Improving the HSEEP Templates

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

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC®

Incident Evaluation

I’ve written at length about the importance of quality evaluation of exercises.  Essentially, if we don’t evaluate exercises, and do it well, the benefits of the exercises are quite limited.  Generally, we don’t see a benefit to incidents.  By their very nature, incidents threaten and impact life, property, and environment – things we don’t view as being beneficial.  However, benefits are often a product of opportunity; and we absolutely should take the opportunity to evaluate our responses.

Many incidents do get evaluated, but through research after the fact.  We retrace our steps, review incident documents (such as incident action plans), interview personnel, and examine dispatch logs.  These efforts usually paint a decent picture of intent and result (things that are often different), but often miss the delta – the difference between the two – as well as other nuances.  When we evaluate an exercise, we do so in real time.  Th evaluation effort is best done with preparation.  Our evaluation plans, methodologies, and personnel are identified in the design phase of the exercise.  Just as we develop emergency operations plans and train personnel to respond, we can develop incident evaluation plans and train personnel to evaluate incident responses.

Understandably, a hurdle we might have is the availability of personnel to dedicate solely to evaluation, especially on larger incidents – but don’t be afraid of asking for mutual aid just to support incident evaluation (just be sure to include them in your preparedness efforts).  Just as regional exercise teams should be developed to provide cooperative efforts in exercise design, conduct, and evaluation; incident evaluation teams should be developed regionally.  To me, it makes sense for many of these personnel to be the same, as they are already familiar with how to evaluate and write up evaluations.

In exercises, we often use Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) to help focus our evaluation efforts.  These are developed based upon identified Core Capabilities and objectives, which are determined early in the exercise design process.  While we don’t know the specific objectives we might use in an incident, we can identify these in general, based upon past experiences and our preparedness efforts for future incidents.  Similarly, our emergency planning efforts should be based around certain Core Capabilities, which can help inform our incident evaluation preparedness efforts.  Job aids similar to EEGs, let’s call them incident evaluation guides (IAGs), can be drafted to prepare for incident evaluation, with adjustments made as necessary when an incident occurs.

Evaluating an incident, in practice, is rather similar to how we would evaluate an exercise, which is why the training for these activities is relatively portable.  Evaluation efforts should avoid evaluating individuals, instead focusing on the evaluation of functions and processes.  Don’t reinvent the wheel – evaluate based upon documented (hopefully!) plans and procedures and use the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) standards to guide your process. Incident evaluation must be managed to ensure that evaluation gaps are minimized and that evaluation progresses as it should.  Observations should be recorded and, just as we would for an exercise, prepared for and eventually recorded in an after action report (AAR).

I favor honest after action reports.  I’ve seen plenty of after action reports pull punches, not wanting the document to reflect poorly on people.  Candidly, this is bullshit.  I’ve also heard many legal councils advise against the publication of an after action report at all. Similarly, this is bullshit.  If our actions and the need to sustain or improve certain actions or preparations is not properly recorded, necessary changes are much less likely to happen.  If an AAR isn’t developed, a corrective action plan certainly won’t be – which gives us no trackable means of managing our improvements and disavows our intent to do so.

As a profession, public safety must always strive to improve.  We have plenty of opportunity to assess our performance, not just through exercises, which are valuable, but also through the rigors of incident responses.  Prepare for incident evaluation and identify triggers in your emergency plans for when evaluation will be employed, how, and who is involved.  Begin evaluation as early as possible in an incident – there are plenty of lessons learned in the early, and often most critical moments of our incident response.  Finally, be sure to document lessons learned in an AAR, which will contribute to your overall continuous improvement strategy.

How does your agency accomplish incident evaluation?  If you don’t, why?

Need help with the evaluation of incidents?  We are happy to help!

© 2017 – Timothy Riecker, CEDP

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC

HSEEP Controllers and Evaluators Still Needed

VT VG Recruitment Notice2 (link to recruitment flyer)

Vigilant_Guard_Logo_2_2_wCrackEmergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC is seeking Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP)-trained personnel to support the Vermont Vigilant Guard full scale exercise, scheduled for July 25-August 2, 2016.  You do not need to apply for the entire time period – the greatest need is from July 29-August 1.

Personnel will serve as controllers and evaluators for this exercise.  Shifts are available throughout the period at locations across the state.  Pay is negotiable and travel expenses will be reimbursed.  Interested parties should contact us by June 24th, 2016.

While all areas of expertise will be considered, we are highly interested in personnel with experience in the following areas:

  • Planning
  • Operational Coordination and EOC Management
  • Mass Care Services and Sheltering
  • Critical Transportation
  • Environmental Response/Health and Safety and Hazardous Materials
  • Operational Communications
  • Public Information and Warning
  • Logistics and Supply Chain Management
  • Urban Search and Rescue (USAR)
  • Public Health, Healthcare, and Emergency Medical Services
  • On-Scene Security, Protection, and Law Enforcement
  • Intelligence and Information Sharing
  • Fire Management and Suppression
  • Situational Awareness
  • Cybersecurity
  • Infrastructure Systems


Contact Christine at  

Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLCYour Partner in Preparedness

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

New HSEEP graphic

New HSEEP graphic

For the previous parts in my series Managing an Exercise Program, please see below:

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


While conducting an exercise is often the most exciting part of the exercise cycle, evaluation and improvement planning lead us to the real reasons why we conduct exercises – to test plans, policies, and procedures.  Evaluation doesn’t just happen.  It must be a deliberate, planned activity within the design and conduct of an exercise.  There are key activities through the design and development of an exercise which link directly to evaluation – starting with the identification of core capabilities to be tested and exercise objectives to be accomplished.  These core capabilities and objectives should lead us directly back to specific plans, policies, and procedures which will be exercised and can help us determine the evaluation methodology and approach.  As we further develop our exercise, be it discussion based or operations based, the decisions we make influence evaluation and the resources needed for it.

When exercise planning begins, we identify staff to fill key roles – including exercise director, simcell manager, lead controller, and lead evaluator.  The lead evaluator doesn’t necessarily have to be involved in all aspects of exercise design, but they need to be informed of key points and should be reviewing draft materials (i.e. the explan or sitman) to become familiar with the details of the exercise and to help them assemble their portion of the control and evaluation plan.  The lead evaluator should ideally be present at exercise planning meetings to become even more familiar with the details, the people, and the facility(s) of exercise play.

Staffing evaluation has a number of options.  Often times evaluators will be selected based on matching their individual areas of expertise with the functional areas of the exercise (i.e. fire, EMS, public health, EOC management, shelter operations, etc.).  You may have a need for more than one evaluator per functional area, particularly if that function is a major component of the exercise and there is a lot to observe.  Remember that if there are multiple exercise venues, they each need to have evaluators assigned who can observe all critical areas.  The bottom line is that evaluation should respect the amount of time, effort, and resources invested in the design and conduct of the exercise.  If the exercise isn’t fairly and accurately evaluated, it’s simply disrespectful to all that effort and those involved.  These concepts apply to both discussion based and operations based exercises.  Members of the exercise planning team should be considered as possible evaluators.

Exercise Evaluation Guides (EEGs) give evaluators guidance in their activity.  The HSEEP website provides a multitude of EEG templates which you should absolutely modify for your own use.  EEGs are provided for each core capability.  Just like planning templates (see my rant about the use of planning templates here), these are guides for you to reach success, but can not and should not be used without modification and customization to ensure that they meet your own specific needs.  EEGs are crafted hand in hand with exercise design to ensure that all bench marks and expected actions are accounted for.  The rating guide on the last page of each EEG is particularly handy to ensure consistency.  You may want to consider including a ‘recommendations’ section for each observation as well, which provides an opportunity for you gain insight from your own subject matter experts on how to address a particular area for improvement.  This will help when it comes to the After Action Report.  I also encourage evaluators to use and ICS form 200 (a blank sheet of paper!) to take some freeform notes.  EEGs, no matter how well designed, simply won’t capture everything.  Personally, when I evaluate, I’ll refer to the EEGs, but make most of my notes on a blank sheet(s) of paper or a steno pad.  I like to mark specific observations, times and timelines, and even inject numbers if I happen to catch them.  After the exercise, I then transcribe my notes into the EEG in the appropriate format.

Training of evaluators is important.  You may have some evaluators which are new and some that are experienced.  Everyone should go through a controller/evaluator briefing prior to the exercise.  Those with little experience might require some extra training, which isn’t a bad thing.  Be sure that both your C/E plan and the briefing identify clearly what you expect from evaluators, how they should conduct themselves, the measure of allowable interaction with players, how they should take notes, and when you expect those notes to be turned in.  The HSEEP website, referenced prior, also has templates for C/E briefings, C/E plans, etc.  You’ve likely heard the saying ‘garbage in – garbage out’… well, exercise evaluation is exactly like that.  If you don’t invest in good training and job aids (EEGs) for your evaluators, you will not get good evaluations!  The Lead Evaluator also needs to lead!  They should check in periodically with each evaluator throughout the exercise to see how things are going and give a quick look at their notes and/or EEGs.  Good feedback will help your evaluators provide better observations.

Finally, at the end of exercise play, I expect evaluators to help with the hotwash.  Sometimes hotwashes are conducted as a single session with all players.  In such sessions, the exercise director or lead evaluator should facilitate and evaluators should take notes.  If the hotwash is tiered, where each functional area will identify their top strengths and areas for improvement; each functional area is facilitated by its evaluator who should also take notes.  This may be followed by a plenary session if possible.  Be sure to have your hotwash strategy planned and identified in the C/E plan!

The After Action Report (AAR) should ideally be written by one or two people based on the EEGs and notes of evaluators.  It may be possible for some observations to be combined, helping to make the document both more concise and easier to read.  Templates are provided on the HSEEP website for AARs and Improvement Plans.  Improvement plans are nothing more than a matrix identifying who will be responsible for what improvement actions, who will assist, what the major benchmarks are to improvement, and when it should be accomplished.  As with the rest of the AAR, these should be drafted and provided prior to the AAR meeting for comment – of which there is usually a great deal.  Once all this is finalized, don’t let this be the last of it!  The implementation of improvements is where organizations often fail!  Rarely do organizations follow through on improvements, resulting in similar observations being noted in exercises and incidents for years after.  The AAR/IP must be championed by someone at an executive level, and coordinated on an ongoing basis by someone who is responsible for tracking progress, coordinating solutions to problems, and reporting progress back to the executive.  For most organizations and jurisdictions, I would suggest a quarterly meeting to review improvement planning progress.  After a few exercises, you may find yourself addressing improvements of several exercises in one meeting.  Accomplishments should be noted, with the opportunity to test the ‘fixes’ in future exercises.  All this feeds back into the strategy planning phase of exercise program management – which is where we started in this series.

This is the end of my ‘Managing an Exercise Program’ series.  I appreciate all those who have read and provided feedback.  Please continue to do so, and best of luck on your next exercise!

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention that my company – Emergency Preparedness Solutions, LLC – can help you with exercise program planning and management; training and exercise plans; and the design, conduct, and evaluation of exercises; as well as training in HSEEP, exercise design, and exercise evaluation.  Give us a call or email and we’ll be happy to discuss what we can do to help your organization’s preparedness.

EPS logo with tag line - Be proactive, be prepared.

EPS logo with tag line – Be proactive, be prepared.



Managing an Exercise Program – Part 9: Conducting an Exercise

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


Since writing Part 8, the new HSEEP guidance (April 2013) was published. Thankfully this update didn’t dictate wholesale changes in the process we’ve all come to be familiar with. There were some subtle changes, such as changing ‘planning conferences’ to ‘planning meetings’, and stressing the involvement of elected officials in the exercise planning process. Similarly, I’m thankful that certain changes weren’t made – one of which was the proposed elimination of terminology of ‘discussion based exercises’ and ‘operations based exercises’. These general identifiers have become commonplace amongst exercise designers for decades. Upon having the opportunity to review a draft version of the new HSEEP guidance, I was quite opposed to that change.

Obviously conducting the exercise is the most exciting part of the process. It’s where all of your hard work comes together. That said, this is where it can all fall apart if you haven’t prepared property in the first eight parts and if you don’t pay attention to detail. I’m breaking exercise conduct down into four smaller parts: Set up, briefings, play, debrief. Remember that my intent with these postings is not to be fully comprehensive, but to emphasize areas where I have learned or have seen others struggle. In all facets of emergency management we need to continue a culture of sharing if we are to be successful.

Set up

The preparations for your exercise should have been finalized in Part 8 where you addressed logistical requirements. You should know where your exercise venue is, how people will be seated/where they will be working, the location and support for a SimCell (if you’re having one), and even matters such as parking, food, restrooms, and audiovisual equipment. Additionally, set up includes having print material available for all participants. When setting up, consider the flow of people, quite literally from the road to the parking lot, from the parking lot to the facility, into the facility through security, sign in, and to their first location for the exercise (this may be their only destination or it may be a large briefing room). Having conducted exercises in locations not familiar to some participants as well as these exercises being larger than the facility’s parking lot can handle, you must ensure that invitation packages have specific directions on how to get to the parking area and how to get from the parking area to the venue. Be sure that signage is prominently displayed. It may even help to have staff directing people. Be sure to also let them know what manner of identification is required to enter the facility. Again, signage is often necessary to get people from the building entrance to check in location and then to the meeting location. Signage for the refreshment area and restrooms may also be needed.

Have everything set up for people before they arrive. Use table tents, if needed, to help identify seating, and have copies of all necessary materials at their seating location. Materials like SitMans and ExPlans have a lot of content, so it’s nice to have these materials available for the early-comers to being reading through.

Be sure to set up early and test EVERYTHING. Make sure AV equipment and communications equipment are tested.


Depending on the type of exercise you are conducting, there can be a number of briefings needed to take place before the exercise begins. Some of these briefings may need to take place well in advance, even a day or more before the exercise, depending on availability of audiences for each of them.

The new HSEEP guidance includes a specific briefing for elected and appointed officials. This is something to usually conduct well in advance of the actual exercise to outline the agenda/timeline of the exercise and what will be expected of them. They will likely want to interface with any media and should know what to say about the exercise. They may also want to ‘kick off’ the exercise at the player briefing.

Controllers, evaluators, and SimCell personnel should receive a briefing to ensure they are familiar with the exercise and their rolls. They all need to know what is expected of them and of the players, how and when to interact with the players, and what may need to be reported to their respective leaders and/or to the exercise director. Evaluators will need to become familiar with their assigned EEGs and what the expectations are for evaluating. Additional time will need to be spent with SimCell personnel to familiarize them with the equipment being used, how the MSEL is structured, and how injects will be delivered. If any actors are being used, they will also need to be briefed on their rolls and what their expectations are. Ensure that everyone is familiar with the safety word in the event of the necessity to immediately stop the exercise.

If observers are expected at the exercise, have a briefing ready for them. I suggest treating them like VIPs when possible (most of them usually are). Don’t just let them walk around to figure things out for themselves. Give them tour guides who can take them throughout the venue and talk about what is happening. Schedule their arrival when possible, and consider having an elected or appointed official there to greet them. Keep in mind that some observers will be very high tier VIPs. Vigilant Guard exercises are often visited by the head of the National Guard Bureau – a four star General. These visits are fantastic and very much emphasize the importance of the exercise, but they can also be a little disruptive. These high-tier VIPs will often come with their own entourage and/or security. They will want a brief tour and will stop often to shake hands and have pictures taken. They may even want a break in the exercise to speak. Try to be aware of these expectations up front if at all possible. If not, just go with the flow and be flexible.

The media is another form of observer. All media should be scheduled. Be sure to make it worth their while, where they can catch some video/picture footage of interesting activities. Maps and wall displays make for great footage as well. Remember operational security! If something is sensitive or classified, it should not be anywhere where it can be seen. The media should also be provided a tour and an opportunity to get a statement from the elected and/or appointed officials. They may also want to interview players. I generally don’t allow this without preparation of the specific player to ensure that the right messages are delivered. Also, be sure to let players know during the player brief that there will be observers and media coming through and what is expected of them.

Lastly, the player briefing. This briefing will introduce players to the purpose of the exercise, the ground rules, the facility, timeline, controllers and evaluators, and expectations. Players should be briefed on how and when to interact with the SimCell if you have one. It should always be reinforced that the exercise is ‘no fault’, and that they, individually, are not being evaluated, rather it is the plans, policies, and procedures they are using that are being evaluated. Lastly, players are briefed on the scenario. Be sure that the ExPlan/SitMan has the detailed scenario for their reference.

Exercise Play

Finally the moment of truth arrives! Remember that the purpose of the exercise is to accomplish the objectives, however, know that you may not accomplish all the objectives in the timeframe you have. Being flexible, and knowing you have to be flexible, are two very important aspects of running an exercise. Regardless of how well we think we’ve written an exercise, the responses to our prompts are entirely up to the players. They may accomplish the objectives faster or slower than you expected. Likewise, they may struggle a bit. This is where good exercise control comes in. Controllers/facilitators should observe the tempo of the exercise. Is everyone engaged? Are they needlessly overwhelmed and frustrated? Are they bored? Are they not following through on activities? All these observations should be reported back to the exercise director and SimCell so the tempo can be moderated.

Be sure to have contingencies in the event that players do or request the unexpected. Additional injects that are held back are always a good idea. You may need them to prompt certain activities in the event that players do not take the initiative to do so. Players may also ask questions or make requests of the SimCell that aren’t expected. While we can’t anticipate every need, we can be prepared for them. Have copies of plans, policies, procedures, and maps available to the SimCell. They may have to take some time to research and come up with an answer then get back to the individual. The SimCell manager should be smart when situations like this arise, however. They should always consider if a potentially inaccurate but reasonable answer is acceptable or if the answer must be completely accurate… or even if the answer is required for exercise play at all. There is no sense having SimCell personnel research an answer if the answer doesn’t much matter within the scope of the exercise.

Multi-day exercises may require the exercise staff to meet at the end of every day for a mini hotwash and to evaluate how the exercise is progressing. Where are the players in respect to where you expected them to be in your design of the exercise? Do you need to retool anything in the MSEL?

On large exercises, it helps for the exercise director to have an aide-de-camp, or assistant. Just like any individual in charge of a large operation, the exercise director is having their attention pulled in many directions and may simply not have the time to address everything, especially in large or multi-venue exercises. Having an assistant is also a great way to train up and coming exercise staff. Certainly consider the use of portable radios to help facilitate communication as well. The exercise director will spend most of their time managing and trouble shooting. They may also have to address some VIP concerns. Be sure to walk around to get a good sense for the exercise as a whole. Are evaluators properly positioned? Are controllers present and visible? Is the SimCell responding to questions adequately? Are players engaged and challenged? Perhaps most importantly, is the boss (the elected/appointed official) happy?

Evaluation is such an important aspect of exercise that I will cover it in its own section – Part 10.


Two significant debriefing activities should take place immediately following the exercise: 1) a player hotwash, 2) an exercise staff debriefing. Players should be led through a facilitated hotwash, reviewing the objectives of the exercise, with evaluators capturing their responses to if/how the objectives were accomplished. Encourage and capture responses both in the positive and the negative: i.e. what did we do well and what do we need to improve upon?

After the player hotwash, a similar process should take place with all exercise staff – controllers, evaluators, and SimCell. I like to not only capture their impressions of if/how objectives were accomplished, but I also like to discuss the conduct of the exercise, again capturing what went well and what needed to be improved upon.


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

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

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?