Original Publication
Open Access

Public Health Emergency Tabletop Exercise

Published: December 8, 2006 | 10.15766/mep_2374-8265.395

Included in this publication:

  • Faculty Guide to Using the Public Health Tabletop Exercise.doc
  • Public Health Emergency Tabletop Student Version.doc
  • Public Health Emergency Tabletop Student Role Sheets.doc
  • Public Health Emergency Tabletop Exercise Facilitator Guide.doc
  • Public Health Tabletop Exercise Suggested Handout Sources.doc

To view all publication components, extract (i.e., unzip) them from the downloaded .zip file.

Editor's Note: This publication predates our implementation of the Educational Summary Report in 2016 and thus displays a different format than newer publications.


This resource is an interactive tabletop exercise portraying the early response to a public health emergency. Participants confront the challenges of detecting and identifying a public health emergency and initiate the response to the outbreak. Since process and decision making are more important than minute details, emphasis is placed on developing the best possible response through problem identification, coordination, and integration of capabilities. Major goals are to expose learners to the complexities of responding to a public health emergency and to the concept that the medical aspects of response are not necessarily the primary components. Ethical principles and the importance of collaborative efforts are also emphasized. The case does not assume any prior knowledge of a specific disease. The exercise combines role-play with a group approach to an ill-defined problem, comparable in some regards to typical problem-based learning. After a large-group situation briefing, participants break out into working groups and discuss probable actions and coordination efforts. Questions provided serve as a guide for group discussion. The group may choose to discuss additional topics. Facilitators guide and mediate the group discussions. Most students felt the overall quality of the exercise was good or outstanding. Students highly valued the hands-on nature of the session and remarked on the importance of the topic. One measure of the effectiveness of this package is that both students and faculty repeatedly indicated that it was useful and timely and that it should continue to be part of the core curriculum. This exercise provides an opportunity to address operational and policy-level responses to a public health emergency.

Educational Objectives

By the end of this exercise, participants will be able to:

  1. Understand systematic response to public health emergencies, with attention to operational and policy-level responses, detection, mitigation, and recovery.
  2. Understand the principles of how an outbreak is recognized and approached.
  3. Identify and describe the varying perspectives of government, health care, and media on risk communication.
  4. Understand barriers that government leadership must overcome to maintain delivery of essential services under crisis conditions.
  5. Understand the issues that influence public health decision making and gain an appreciation of the complex factors that contribute to meeting a community's health needs.
  6. Understand the contribution of public health resources to the response to infectious disease outbreaks.

Author Information

  • John Mahoney, MD: University of Pittsburgh School of Medicine

None to report.

None to report.

Prior Presentations
Mahoney JF, Kanter SL. Active learning about public health in undergraduate medical curricula: a SARS tabletop exercise. Presented at: Association for Medical Education in Europe Meeting; August 31, 2005; Amsterdam, the Netherlands.


Mahoney J. Public health emergency tabletop exercise. MedEdPORTAL. 2006;2:395. https://doi.org/10.15766/mep_2374-8265.395