Hello from FEMA’s Emergency Management Institute (EMI) … Let’s Talk About the Importance of Testing … or Exercising … Your Business Continuity and Emergency Management Plans

Let me open this installment of my blog by sharing with you that I’m in Emmitsburg, Maryland completing a week of training at the Federal Emergency Management Agency’s (FEMA) Emergency Management Institute (EMI; www.training.fema.gov/EMI ).  I’m here completing my final class, “Instructional Delivery”, in the Master Trainer Program.

Over the past 15 years, I have had the honor to attend many classes here at EMI.  EMI is the largest training facility for FEMA and is co-located on the National Emergency Training Center (NETC) campus with the National Fire Academy (NFA).  This year, EMI is commemorating 60 years of outstanding emergency management training.

The campus is on the grounds of the former St. Joseph’s College.  Many of the buildings date back to the late 1800’s but have been maintained impeccably like the rest of the campus.  The beauty of this campus is spectacular.  I remember how awestruck I was the first time I was here, and I have had that same feeling each time I come back, no matter what the season is.  Along with the beauty of the campus and its buildings, students receive top-quality education from some of the finest instructors in the field.  The classrooms are very comfortable and are conducive to effective learning.  On-campus learning is supported by a phenomenal library (the Learning Resource Center (LRC; www.lrc.fema.gov ) as well as numerous computer labs.

What a privilege it is to be able to grow as professional in an environment like this.  If you are ever afforded the opportunity to attend classes at EMI, take advantage of the opportunity.  I doubt you will regret it.

Now, let’s talk about exercising.

From a business continuity perspective, an exercise is defined in the Disaster Recovery Journal (DRJ; www.drj.com ) as a people focused activity designed to execute business continuity plans and evaluate the individual and/or organization performance against approved standards or objectives. Exercises can be announced or unannounced, and are performed for the purpose of training and conditioning team members, and validating the business continuity plan. Exercise results identify plan gaps and limitations and are used to improve and revise the Business Continuity Plans.

On the emergency management side, FEMA defines an exercise as a focused practice activity that places the participants in a simulated situation requiring them to function in the capacity that would be expected of them in a real event.  Its purpose is to promote preparedness by testing policies and plans and training personnel.  Exercises are conducted to evaluate an organization’s capability to execute one or more portions of its response plan or contingency plan.

There are a number of reasons for organizations to perform exercises including: 

  • Test and evaluate plans, policies, and procedures
  • Reveal planning weaknesses
  • Reveal gaps in resources
  • Improve organizational coordination and communications
  • Clarify roles and responsibilities
  • Train personnel in roles and responsibilities
  • Improve individual performance
  • Gain program recognition and support of officials
  • Satisfy legal or regulatory requirements

Exercises are conducted to evaluate an organization’s capability to execute one or more portions of its plan(s).  Research has shown that people generally respond to an emergency in the way that they have trained.  It only makes sense for organizations to exercise their plans and people so that they are better prepared to respond to and recover from an emergency. 

The focus of an exercise should always be on locating and eliminating problems before an actual emergency occurs.  Corrective actions are an important part of exercise design, evaluation, and follow-up.

Types of exercises

There are five main types of exercise activities that planners can use to validate policies and plans and train personnel.  While you, or your organization may call these by a different name (potatoe or potato) they are fundamentally the same.

  • Orientation is an overview or introduction.  It is the least complex type of exercise and its purpose is to familiarize participants with roles, plans, procedures, or equipment.  It can also be used to resolve questions of coordination and assignment of responsibilities. 
  • Drill is a coordinated, supervised exercise activity, normally used to test a single specific operation or function.  With a drill, there is no attempt to coordinate organizations or fully activate a center.  Its role is to practice and perfect one small part of the plan and help prepare for more extensive exercises, in which several functions will be coordinated and tested.  The effectiveness of a drill is its focus on a single, relatively limited portion of the overall emergency management system.  It makes possible a tight focus on a potential problem area.
  • Tabletop exercise is a facilitated analysis of an emergency situation in an informal, stress-free environment.  It is designed to elicit constructive discussion as participants examine and resolve problems based on existing operational plans and identify where those plans need to be refined.  The success of the exercise is largely determined by group participation in the identification of problem areas.
  • Functional exercise is a fully simulated interactive exercise that tests the capability of an organization to respond to a simulated event.  The exercise tests multiple functions of the organization’s operational plan.  It is a coordinated response to a situation in a time-pressured, realistic simulation.
  • Full-scale exercise is the most complex (and costly) exercise.  Its purpose is to simulate a real event as closely as possible.  It is an exercise designed to evaluate the operational capability of emergency management systems in a highly stressful environment that simulates actual response conditions.  To accomplish this realism, it requires the mobilization and actual movement of emergency personnel, equipment, and resources.  Ideally, the full-scale exercise should test and evaluate most functions of the emergency management plan or operational plan.

When an exercise proceeds smoothly, it all looks so easy.  But there is far more to it than the time spent in the exercise itself.  A great deal of thought and planning went into planning the exercise, and more work will follow after the conclusion of the exercise with debriefing(s) and plan updating (maintenance). 

I recently posted a question on a LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com ) group page asking what made a good exercise and what hindered an exercise.  

What contributes to a good exercise?

  • An understanding by all that there are no wrong answers or actions. The purpose of the exercise is to identify what works and doesn’t work.
  • Have a good planning committee that is invested (committed) to the overall outcome of the exercise
  • As a planner, be flexible and look for workable solutions to benefit all
  • It should be Realistic, Relevant and Revealing – No worst-case scenarios or trick injects
  • SMART Objectives – Specific, Measurable, Action Oriented, Realistic, and Time Sensitive
  • Make it fun yet challenging for the participants/responders
  • Putting learned lessons into practice

What can negatively impact an exercise?

  • Time frame too short for adequate planning
  • Trying to cram too much into the exercise or making it too complex – “KISS“ – Keep It Short and Simple.
  • Inadequate preparation by all participants prior to the exercise
  • Less than 100% by all participants in terms of physical and mental involvement.
  • Unrealistic scenario for the players or organization
  • Too many people on the planning committee
  • Any exercise not tied into a cycle of training and exercises is a waste of time.

So, bottom line exercises are conducted in order to evaluate an organization’s capability to execute one or more portions of its plan(s).  Exercises can be used to provide individual training and improve the business continuity or emergency management program.

TIP:  Follow this link www.fema.gov/business/guide/index.shtm to FEMA’s “Emergency Management Guide for Business & Industry” and this one www.fema.gov/privatesector/exercises.shtm to FEMA’s site for “Emergency Planning Exercises for Your Organization”.  Two great resources!


So, what do you think?

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: