About Preparedness Exercises
updated April 2020
Applying the following principles to both the management of an exercise program and the
execution of individual exercises is critical to the effective examination of capabilities:
Guided by Community Leaders. The early and frequent engagement of community leaders, not only elected and appointed officials is the key to the success of any exercise program. They provide the overarching guidance and direction for the exercise and evaluation program as well as specific intent for individual exercises.
Capability-based, Objective Driven. The National Preparedness Goal identifies a series
of core capabilities and associated capability targets across the prevention, protection,
mitigation, response, and recovery mission areas. Through HSEEP, organizations can
use exercises to examine current and required core capability levels and identify gaps.
Exercises focus on assessing performance against capability-based objectives.
Progressive Planning Approach. A progressive approach includes the use of various
exercises aligned to a common set of exercise program priorities and objectives with an
increasing level of complexity over time. Progressive exercise planning does not imply a
linear progression of exercise types.
Whole Community Integration. The use of HSEEP encourages exercise planners,
where appropriate, to engage the whole community throughout exercise program
management, design and development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning.
Informed by Risk. Identifying and assessing risks and associated impacts helps
organizations identify priorities, objectives, and core capabilities to be evaluated through
Common Methodology. HSEEP includes a common methodology for exercises that is
applicable to all mission areas—prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and
recovery. This methodology enables organizations of divergent sizes, geographies, and
capabilities to have a shared understanding of exercise program management, design and
development, conduct, evaluation, and improvement planning; and fosters exercise-related
interoperability and collaboration.
Exercise Program Management
Exercise program management involves a collaborative approach that integrates resources.
Why have an Exercise Program? Exercise programs is the process of overseeing and integrating a variety of exercises
over time. An effective exercise program helps organizations maximize efficiency, resources,
time, and funding by ensuring that exercises are part of a coordinated, integrated approach to
building, sustaining, and delivering core capabilities. This approach—called multi-year
planning—begins when elected and appointed officials, working with whole community
stakeholders, identify and develop a set of multi-year exercise priorities informed by existing
assessments, strategies, and plans. These long-term priorities help exercise planners design and
develop a progressive program of individual exercises to build, sustain, and deliver core
capabilities. An effective exercise program promotes a multi-year approach to:
Managing exercise program resources
Through effective exercise program management, each exercise becomes a supporting
component of a larger exercise program with overarching priorities. Exercise practitioners are
encouraged to apply and adapt HSEEP doctrine on exercise program management to meet their
Engaging community leadership
- Establishing multi-year exercise program priorities
- Developing a multi-year TEP
- Maintaining a rolling summary of exercise outcomes
Why Exercise? 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 Meeting 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. 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. For more information, please contact the Exercise Unit.
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 Workshop (TEPW)
The TEPW establishes the strategy and structure for an exercise program. In addition, it sets the
foundation for the planning, conduct, and evaluation of individual exercises. The purpose of the
TEPW is to use the guidance provided by elected and appointed officials to identify and set
exercise program priorities and develop a multi-year schedule of exercise events and supporting
training activities to meet those priorities. This process ensures whole community exercise
initiatives are coordinated, prevents duplication of effort, promotes the efficient use of resources,
avoids overextending key agencies and personnel, and maximizes the efficacy of training and
exercise appropriations. TEPWs are held on a periodic basis (e.g., annual or biennial) depending
on the needs of the program and any grant or cooperative agreement requirements.
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 TEP User Guide
When identifying stakeholders, exercise program managers should consider individuals from
organizations throughout the whole community, including but not limited to:
- Elected and appointed officials responsible for providing direction and guidance for exercise program priorities and those responsible for providing resources to support exercises;
- Representatives from relevant disciplines that would be part of the exercises or any real-world events, including appropriate regional or local Federal department/agency representatives;
Individuals with administrative responsibility relevant to exercise conduct; and
Representatives from volunteer, nongovernmental, nonprofit, or social support
including advocates for children, seniors, individuals with disabilities,
those with access and
functional needs, racially and ethnically diverse communities,
people with limited English
proficiency, and animals.
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.
Functional Exercises (FE) are designed to validate and evaluate capabilities, multiple functions and/or sub-functions, or
interdependent groups of functions. FEs are typically focused on exercising plans, policies,
procedures, and staff members involved in management, direction, command, and control
functions. In FEs, events are projected through an exercise scenario with event updates that
drive activity typically at the management level. An FE is conducted in a realistic, real-time
environment; however, movement of personnel and equipment is usually simulated.
FE controllers typically use a Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) to ensure participant activity
remains within predefined boundaries and ensure exercise objectives are accomplished.
Simulators in a Simulation Cell (SimCell) can inject scenario elements to simulate real events.
Full-Scale Exercises (FSE) are typically the most complex and resource-intensive type of exercise. They involve
multiple agencies, organizations, and jurisdictions and validate many facets of preparedness.
FSEs often include many players operating under cooperative systems such as the Incident
Command System (ICS) or Unified Command.
In an FSE, events are projected through an exercise scenario with event updates that drive
activity at the operational level. FSEs are usually conducted in a real-time, stressful environment
that is intended to mirror a real incident. Personnel and resources may be mobilized and
deployed to the scene, where actions are performed as if a real incident had occurred. The FSE
simulates reality by presenting complex and realistic problems that require critical thinking,
rapid problem solving, and effective responses by trained personnel.
The level of support needed to conduct an FSE is greater than that needed for other types of
exercises. The exercise site for an FSE is usually large, and site logistics require close
monitoring. Safety issues, particularly regarding the use of props and special effects, must be
monitored. Throughout the duration of the exercise, many activities occur simultaneously.
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 (producers, organizers, venue, 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 at http://www.training.fema.gov/EMIWeb/IS/IS15b.asp. It is an excellent course and the job aids are extremely helpful.
Real-World Incidents 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. As defined by 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. 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:
- Community leadership identified in the jurisdiction’s emergency management plan participated.
- At a minimum, four emergency management core capabilities must be tested and evaluated (see EMPG guidance)
- A declaration of local disaster was issued
- The emergency response involved resources from outside the jurisdiction.
Exercise Evaluation Exercise evaluation maintains the fundamental link between the exercise and improvement
planning. Through exercise evaluation, organizations assess the capabilities needed to
accomplish a mission, function, or objective. This assessment is based on the performance of
critical tasks to capability target levels. Effective exercise evaluation involves:
Planning for exercise evaluation;
observing the exercise and collecting exercise data during exercise conduct;
analyzing collected data to identify strengths and areas for improvement; and
reporting exercise outcomes in a draft AAR.
Using a common approach to evaluation supports consistent and meaningful reporting of
After Action Reports and Improvement Plans The AAR is the document that summarizes key information related to evaluation. The length,
format, and development time frame of the AAR depend on the exercise type and scope. These
parameters should be determined by the exercise planning team based on the expectations of
elected and appointed officials as they develop the evaluation requirements in the design and
development process. The main focus of the AAR is the analysis of core capabilities. Generally,
AARs also include basic exercise information, such as the exercise name, type of exercise, dates,
location, participating organizations, mission area(s), specific threat or hazard, a brief scenario
description, and the name of the exercise sponsor and POC.
The AAR should include an overview of performance related to each exercise objective and
associated core capabilities, while highlighting strengths and areas for improvement. Therefore,
evaluator's should review their evaluation notes and documentation to identify the strengths and
areas for improvement relevant to the participating organizations’ ability to meet exercise
objectives and demonstrate core capabilities.
involves not just
identifying what issues
emerged, but rather
discovering the root
causes of those issues.
Upon completion, the evaluation team provides the draft AAR to the exercise sponsor, who
distributes it to participating organizations. Elected and appointed officials, or their designee,
review and confirm observations identified in the formal AAR, and determine which areas for
improvement require further action. Areas for improvement that require action are those that
will continue to seriously impede capability performance if left unresolved. As part of the
improvement planning process, elected and appointed officials identify corrective actions to
bring areas for improvement to resolution and determine the organization with responsibility for
NIMS and Exercise Glossaries
DHS/FEMA provides a glossary for terms used in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) at https://training.fema.gov/emiweb/is/icsresource/assets/icsglossary.pdf
DHS/FEMA provides a glossary for terms used in the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) at HSEEP Glossary
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 State Exercise Coordinators.
Regions 1 & 3 Rory Halpin, (512) 739-9158, firstname.lastname@example.org
Regions 2 & 4 Jana James, (512) 574-7685, email@example.com
Regions 5 & 6 Mike Grubb, (512) 578-9172, firstname.lastname@example.org
Exercise Unit Supervisor: Sabine Gumm, (512) 221-4539, email@example.com
TDEM Exercise Unit email at TDEM.Exercises@tdem.texas.gov.
Exercise Assistance 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, www.PreparingTexas.org.
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 at TDEM.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Last Updated April 2020