The Federal Response to Hurricane Katrina Lessons Learned (February, 2006) recommended that the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) establish a National Exercise and Evaluation Program (NEEP). By extension, the NEEP designated the Homeland Security Exercise and Evaluation Program (HSEEP) as a way to standardize exercise planning and execution across governmental levels and sectors. Not all nongovernmental organizations use HSEEP in full or even partially. However, communities, states, and various federal agencies are expected to adopt and employ its tenets. Certainly, it provides the standard that is employed in the National Exercise Program (NEP). The HSEEP provides a standardized methodology for planners to use in designing, developing, conducting, evaluating, and improving exercises and training.
The HSEEP also serves as an extensive resource, replete with useful tools, templates, and examples for building exercises and determining training needs, creating training events, and assessing the merits of all related activities. As you know or are learning, training and exercises are ideally integrated, not merely linked. What is the difference between these concepts of linked and integrated? Exercises that are linked to training may (or may not) draw directly or indirectly from training drills and events. Exercises that integrate training are considerably more dynamic, with training occurring as the exercise unfolds. This latter technique better develops critical thinking, problem-solving, leadership, and decision-making abilities as well.
The following illustration should clarify this benefit:
Soldiers and law enforcement personnel routinely attend weapons ranges to practice and qualify on their assigned weapons. This training helps them to maintain proficiency or improve in their individual skills. Consider an exercise that links this specific training to other training. The soldiers are completing a special obstacle course in which they run, climb rope ladders, swing over water obstacles, etc. Sometime during the course, they shoot at targets and then dismantle weapons under timed conditions and must achieve a certain score on their target hits. There is linkage to firing weapons accurately to the overall stress-inducing obstacle course.
Integrating the weapons training might look like the following: Soldiers, equipped with laser-emitting weapons, and wearing special sensors on their helmets and vests, commence to move in tactical formations proceeding through wooded (or desert, jungle, etc.) environments. Another group of soldiers, also equipped with special weapons and sensors, plays the opposing force. The two groups engage in realistic combat operations requiring accurate weapons fire, plus evasive movement, simulated first aid, evacuation of casualties, and other assorted requirements. In this case, firing a weapon potentially has an offensive and defensive role, yet is one part of a whole scenario. (You might substitute law enforcement training for an active shooter scenario, or firefighters directing the main water supply at a fire, as other examples.)
The HSEEP describes the preparedness cycle extensively. As you review HSEEP’s volumes, you will read more about this cycle in Volume 1, Chapter 4. Like most planning cycles, the preparedness cycle includes (among other steps) stages of planning, exercising, evaluating and improving plans. These steps are fairly common within planning cycles for what should be obvious reasons. Plans require a careful and comprehensive approach. Once they are complete, they must be exercised as thoroughly and realistically as possible. During and after exercises, observations and lessons must be collected, assessed, and most importantly, acted upon. These actions should include the refinement or modification of the initial plans, as necessary. Then the cycle begins again.
Too often, managers and leaders are satisfied with the initial establishment of plans that remain untested, are never properly validated, or do not undergo regular review and revision. Well-designed exercises of plans can solve all of these insufficiencies. Yet, exercises take expertise to develop, cost money to execute, and require time to prepare for and conduct. Again, the HSEEP is an excellent resource to aid homeland security professionals in selecting and conducting relevant training, and for developing appropriate and realistic exercises.
Take into consideration the following scenario:
You are still a planner with the County Office of Emergency Management. Since your arrival, you have reviewed all of the plans that the office maintains. The director has asked you for your candid assessment on the county’s plans; he requests that you select one plan as a priority for the planning team to focus upon, and one you can also use as an illustration for how plans should be designed, exercised, evaluated, and refined. You have decided to choose a subject-specific plan rather than the county’s broader emergency operations plan. You will select your illustrative plan from those pertaining specially to pandemic influenza preparedness, information sharing, critical infrastructure identification and protection, or continuity of operations. In simulating your county’s plan, consider it potentially inadequate, having never been tested or refined, and being at least seven years old.
For your assignment, using any program or media resource(s), you will prepare a formal presentation (complete with extensive notes) that educates and trains your county EM colleagues. Complete the following steps:
- Choose one of the types of plans listed above; describe what this type of plan is intended to do in contributing to the county’s preparedness. (You will need to research these types of plans independently if you are unfamiliar with them.)
- Communicate the status of this plan. This will require some imagination as you depict a hypothetical state for it; make the plan as strong or weak as you desire, but be clear in your presentation and notes as to how you assessed the plan and why you selected it for a priority for testing or revision.
- Fully explain the preparedness cycle to your teammates.
- Design a model (or employ an existing version) creating or using a picture, graphic, representation, etc., to illustrate the cycle.
- Explain what capabilities and activities each stage in the cycle promotes to contribute to the overall effectiveness of all plans.
- Explain what capabilities and activities each stage in the cycle promotes to contribute to the overall effectiveness of this particular plan—be specific (e.g., consider how activities that are promoted by the cycle’s stages might differ for critical infrastructure protection vs. pandemic influenza planning).
- Describe in detail at least three important facets for designing a valid and relevant exercise.
- Explain the importance of these facets for any and all planning.
- Directly relate these facets to testing or improving the plan you have reviewed.
- Choose and describe at least five important stakeholders or partners with whom county EM planners should work.
- State who they are and why are they important, especially in developing, exercising, evaluating, and refining this plan.
- Make at least one of these prospective partners a private sector representative (real or notional).
- Provide recommendations for ways the county should draw these stakeholders into contributing to the preparedness cycle’s activities.
- What incentives might the county specifically offer each partner to elicit enthused collaboration?
- What capabilities might the county expect each partner to bring to bear?
- Suggest ways in which each partner could be integrated into an exercise for this specific plan.
- Prepare final recommendations for a way ahead, focusing the county on those steps to be undertaken to eventually result in a validated plan.