For years it has bothered me that the templates provided for the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) are lacking. The way the documents are formatted and the lack of some important content areas simply don’t do us any favors. These templates go back to the origination of HSEEP in the early 2000s and they have seen little change since then. It gives me concern that the people who developed these have struggled with concepts of document structuring and don’t understand the utility of these documents.
I firmly believe that the documents we use in exercise design, conduct, and evaluation should be standardized. Many of the benefits of standardization that we (should) practice in the Incident Command System (ICS) certainly apply to the world of exercises, especially when we have a variety of different people involved in each of these key phases of exercises and entering at different times. Much like an incident, some people develop documents while others are users. Both should count on a measure of standardization so they don’t have to figure out what they are looking at and how to navigate it before actually diving into the content. That doesn’t mean, however, that standards can’t evolve to increase utility and function.
I’ve written in the past about the dangers of templates. While they are great guides and reminders of certain information that is needed and give us an established, consistent format in which to organize it, I still see too many people not applying some thinking to templates. They get lost in plugging their information into the highlighted text areas and lose all sense of practicality about why the document is being developed, who the target audience for the document is, and the information they need to convey.
Some of my bigger gripes…
- Larger documents, such as ExPlans, SitMans, Controller/Evaluator Handbooks, and After-Action Reports MUST have a table of contents. These documents can get lengthy and a TOC simply saves time in finding the section you are looking for.
- Some exercises are complex and nuanced. As such, key documents such as ExPlans, SitMans, and Controller/Evaluation Handbooks must have designated space for identifying and explaining those situations. This could be matters of multiple exercise sites and site-specific information such as different scopes of play for those sites, limited scopes of participation for some agencies, statements on the flow and execution of the exercise, and others.
- Recognize that the first section of an EEG (Objective, Core Capability, Capability Target, Critical Tasks, and sources) is the only beneficial part of that document. The next section for ‘observation notes’ is crap. Evaluators should be writing up observation statements, an analysis of each observation, and recommendations associated with each observation. The information provided by evaluators should be easily moved into the AAR. The EEG simply does not facilitate capturing this information or transmitting it to whomever is writing the AAR.
- The AAR template, specifically, is riddled with issues. The structure of the document and hierarchy of headings is horrible. The template only calls for documenting observations associated with observed strengths. That doesn’t fly with me. There should similarly be an analysis of each observed strength, as well as recommendations. Yes, strengths can still be improved upon, or at least sustained. Big missed opportunity to not include recommendations for strengths. Further, the narrative space for areas of improvement don’t include space for recommendations. I think a narrative of corrective actions is incredibly important, especially given the very limited space in the improvement plan; plus the improvement plan is simply intended to be an implementation tool of the AAR, so if recommendations aren’t included in the body of the AAR, a lot is missing for those who want to take a deeper dive and see specifically what recommendations correlate to which observations and with an analysis to support them.
Fortunately, strict adherence to the HSEEP templates is not required, so some people do make modifications to accommodate greater function. So long as the intent of each document and general organization remains the same, I applaud the effort. We can achieve better execution while also staying reasonably close to the standardization of the templates. But why settle for sub-par templates? I’m hopeful that FEMA’s National Exercise Division will soon take a look at these valuable documents and obtain insight from benchmark practitioners on how to improve them. Fundamentally, these are good templates and they have helped further standardization and quality implementation of exercises across the nation. We should never get so comfortable, though, as to let tools such as these become stagnant, as obsolesce is a regular concern.
I’m interested in hearing what you have done to increase the value and utility of HSEEP templates. How would you improve these? What are your pet peeves?
© 2020 Timothy Riecker, CEDP