Training and exercises play a large role at the Office of Preparedness and Response. We prioritize workforce development and our staff are required to take National Incident Management System (NIMS) and Incident Command System (ICS) courses.
Expand the sections below to learn about how exercises are developed.
A Training and Exercise Planning
Workshop establishes the overall strategy and structure of an exercise
and training program. At the Office of Preparedness and Response, we engage our
Local Health Departments, Health Care/Hospital Preparedness Partners (HPP), and
other state agencies to determine exercise priorities. Those ideas are used
along with the exercise requirements that come with our grant funding from the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Office of the Assistant
Secretary for Preparedness and Response (ASPR) to develop a Multiyear Training
and Exercise Plan (MYTEP), which covers five years.
In general, a Multiyear
Training and Exercise Plan should identify priorities and then
structure training and exercises to follow a logical and progressive arc.
Trainings, workshops, seminars, discussion-based exercises (tabletop
exercises), and progressively more complex operations-based exercises (drills,
functional exercises, full scale exercises) are developed with the outcomes and
lessons-learned at each step informing the development of the next exercise.
Once exercise priorities have
been established, an exercise planning team consisting of people from
participating organizations and other stakeholders meets to determine the scope
and objectives for the exercise. The planning team may also discuss basic
details of the exercise in this meeting, such as where and when to hold the
exercise and what resources may be needed. Depending on the scale of the
exercise, this meeting may be combined with the Initial Planning Meeting.
Based on input from officials and
stakeholders, the exercise planning team selects program priorities on which to
focus the exercise. These priorities inform the development of exercise
objectives, which are distinct outcomes that an organization wishes to achieve
during an exercise. Objectives should incorporate guidance from officials,
exercise participant’s plans and procedures, operating environment, and desired
outcomes. The planning team selects a reasonable number of specific,
measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound objectives to facilitate
effective scenario design, exercise conduct, and evaluation.
The planning team
aligns each exercise objective to one or more core capabilities. The
figure below shows the relationship between exercise program priorities,
exercise objectives, and core capabilities. Aligning objectives to a common set
of capabilities enables:
A scenario is an outline or model of the simulated sequence of events for the exercise. It can be written as a narrative or depicted by an event timeline.
For discussion-based exercises, a scenario provides the backdrop that drives participant discussion, and is contained in a Situation Manual. For operations-based exercises, a scenario provides background information about the incident catalyst(s) of the exercise. Exercise planners should select and develop scenarios that enable an exercise to assess objectives and core capabilities. All scenarios should be realistic, plausible, and challenging. However, designers must ensure the scenario is not so complicated that it overwhelms players.
A scenario consists of three basic elements:
The first step in designing a scenario is determining the type of threat or hazard on which the exercise will focus. Each type of emergency has its own strengths and weaknesses when it comes to evaluating different aspects of prevention, protection, mitigation, response, and recovery. The exercise planning team should choose a threat or hazard that best assesses the objectives and core capabilities on which the exercise will focus. The identification of this threat or hazard scenario should also be based on the organization’s threat/hazard identification and risk assessment. Developing and maintaining these risk analyses is an essential component of the National Preparedness System, as they enable organizations to identify potential events that would stress their core preparedness capabilities.
The purpose of an Initial Planning Meeting is to continue developing the scope and objectives of an exercise, to identify exercise design requirements and conditions, participant extent of play, and scenario variables based on the plans, procedures, and policies that are to be tested. This meeting is also used to begin developing the exercise documents, such as the Exercise Plan and Situation Manual.
The Midterm Planning Meeting’s primary purpose is to discuss organization and staffing concepts, scenario and timeline development, scheduling, logistics, and administrative requirements. Additionally, the draft documentation developed from the Initial Planning Meeting is reviewed here. Depending on the scope of the exercise, the planning requirements, and the time between this meeting and the exercise, the planning team may also begin developing the Master Scenario Events List. Development of the Master Scenario Events List can also take place during a dedicated Master Scenario Events List meeting that would occur between the Midterm Planning Meeting and the Final Planning Meeting.
The Midterm Planning Meeting is generally the cut-off for all major changes to the exercise plan so that finalized versions of all documents can be developed. All remaining exercise documentation (Controller/Evaluator Handbook, Exercise Evaluation Guides, presentation materials, etc.) should be in development by the Midterm Planning Meeting so they can be reviewed and finalized at the Final Planning Meeting.
After the exercise has been conducted, wrap-up activities collect additional data to support effective evaluation and improvement planning.
Debriefing: Immediately following the exercise, a short debriefing should be conducted with the exercise planning team members to ascertain their level of satisfaction with the exercise, discuss any issues or concerns, and propose improvements.
Player Hot Wash: A Hot Wash provides an opportunity for exercise participants to discuss exercise strengths and areas for improvement immediately following the conduct of an exercise. The Hot Wash should be led by an experienced facilitator who can ensure that the discussion remains brief and constructive. The information gathered during a Hot Wash can be used during the After Action Report and Improvement Planning (AAR/IP) process, and exercise suggestions can be used to improve future exercises. Hot Washes also provide opportunities to distribute Participant Feedback Forms which, when completed by players, can be used to help generate the After Action Report and Improvement Planning.
Controller/Evaluator (C/E) Debriefing: The Controller/Evaluator Debriefing provides a forum for functional area controllers and evaluators to review the exercise. The exercise planning team leader facilitates this debriefing, which provides each controller and evaluator with an opportunity to provide an overview of the functional area they observed and to discuss both strengths and areas for improvement. Debriefing results are captured and may be included in the After Action Report and Improvement Planning.
The After Action Report should include an overview of performance related to each exercise objective and associated core capabilities, while highlighting strengths and areas for improvement. Therefore, evaluators 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.
Upon completion of the first draft of the After Action Report, it should be provided to the participating organizations for review. Partners can help to determine which areas for improvement require further action and to identify corrective actions to bring areas for improvement to resolution and determine the organization with responsibility for those actions.
Once all corrective actions have been consolidated in the final Improvement Planning, the Improvement Planning may be included as an appendix to the After Action Report. The After Action Report and Improvement Planning is then considered final, and may be distributed to exercise planners, participants, and other preparedness stakeholders as appropriate.
Corrective actions captured in the After Action Report and Improvement Planning should be tracked and continually reported on until completion. Organizations should assign points of contact responsible for tracking and reporting on their progress in implementing corrective actions. By tracking corrective actions to completion, preparedness stakeholders are able to demonstrate that exercises have yielded tangible improvements in preparedness. Stakeholders should also ensure there is a system in place to validate previous corrective actions that have been successfully implemented. These efforts should be considered part of a wider continuous improvement process that applies prior to, during, and after an exercise is completed.
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