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!
First I’d like to say that this series of exercise articles has gotten a fair amount of traffic, which I’m quite grateful for. I’m hopeful that my thoughts and ideas have been able to help those who are looking for experienced insight into emergency management and homeland security exercises. Certainly if you have anything that you’d like to contribute or have any questions, please post a comment.
We can’t avoid paperwork – ever. Documentation in exercises, just like in the incident command system (ICS), is a necessity. Don’t see it as a burden, though, instead view these documents as outcomes of the planning and decision-making process of exercise design. Just like an incident action plan (IAP) is the result of the planning process in ICS, the primary documents used in exercises (Exercise Plans, Control and Evaluation Plans, Exercise Evaluation Guides, Situation Manual, and Master Scenario Events List) are outcomes of the processes of exercise design. The graphic below is from HSEEP Volume 2 and provides a quick reference of each document I just listed. As you will see, each document meets a specific need and is intended for a specific audience. I will outline some of my tips on each document (except the presentation) below.
Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) The National Exercise Program provides a variety of EEG templates on their website. These are an excellent start for your exercise. Remember that these can and should be customized for your exercise! While we use capabilities-based exercise planning concepts, and the capabilities are standardized, both the capacity available to anyone in each capability and the means by which a capability is implemented is going to very broadly across the country. Bottom line: we don’t all do things the same way and we may not be evaluating an entire capability as it’s commonly defined. EEGs need to be focused on evaluating objectives within given capabilities. This means that exercise objectives need to be very well-developed to ensure that we are 1) designing an exercise effectively, and 2) evaluating that exercise appropriately. If we fail in any of these steps (objective development, exercise design, exercise evaluation) we are simply wasting our time. If need be, draw in your subject matter experts (likely the folks who will be evaluating these areas of the exercise) and get their input on the development of the EEG. Also consider what the purpose of the EEG is: it helps guide the evaluator in providing constructive commentary on each exercise objective, which will ultimately contribute toward the After Action Report (AAR).
Situation Manual (SitMan) A SitMan, as stated in the chart above, is used only in discussion-based exercises and is available to all participants. It should include all information participants need to know to effectively play their role in the exercise. The most important aspect of this is context and background of the scenario. Without a well-developed scenario, players have a difficult time getting their ‘head in the game’. The SitMan will also outline the exercise structure and rules of play, which can vary widely between exercise types (i.e. seminar, workshop, or table top). Having a good understanding of this information will help players to know what is expected of them. Be sure to have this (and all) documents reviewed for readability – your focus should be on the audience! Under most circumstances, the SitMan can be distributed to participants ahead of time.
Controller/Evaluator Plan/Handbook This document is very audience-focused and as such should very clearly outline the expectations you have of the controllers and evaluators. It should fully describe their positions, schedules, locations, and scope, as well as expectations.
Exercise Plan (ExPlan) The ExPlan is often times the core document that everyone wants a copy of – and largely everyone should have access to. Consider the ExPlan just like the IAP of an incident. It fully describes what is taking place, where, when, how, and who is involved. This document will be as complex as your exercise. For exercises involving multiple venues, each venue should have its own sub-section in the ExPlan describing all the details of what is happening there.
Master Scenario Events List (MSEL) The MSEL is the script of the exercise. It should capture everything that is scheduled to occur – from StartEx to EndEx and everything in between. The bulk of the document is injects, which should be written in detail and carefully reviewed and edited for content and accuracy. Contingency or back-up injects should also be included but specially indicated as such. Simulators should keep track of the actual time an inject was performed and what the response was, if any. This data can be important for both in-exercise follow-up as well as post-exercise evaluation.
Other Documents Don’t get stuck within the confines of what’s defined by HSEEP. If you find that you need something else, create it and use it. I’ve found on several exercises that a very detailed scenario, perhaps even including simulated situation reports and incident action plans is needed. We’ve come to regard this document as a Ground Truth. The information in a ground truth doesn’t necessarily need to go to everyone (thus not including it in the ExPlan), especially if the exercise will cover multiple operational periods/shift changes, as the ground truth information is largely only relevant to the starting players.
What tips or experiences do you have with exercise documents? What other documents have you formulated to meet needs?
Thanks for reading, and be on the look out for Managing an Exercise Program – Part 8: Prepare Support Personnel and Logistical Requirements