All About Exercises

All About Exercises

About the State Exercise Program

The TDEM Exercise Program utilizes the guidance set forth in the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) to provide a set of guiding principles for exercise programs, as well as a common approach to exercise program management, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning.

Exercises are a key component of state and national preparedness. They provide elected and appointed officials and stakeholders from across the whole community with the opportunity to shape planning, training, assess and validate capabilities, and address areas for improvement.

Through the use of HSEEP, exercise program managers can develop, execute, and evaluate exercises that address the priorities established by an organization’s leaders. These priorities are based on jurisdictional needs and should align with the National Preparedness Goal, strategy documents, threat and hazard identification and risk assessment processes, capability assessments, and the results from previous exercises and real-world events.

Additionally, these priorities guide the overall direction of a progressive exercise program, where individual exercises are anchored to a common set of priorities or objectives and build toward an increasing level of complexity over time. Accordingly, these priorities guide the design and development of individual exercises, as planners identify exercise objectives and align them to core capabilities for evaluation during the exercise.

Exercise evaluation assesses the ability to meet exercise objectives and capabilities by documenting strengths, areas for improvement, core capability performance, and corrective actions in an After-Action Report/Improvement Plan (AAR/IP). Through improvement planning, organizations take the corrective actions needed to improve plans, build and sustain capabilities, and maintain readiness.

In this way, the use of HSEEP – in line with the National Preparedness Goal and the National Preparedness System – supports efforts across the whole community that improve our national capacity to build, sustain, and deliver core capabilities.

HSEEP exercise and evaluation doctrine is flexible, scalable, and adaptable, and is for use by stakeholders across the whole community. HSEEP doctrine is applicable for exercises across all mission areas – prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. Using HSEEP supports the National Preparedness System by providing a consistent approach to exercises and measuring progress toward building, sustaining, and delivering core capabilities.

HSEEP doctrine is based on national best practices and is supported by training, technology systems, tools, and technical assistance. The National Exercise Program (NEP) is consistent with the HSEEP methodology. Exercise practitioners are encouraged to apply and adapt HSEEP doctrine to meet their specific needs.

More information regarding HSEEP can be found here. https://preptoolkit.fema.gov/web/hseep-resources

Types of Exercises

Discussion-based Exercises

Discussion-based exercises are normally used as a starting point in the building-block approach of escalating exercise complexity. Discussion-based exercises include seminars, workshops, tabletop exercises and games. These types of exercises typically highlight existing plans, policies, interagency/inter-jurisdictional agreements, and procedures. Discussion-based 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.

Discussion-based Exercises

Seminars (S) are informal discussions, unconstrained by real-time portrayal of events and led by a presenter. They are generally utilized to provide an overview of or introduction to plans, policies, procedures, or protocols. They can also be used to resolve questions of coordination and assignment of responsibilities. Seminars provide a good starting point for entities that are developing, introducing, or making major changes to their plans and procedures.

Seminars can be used to deliver a wide range of topics. Although the topics may vary, all seminars share the following common attributes:

  • They are conducted in a low-stress environment.
  • Information is conveyed through different instructional techniques, which may include lectures, multimedia presentations, panel discussions, case study discussions, or any combination thereof.
  • Informal discussions are led by a seminar leader.
  • There are no real-time “clock” constraints.
  • They are effective for both small and large groups.
  • Seminars require an After Action Summary Report for EMPG Credit.
Workshops

Workshops (WS) represent the second tier of exercises in the HSEEP approach. They differ from seminars in two important respects: participant interaction is increased, and the focus is on achieving or building a product (such as a draft plan or policy). Workshops are often employed in conjunction with exercise development to determine objectives, develop scenarios, and define evaluation criteria.

A workshop may also be used to produce new standard operating procedures (SOPs), emergency operations plans (EOPs), multi-year plans, or improvement plans. To be effective, workshops must be highly focused on a specific issue, and the desired outcome or goal must be clearly defined.

Workshops typically share the following common features:

  • They facilitate activities in which participants develop or update a plan, policy, or procedure.
  • There is little or no simulation.
  • Gaps, challenges, and new concepts for a plan, policy, or procedure may be discussed.
  • They are facilitated by the authors of the plan, policy, or procedure.
  • Workshops require an After Action Summary Report for EMPG Credit.
Tabletop Exercises

A Tabletop Exercise (TTX) involves key personnel discussing hypothetical scenarios in an informal setting. This type of exercise can be used to assess plans, policies, and procedures or to assess the systems needed to guide the prevention of, response to, and recovery from a defined incident. TTXs typically are aimed at facilitating understanding of concepts, identifying strengths and shortfalls, and achieving changes in the approach to a particular situation. Participants are encouraged to discuss issues in depth and develop decisions through slow-paced problem solving, rather than the rapid, spontaneous decision making that occurs under actual or simulated emergency conditions. The effectiveness of a TTX is derived from the energetic involvement of participants and their assessment of recommended revisions to current policies, procedures, and plans.

All types of TTXs are usually constructed with the following common features:

  • They incorporate group problem solving.
  • Senior officials become familiar with critical issues related to their responsibilities.
  • They employ the conditions of a specific scenario.
  • Personnel contingencies are examined.
  • Group message interpretation is examined.
  • Participants share information.
  • Inter-agency/inter-organization coordination is assessed.
  • Limited or specific objectives are achieved.
  • They prepare participants for more complex exercises.
  • Tabletop exercises require an After Action Report and Improvement Plan for EMPG Credit.

In addition to the standard discussion-based exercise, EMPG subgrantees may elect to submit Special Event Preparedness Activities for exercise credit.

Special Event Preparedness focuses on emergency preparedness planning surrounding a special event versus the actual event.

A special event is defined as a non-routine planned event that places a strain on community resources; it may involve a large number of people, special permits, or additional planning, preparation, and mitigation. For additional information, see Special Events Contingency Planning for Public Safety Agencies, FEMA IS-15.b.

Further guidance concerning Special Events can be obtained by contacting the TDEM Exercise Unit.

Operations-based Exercises

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 (FEs), and full-scale exercises (FSEs). They can clarify roles and responsibilities, identify gaps in resources needed to implement plans and procedures, and improve individual and team performance. Operations-based exercises are characterized by actual response to emergency conditions; reaction to simulated information; mobilization of resources, and/or networks; and commitment of personnel, usually over an extended period of time.

Drill

A drill is a coordinated, supervised activity usually employed to validate a single, specific operation or function in a single agency or organizational entity. Drills are commonly used to provide training on new equipment, develop or validate new policies or procedures, or practice and maintain current skills. Typical characteristics of drills include:

  • Practicing and perfecting a single emergency response element.
  • A “field” component in a realistic environment.
  • Immediate feedback.
  • Performance in isolation.
  • Drills require an After Action Report and Improvement Plan for EMPG Credit.

For every drill, clearly defined plans, policies, and procedures should be in place. Personnel need to be familiar with those plans and policies, and trained in the processes and procedures to be drilled.

Functional Exercises

A Functional Exercise (FE) is a fully simulated, interactive exercise that tests the capability of an organization to respond to a simulated event by testing various functions of a plan, policy, or procedure.  An FE is designed to validate and evaluate these capabilities and functions through an interactive exercise scenario with event updates that drive activity. An FE simulates real operations in a functional area by presenting realistic problems / inject messages that require rapid and effective responses in a stressful, time-constrained environment.

Typical FEs share the following common attributes:

  • Exercise events are driven by scenario injects that reflect ongoing events and problems that might occur in a real emergency.
  • Established policies and procedures that pertain to the scenario are inspected.
  • Performance analysis is part of the overall exercise.
  • Cooperative agreements and relationships are examined.
  • A Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) is the primary tool that drives exercise play.
  • Functional exercises require an After Action Report and Improvement Plan for EMPG Credit.
Full-Scale Exercises

A Full-Scale Exercise (FSE) is the most complex type of exercise. FSEs are multi-agency, multi-jurisdictional, multi-organizational exercises that validate many facets of preparedness. They focus on implementing and analyzing the plans, policies, procedures, and cooperative agreements developed in discussion-based exercises and practiced in previous, smaller exercises. In FSE’s, the reality of operations in multiple functional areas presents complex and realistic problems that require critical thinking, rapid problem solving, and effective responses by trained personnel.

Simulated events are injected through a scripted exercise scenario. FSEs are conducted in real time, creating a stressful, time-constrained environment that closely mirrors real events.

Response-focused FSEs include many first responders operating under the principles of the National Incident Management System (NIMS) to effectively and efficiently respond to an incident. Personnel and resources are mobilized and deployed to the scene where they conduct their activities as if a real incident had occurred. These exercises may include functional play from participants not located at the exercise incident response site, such as Regional Emergency Operations Centers (REOC), Emergency Operation Centers (EOC), and/or hospitals.

Typical FSE attributes include the following:

  • Units, personnel, and equipment are mobilized.
  • State and/or Local EOC’s are activated.
  • Established policies and procedures are used.
  • Adequacy, appropriation, and acquisition of resources are measured.
  • Inter-jurisdictional or inter-organizational relationships are examined.
  • Performance is analyzed.
  • Full-scale exercises require an After Action Report and Improvement Plan for EMPG Credit.

In the State of Texas, EMPG funded jurisdiction that participate in the Radiological Emergency Preparedness Program (REPP) may also submit full-participation (FPE**) exercises for EMPG credit if required core capabilities were tested.

An actual, Real-World Incident response maybe credited to the jurisdiction as a full-scale exercise. A Real-World Incident may substitute the triennial full-scale exercise on a case by case basis.