Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

This post is part of a 10-part series on Managing an Exercise Program. In this series I provide some of my own lessons learned in the program and project management aspects of managing, designing, conducting, and evaluating Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) exercises. Your feedback is appreciated!

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 2: Develop a Preparedness Strategy

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 3: Identify Program Resources and Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 4: Conduct an Annual Training & Exercise Planning Workshop.

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 5: Securing Project Funding

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 6: Conducting Exercise Planning Conferences

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 7: Develop Exercise Documentation

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Preparing Support, Personnel, & Logistical Requirements

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

Managing an Exercise Program – Part 10: Evaluation and Improvement Planning


From inception to improvement planning, I think preparedness exercises provide great value to the jurisdictions, companies, and organizations that do them.  From a seminar to a full-scale exercise, there is much to be learned by participants as well as the strengths and areas for improvement identified from emergency plans.  I’ve been inspired to write a series of blog posts on each of the phases within the Homeland Security Exercise Evaluation Program (HSEEP) cycle.  The cycle, shown below, encompasses not just the steps in executing an exercise (project management), it includes exercise program management as well, which I think is often neglected.  Doings exercises is great, but to ensure continuity, quality, and continuous improvement, any entity that does exercises should have an exercise program.  Having a structured exercise program will ensure that your organization capitalizes on your exercise investments to the greatest degree possible.  Just like any other functional program, it needs to be managed.


Each blog post will give some insight and lessons learned from my own experiences with exercises large and small and I will reflect on exercise program management responsibilities throughout the cycle.  For more in-depth information on exercise program management, I refer you to HSEEP Volume I.  I will also have an update on this HSEEP volume in the near future as DHS will soon release a revision.

The first thing I want to cover is exercise program management as a general concept.  As stated in HSEEP Volume I, “Exercise program management is directed toward achieving the objectives established during the multi-year planning process…”.  As an exercise program grows, so should the responsibilities of managing it.  Most organizations don’t need a full-time exercise program manager, but they will require someone with the flexibility to vary how much time they spend on the exercise program.  The planning and conduct of an exercise can take up a considerable amount of time, and the program manager needs to shepherd this process.  In small organizations, the exercise program manager may be one of the few people involved in these activities as well.

Obviously the person in charge of an exercise program needs to be knowledgeable and experienced in exercises.  As with the oversight of any program, you need to have the right person in place.  Some caution should be used here, however – there are plenty of folks with LOTS of exercise experience… BUT the vast majority of experience out there is as a player.  Players, as a general rule, don’t experience all the machinations behind putting an exercise together.  Someone may have been a player in the largest exercise known to human kind, but that doesn’t make them adept at exercises.  There is plenty of training out there addressing various areas of exercises: the HSEEP training course, Exercise Design, Exercise Evaluation, and others.  These are great – but the world is full of ‘trained’ people.  Do they have the experience to do the job?  It doesn’t take a lot of experience, in fact, in my opinion, a little experience can go a long way – especially if it’s the right experience and they were taught the right way to do it from someone with a lot of experience.  I’ve fully immersed interns in many of the areas of exercise program management and would be fully confident in their ability to run a program for an organization.

As mentioned above, exercise program management centers on the multi-year training and exercise plan (MYTEP), which makes sense as this document will outline requirements, goals, and benchmarks for the program.  Building this plan is not the first, though.  We know that before we can write a plan, we need to do an analysis or an assessment of where we stand.  This is why the first step in the HSEEP cycle (above) is Updating Preparedness Assessments.  As much of a fan as I am of the HSEEP documents, they do fall rather short on providing guidance relative to this step.  It can be broken down easily enough, though.

A preparedness assessment, to me, would identify where we stand and where we want to be in terms of preparedness.  The resultant gap would then feed the second step in the HSEEP cycle – developing a preparedness strategy.  Let’s define preparedness: traditionally, it involves planning, training, and exercising; we can build from this to give us the data we need.  An absolute priority is identifying and assessing risk.  Hopefully your jurisdiction has a recent hazard analysis or THIRA, or your company or organization has a recent business impact analysis (BIA).  Having a recent hazard analysis done will identify the threats you need to be prepared for.  If you don’t have a recent one of these, I would suggest that you are way ahead of yourself with exercises and need to take a step back in emergency management to do one of these and build a plan.  Based upon the results of your hazard analysis, do you have the necessary plans (and are they up to date?) to address the hazards?

The second assessment should be a capabilities assessment.  You can reference FEMA‘s list of core capabilities to ensure that you are examining everything you need to.  Keep in mind that not everyone needs to have every capability.  You may not have a need for certain capabilities or it may not be feasible for you to have it based upon costs – so long as you can obtain that capability from someone else in times of disaster.  However, there are certain capabilities, based upon your hazards, that you want to ensure that you have.  If you don’t have them, they need to be developed.  That’s a gap.

A third assessment, related to the second, would be to identify needs to develop personnel capabilities – specifically through the means of training.  Yep, a Training Needs Assessment.  I’ve blogged previously about this.  Your identified needs become another gap to include in your preparedness assessment.

Lastly, you should do an assessment of exercises and real life events to date.  While you are just starting to formalize your exercise program, I still think an assessment of exercise progress to date is important.  While you may not have had a formal program, you have likely done some exercises or at least participated in someone else’s.  What plans have been tested with these exercises?  How long ago were they conducted?  Do you have After Action Reports?  (Read my article in Emergency Management Magazine on the importance of AARs and implementing corrective actions).  How about lessons learned and after action reports from actual incidents?  What gaps from these still need to be addressed?

All of this data and these documents can be pulled together and referenced in a simple, cohesive document outlining your preparedness needs.  It seems like a lot of work, but without identifying our needs, we can’t move forward with an effective exercise program.

What are your thoughts on identifying preparedness needs?  Is there anything I’ve missed?

Thanks for reading and be on the lookout for part two of Managing an Exercise Program where I will outline the development of a preparedness strategy.


3 thoughts on “Managing an Exercise Program – Part 1

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