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About Preparedness Exercises   

updated April 2020

Fundamental Principles
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 exercises.

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:

  • Engaging community leadership
  • Establishing multi-year exercise program priorities
  • Developing a multi-year TEP
  • Maintaining a rolling summary of exercise outcomes
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 specific needs.

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 organizations, 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 Exercise

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
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.

Texas-Unique Exercises

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  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 exercise results.

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. Root-cause analysis 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 those actions.

NIMS and Exercise Glossaries

DHS/FEMA provides a glossary for terms used in the National Incident Management System (NIMS) at

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,

Regions 2 & 4  Jana James, (512) 574-7685,

Regions 5 & 6  Mike Grubb, (512) 578-9172,

Exercise Unit Supervisor: Sabine Gumm, (512) 221-4539,

TDEM Exercise Unit email at

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,

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

Last Updated April 2020


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