Emergency Management Exercise Development Basics

by Tony Reidell, State Exercise Training Coordinator

A recent request of information and support on exercise planning, design and development from a Local Emergency Manager prompted some thought on the current process, local needs and requirements.  There is no short answer, but there are a few things to keep in mind when engaged in exercise planning.  

If you are just looking for a workable format for injects, our State exercise team can certainly help.  We can also probably provide a number of workable injects or even complete Master Scenario Event List (MSEL), depending on the actual scenario.  Unfortunately, these templates may not drive the specific "Outcomes" you are looking to attain. 

With respect to the planning and development process one of the strengths of the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Planning (HSEEP), at least in my mind, is its' linear organizational structure.  If you have already projected a date for the exercise, such as "this fall", you may have subjected yourself to a bit of a time compression.  That should not be a major handicap, but it will require some additional management and attention to detail in the short term.

The greatest challenge in the development process is always the Goals & Objectives (G&O) meeting, or Concept & Objectives (C&O) at it is also known.  During your G&O meeting the Target Capabilities List (TCL) and the Universal Task List (UTL) are boiled down to those 3 or 4 items you intend to focus on during the exercise.  An Initial Planning Conference (IPC) would normally follow within 2 to 3 weeks, but can be rolled-up into the G&O.  If this is done, you should allow a minimum of 3 hour to as much as 6 to ensure all meeting objective are met.

A Common mistake is in broadening the exercise evaluation criteria to the point that valid finding and observations from the exercise are lost in the play of the scenario.  Drills are intended to work out the grass-root issues.  Tabletop Exercises (TTX) are focused on policy and decision-making processes and should be limited in identified scope to prevention, response or recovery.  Not all 3 in a single event, the transition within the scenario can all too often be blurred and confusing to participants.

If you are dealing with staff that has never really worked together in a disaster event, you may want to take a look at conducting a seminar.  The seminar could be based on the simple question, "How would we come together and work together in an emergency", with the stated purpose of promoting awareness.  Seminars are a recognized and often overlooked form of Discussion-Base exercise. Their documentation is little different than any other form of exercise.  Seminars are the basic building block of a solid exercise development plan. 

A key consideration in the grant and reimbursement process is whether or not you've published a Training and Exercise Calendar.  If not, I would highly recommend it and forward that calendar to your Regional Administrator.  With Regional and State Training and Planning Workshops (T&EPW) just around the corner the timing is perfect.

You addressed the constraints imposed by the "part-time" status of yourself and your associates.  The calendar is probably one of the most under utilized time management tools we have.  If we put these events in a multi-year calendar, it forces us to take action.  Even if that action is to postpone or cancel the event, it forces us to answer the "Why" question.  The many cases the honest answer to why can be as revealing as the exercise itself.

Bottom Line!  It's really not all that hard, just take the first step, identify your Goals & Objectives!