simulations and wargames. Immediately.