What are Exercises?
Exercises are a component of a comprehensive preparedness program. A community or company develops emergency operations plans, policies and procedures, acquires the necessary equipment, and conducts training. An exercise is then conducted to evaluate if the capabilities and training of the staff and equipment was able to accomplish the desired state identified in the emergency operations plan. The exercise evaluation may conclude that the processes were successful, may identify gaps in planning, equipment and training, or may identify best practices to be continued. Exercise complexity ranges from very simple gatherings to discuss topics in emergency management, to high stress, real-time, hands-on activities that simulate an actual incident requiring the deployment of personnel and equipment.
Exercises are conducted to test and validate plans, procedures, equipment, facilities, and training. Exercise evaluations are conducted and analyzed to determine what occurred, and compare the observations to the plans, policies and procedures. These observations and comments are discussed in an After Action Review or Conference and recommendations for improvement are made in the After Action Report (AAR). An Improvement Plan (IP) is then developed to clarify actions necessary to implement improvements, and determine who is responsible for ensuring implementation. The Improvement Plan thus leads to changes in plans, procedures, equipment, facilities, and training, which are again tested during the next exercise.
Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program
The Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) is a capabilities and performance-based exercise program that provides a standardized methodology and terminology for exercise design, development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning. A comprehensive exercise program increases in complexity through the building block approach.
The HSEEP constitutes a national standard for all exercises. Through exercises communities achieve objective assessment of their capabilities so that strengths and areas for improvement are identified prior to a real incident.
To find out more, go to HSEEP.
Exercise Program Management
Managing an exercise program includes determining and coordinating the training and exercise needs of emergency response and recovery agencies, community partners, and neighboring jurisdictions. Emergency managers collaborate in identifying and prioritizing the threats and hazards of their community, determining community-wide goals and objectives, maintaining and updating various mitigation, prevention, response and recovery plans, and a wide variety of training opportunities which culminate in exercises.
Training and Exercise Planning
To maximize opportunity, manage availability and control expenses, emergency managers benefit from a consolidated and integrated Training and Exercise Plan (TEP). By bringing together governmental, non-governmental, volunteer and faith based organizations within the community, a calendar of meetings, training activities and exercises can be generated and deconflicted to maximize benefit to the whole community. It can be very beneficial to include mutual-aid organizations.
Larger or more advanced programs often develop TEPs which include multiple series occurring simultaneously with independent or overlapping goals or objectives.
To find out more about TEP workshops see the Training and Exercise Plan Workshop User's Handbook.
Types of Exercises
HSEEP divides exercises into two categories, discussion-based and operations-based. Discussion based exercises are commonly employed to familiarize participants with current plans, policies, agreements and procedures. These activities are frequently used to develop, update, test and evaluate strategic level plans, mutual-aid agreements and procedures. Discussion-based exercises are often employed as a starting point in the building-block approach. Operations-based exercises test and evaluate the ability of communities and organizations to perform specific activities and tasks. These activities clarify roles and responsibilities, identify gaps in resources and training, and improve individual and team performance.
Discussion-based exercises include seminars, workshops, tabletop exercises (TTXs), and games. These types of exercises are valuable tools for familiarizing agencies and personnel with current or expected capabilities of an entity. Discussion-based exercises typically focus on strategic, policy-oriented issues. Facilitators and/or presenters usually lead the discussion, keeping participants on track toward meeting exercise objectives. Emergency facilities are not activated and emergency response forces are not deployed.
Seminars are informal discussions, unconstrained by real-time portrayal of events and led by a presenter. They are generally employed to orient participants to, or provide an overview of, authorities, strategies, plans, policies, procedures, protocols, response resources, and/or concepts and ideas. Seminars provide a good starting point for entities that are developing or making major changes to their plans and procedures. Sometimes called orientations, these commonly appear as an audience and presenters utilizing multimedia presentations and handouts.
Workshops increase participant interaction and focus on achieving or building a product such as a draft plan or policy or to update a procedure. To be effective, workshops must be highly focused on a specific issue, and the desired outcome or goal must be clearly defined. Sometimes called working groups, these commonly appear as a team working around a central document or process. A common version of this activity is the Training and Exercise Planning Workshop (TEPW).
Tabletop exercises involve key personnel from multiple organizations discussing hypothetical scenarios in an informal setting to assess plans, policies, and procedures or systems. They facilitate understanding of concepts, identifying strengths and shortfalls to a particular situation through in-depth discussions and slow-paced problem solving. Tabletop exercises provide an excellent opportunity to compare what participants actually expect to do and how they plan to do it with what is written in the local emergency plan, highlighting changes that may need to be made in the plan. Basic tabletop exercises establish a static scenario allowing participants to apply their knowledge and skills to a list of problems. Advanced tabletop exercises incorporate the controlled delivery of pre-scripted messages to participants that advance the original scenario and introduce new situations. Participants discuss the issues raised to apply appropriate plans and procedures.
A game is a simulation of operations that often involves two or more teams and uses rules, data, and procedures to depict an actual or assumed real-life situation to explore decision-making processes and the consequences of those decisions. A game does not require use of actual resources, and the sequence of events affects, and is in turn affected by, decisions made by players.
Operations-based exercises represent the next level of the exercise cycle. They are used to validate the plans, policies, agreements, and procedures solidified in discussion-based exercises. Operations-based exercises include drills, functional exercises (FEXs), and full-scale exercises (FSXs). They are characterized by actual reaction to simulated intelligence; response to emergency conditions; mobilization of apparatus, resources, and/or networks; and commitment of personnel, usually over an extended period of time.
A drill is a coordinated, supervised activity usually employed to validate a single, specific operation or function. Drills are commonly used to provide training on new equipment, develop or validate new policies or procedures, or practice and maintain current skills. Drills have a narrow focus, measured against established standards in a realistic environment but performed in isolation from other factors.
Functional exercises are designed to validate and evaluate individual capabilities, multiple functions, activities within a function, or interdependent groups of functions. The scenario simulates the reality of operations and the interactions of various levels of government, response organizations, volunteer groups, and industry. The exercise advances with real-time event updates to drive participant activity at the management level without the activation or deployment of response units. It presents complex and realistic problems that require rapid and effective responses by trained personnel in a highly stressful environment. Movement of personnel and equipment is simulated. Controllers and simulators may represent certain field response activities, and external organizations pertinent to the exercise scenario but are not participating in the exercise, such as federal agencies.
Full-scale exercises are the most complex and include the actual deployment of personnel and equipment. These multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional, multi-organizational activities validate many facets of preparedness. They focus on implementing and analyzing the plans, policies, procedures, and cooperative agreements across multiple functional areas that require critical thinking, rapid problem solving, and effective responses by trained personnel in real time, stressful environments that closely mirror real incidents.
To expand improvement opportunities in Texas, two additional types of exercises have been developed; Special Event Planning and Real-World Incidents.
Special Event Planning A Special Event Planning meeting brings together members of emergency management, other community partners, and representatives of the event (promoters, organizers, venue management, etc.) to discuss preparedness and response issues should a major emergency or disaster occur at or during the event. The event itself is not eligible for this exercise type. This pre-event discussion level activity may be used to meet EMPG exercise requirements. For more information and guidance on planning for special events, see the DHS/FEMA Independent Study course IS-15, Special Events Contingency Planning for Public Safety Agencies. It is an excellent course and the job aids are extremely helpful.
Conducting a post incident After Action Review of a real-world incident can be extremely beneficial. Senior Officials and facilitators can identify preliminary capabilities to be reviewed and evaluated by participating responders and staff. Employment of a scribe may be helpful to capture comments, lessons learned and areas for improvement. As defined by DHS/FEMA, an incident is an occurrence, natural or human-caused, that requires an emergency response to protect life or property. Incidents can include terrorist attacks, wildland and urban fires, floods, hazardous materials spills, aircraft accidents, tropical storms, public health and medical emergencies. An event is a planned, non-emergency activity such as parades, concerts or sporting events. In addition to meeting the full-scale exercise reporting requirements, the After Action Report for Real-World Incidents (RWI) must document that a minimum of three of the following conditions were met during the incident response:
- The jurisdiction’s chief elected official or a plan designated representative identified in the jurisdiction’s emergency management plan participated.
- At a minimum, four emergency management core capabilities must be tested and evaluated (one must include the jurisdiction’s Operational Coordination)
- A declaration of local disaster was issued
- The emergency response involved resources from outside the jurisdiction. RWI may be used to meet EMPG exercise requirements only once per fiscal year and does not substitute for the triennial full-scale exercise requirement. Reference here.
Gathering information during the testing of an emergency operations plan must be organized in order to maximize the benefit to the community. Exercise designers focus on a few select capabilities to be carefully observed and recorded for evaluation. These capabilities are drawn from the community’s emergency operations plan, exercise program guidance, and the priorities identified during the TEPW. Evaluators observe and record data during the exercise. This information is then compared to the plans, policies and procedures to identify strengths and areas for improvement.
After Action Reports and Improvement Plans
An After Action Report (AAR) is a consolidation of information gathered during the testing and evaluation of a community’s emergency operations plan through an exercise. It can also document response to and recovery from an actual emergency identifying lesson learned and best practices. The report provides feedback to participating entities and governing agencies in the achievement of the objectives and overall capabilities of the community. Information gleaned from this process, identifies and guides future improvement actions in the Improvement Plan (IP).
After Action Reports should include sufficient information to identify the exercise, overarching goals and specific objectives being evaluated. participating agencies and their jurisdiction, and the outcome of the exercise. Most commonly, AARs include an executive summary, exercise overview including the basic scenario, exercise capabilities and objectives and the analysis thereof, and a conclusion.
Improvement Plans leverage the outcomes of the evaluation to identify, develop and implement changes and actions to improve the community’s preparedness capacity. IPs include recommendations from the exercise evaluation process, improvement actions to be implemented, identifies responsible agencies, and sets a target completion date.
NIMS and Exercise Glossaries
DHS/FEMA provides a glossary for terms used in the National Incident Management System (NIMS).
DHS/FEMA provides a glossary for terms used in the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP).
EMPG Exercise Requirements
Each year TDEM develops, distributes, and posts an EMPG guide for that year. Informational Bulletins may also be disseminated. These are the primary documents for guidance and instructions. Additional information and access to forms is available on the TDEM Exercise web-page.
Exercise specific questions may be addressed to the Exercise Unit Supervisor at 512-424-2447, or via email.
TDEM provides exercise training opportunities to familiarize exercise planners, evaluators, facilitators, controllers, and participants in HSEEP policy and doctrine. Independent Study (IS)–120.A, An Introduction to Exercises is an online, awareness-level HSEEP course that provides basic instruction in exercise design and terminology. The HSEEP Training Course, L-146, is an intermediate-level training course that incorporates exercise guidance and best practices from the HSEEP Volumes to educate participants about exercise program management, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning. TDEM offers the G-920, Texas Exercise Design & Evaluation course as well as a number of other courses relating to emergency exercise programs. For more information on these courses, consult the TDEM Training website.
TDEM can also provide limited exercise design, development and conduct assistance to local jurisdictions. For more information, contact your local District Coordinator or the TDEM Exercise Unit.