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!
As I forge ahead in this series on Managing an Exercise Program (thank you all for reading!!), I expect the revised Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) foundation document to be released soon from the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Once that document is released, I’ll be sure to include a summary update in my blog. Having been a reviewer of the draft document about a year ago, I don’t expect a lot of changes, but what does change will have some bits of significance on how we do business in the design, conduct, and evaluation of preparedness exercises.
This installment of Managing an Exercise Program gets us two steps away from actually conducting the exercise. As you can see, putting an exercise together is no small feat. I find that this particular step: Preparing Support, Personnel, and Logistical Requirements, is the one most often glossed over in documents and training. As an example, HSEEP Volume I dedicates only one paragraph to exercise logistical support. As Volume I states in its single paragraph, logistical elements ‘can make the difference between a smooth, seamless exercise and one that is confusing and ineffective.’ Let’s break down our considerations:
The location of the exercise is of significant concern. Often times we are examining facilities, but some exercises are conducted outdoors with no use of facilities at all. If outdoors, you still need to ensure the proper environment and support services, such as restrooms, being available. If your exercise requires water for fire suppression, then proximity to hydrants is essential, unless you are looking to incorporate tanker operations into your exercise. We’re looking for a location that is minimally disruptive to the surrounding area, including traffic and ensuring citizen safety. Consider the need for public messaging, such as static displays, variable message signs (you can get these from your public works connections), and media releases to inform the public of the exercise. Doing so will help satisfy their curiosity, will give you some positive media exposure, and will help you minimize disruption. As an example, I’ll cite an urban search and rescue (USAR) component of the Vigilant Guard New York exercise which I led.
Working with local officials, our USAR specialist and a representative of the New York National Guard exercise team were able to select an appropriate cite for their activities. Set up was extensive, involving multiple loads of building demolition debris and a few cars to be hauled in and specifically placed with the use of heavy equipment. On one side of this lot were a number of three-story apartment buildings, which we sought to minimize impact to. All hauling and set up operations took place during the day while exercise activities, which were 24 hour operations for several days, were minimized during the night. USAR folks come with a lot of equipment… and I’m not just talking a few boxes of stuff, either. Many have tractor trailers and cargo containers to transport their gear. They set up tents where they can unload and unpack much of their gear and provide areas for briefing and down time for personnel. This exercise brought in first responder and National Guard USAR assets from around the state, other states, and Canada. An eating area needed to be on site as well as sanitation. Obviously all these areas needed to be well out-of-the-way of operational areas of the exercise to ensure safety and allow room for the rescue activities. Portable diesel-generated light towers were set up to support night-time operations. A media time was scheduled to allow media to catch some of the action during the week as well. Since some teams were only coming in to exercise for a day, a schedule needed to be established to ensure that they could be accommodated and a traffic plan had to be established to get them to the site. The exercise, which included multiple venues, covered a period of time which included Election Day. With caravans of first responder and National Guard equipment rolling through the area during this time period, we were sure to schedule movements off rush hour and I even had a conversation with the County Board of Elections. In this conversation I briefed them on the locations and activity of the exercise to ensure that it didn’t interfere with their polling locations and provided them with my cell number which I told them to call if there was even the slightest hint of a problem or complaint.
Indoor exercises require the same measure of preparation. You have to ensure that the spaces you use are safe and large enough to accommodate participants. You may have a need for one or more break out rooms or meeting rooms, both for exercise management staff and for players. Unless players are responsible for setting everything up themselves, ensure that power, internet, and telephonic communications are available for them… and can support their needs. Back to Vigilant Guard, the EOC component of the exercise was significant. Based on anticipated use, we actually brought in state emergency management capability for satellite digital communications to support the simcell with internet with phone so we wouldn’t draw on and degrade the in-house capability for players in the EOC. Similar to an outdoor venue, you need to pay heed to needs for parking, restrooms, and food service. It’s also a good media opportunity, so be sure to schedule that well in advance with the media and some VIPs.
In regard to personnel, we’ve touched upon the need for controllers, evaluators, and simulators in previous posts, mostly in regard to planning these needs and ensuring that they are covered with the necessary documents to help with their tasks, such as exercise evaluation guides (EEGs), controller/ evaluator plan, master scenario events list (MSEL), and Exercise Plan. Identify the exercise leadership early – the exercise director, simcell and MSEL managers, and lead controller and evaluator. These individuals, and the supporting staff for them, including simulators, controllers, and evaluators, are likely to come from your exercise planning team. Some may have experience in these tasks, while others may not… something to keep in mind for development of the documents as well as the briefings you conduct for them just prior to the start of the exercise (that’ll be the next part of this series). Don’t just assign folks randomly to positions, draw on their experience. If someone has a strong EMS background, assign them to be controllers, simulators, or evaluators for that area of practice. Be sure that your simulators also have some local experience as well if you are conducting this exercise for an area outside your own. Local flavor brings realism and context to an exercise for the players. Consider radios for controllers and evaluators, especially in large exercise areas. This will allow the exercise director to speak with them and for them to interact with the simcell, letting them know if they need to speed up or slow down. Also consider providing the exercise director with an assistant on large exercises. Often times I’ve found the need for someone to aid me directly in resolving problems, gathering people, and handling miscellaneous tasks that are too much for any one person to handle. It’s also a great learning experience for someone who wants to advance.
Overall, be sure to plan early for all logistical, support, and personnel needs. Plan early for food contracts, ensure that all participants have the necessary supplies to conduct their jobs. Plan ahead for safety as well, ensuring a safe work environment proactively and a good plan and personnel who can react to situations should they arise. Be ready on-the-fly for changes and little or no-notice occurrences, as they almost always happen! Make sure the players have everything they need for the exercise – if not, that lack of preparedness will be what they remember.
What experiences or ideas do you have with supporting an exercise?