Emergency plans are written during peaceful times when there is no active emergency. This necessitates plans to be written based on certain assumptions and educated guesses on how people will react, what resources will be available, and what the consequences of the emergency will be.
By testing your emergency plan you can validate your theories, ensure that your personnel understand the plan, and identify areas that need improvement before a disaster occurs. There are a variety of exercise types that can be used to test and practice your plan.
- Tabletop Exercise: A tabletop exercise is a discussion based on a provided emergency scenario and injects that help move the exercise play forward. Think of the scenario and injects as a story that emulates real life emergencies by escalating conditions and identifying cascading events.
- Drill: A drill is a coordinated, supervised activity used to test a single, specific function such as an evacuation or tornado drill.
- Functional Exercise: A functional exercise scenario is designed to present complex and realistic problems that require rapid and effective responses in a simulated stressful environment. Actual movement of personnel and equipment does not occur but assumptions may be validated thru phone calls or other communications.
- Full-Scale Exercises: Full-scale exercises are the most complex and include the actual deployment of personnel and equipment. This type of exercise scenario focuses on implementing and analyzing plans, policies, and procedures that require critical thinking, rapid problem solving, and effective responses in highly stressful situations that closely mirror real incidents.
Most exercises conclude by capturing comments from participants and exercise controllers to analysis successes and areas for improvement in a document called an After Action Report. A corrective action plan is developed to ensure that areas for improvement are addressed. After Action Reports can also be developed after real emergencies occur.
Emergency Response agencies use an exercise system developed by the Department of Homeland Security called the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP). There are a number of free forms and templates that are available for public download on their website available here: https://www.llis.dhs.gov/HSEEP The HSEEP system may help you in developing your own exercises.
The Office of Emergency Management is committed to helping you be more prepared for major emergencies and disasters. Please contact our office if you have any questions about testing your plans or need help developing an exercise.