Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Exercise Program Management—how to plan, participate in, and learn from response exercises

Excerpt from U.S. Coast Guard “Proceedings of the Marine Safety & Security Council” magazine by Mr. Joseph Pancotti, Exercise Program Technical Advisor to the Chief, U.S. Coast Guard Office of Contingency Exercises.

Many cities conduct annual training and exercise plan workshops to develop their multi-year training and exercise plans. These workshops typically include a spectrum of exercise stakeholders, including federal, state, local, and tribal officials; representatives from first responder organizations; public health and medical community representatives; volunteers and non-governmental agencies and organizations; and the private sector.

The Plan
A well-designed multi-year exercise plan employs a building-block approach of linked training and exercise activities. As the plan is executed, the training and exercise activities increase in complexity, so the community’s response capability grows.

Types of Exercises
Discussion-based exercises are generally the least complex, but their value should not be underestimated. Tabletop exercises can be used to test plans, policies, or procedures that come into play in a specified incident. During a tabletop exercise, participants apply their knowledge and skills to a problem or series of problems presented by a facilitator in a low-stress environment. The problems are discussed and the resolutions summarized.

Operations-based exercises represent an increased level of complexity, as they include personnel and equipment deployment. The most basic operations-based exercise is the drill, which provides specific training to a limited audience to develop a particular capability.

Next in order of complexity is the functional exercise. Real operations are simulated. Exercise players may participate from command centers or emergency operations centers. Realistic problems are presented to trained personnel, requiring quick thinking and solutions.

The most complex type is the full-scale exercise, which is used to test preparedness across agencies and jurisdictions. Complex, realistic problems are presented to participants, requiring rapid and effective response operations in a real-time, stressful environment.

Lessons Learned
In all cases, the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program requires that exercises be evaluated to assess current capabilities. Deficiencies are noted and included in an improvement plan.

In addition, best practices should be noted so that they can be shared with other response communities.

For more information:
For further information about the types of exercises, exercise planning, and best practices, refer to Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program manuals and the Lessons Learned Information System.

Full article is available at http://www.uscg.mil/proceedings/fall2009.

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